Wednesday, March 08, 2006

8th of March is Women's Day

Today, the 8th March, is International Women's Day. The woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has visited France to celebrate the occasion and the papers are full of articles relating to women's issues.

It's a sad fact that there are few books by women poets on my bookshelves. In fact, I can number them all on my fingers and toes. They include: Wendy Cope, Sophie Hannah, Jennifer K. Dick, Lavinia Greenlaw, Zsuzsa Rakovszky, Edith Sitwell, Patty Scholten, Alice Oswald, Mebdh McGuckian, Lisa Pasold, Anne Stevenson, Kate Clanchy, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Polly Clark, Agnes Nemes Nagy, Marianne Moore, Christine Rossetti and Elizabeth Bishop. Since I have a whole bookcase of poetry books, this is a rather shaming fact.

I'm at a bit of a loss to explain why I have so few books by female writers. But I know I'm not alone in taking a one-sided view. I have discussed this issue with female friends who have told me they read mainly female writers. I can think of quite a few women writers who I OUGHT possibly to have a book by, just off the top of my head: Carol Ann Duffy, Gertrude Stein, Sharon Olds, Anne Carson, Gwyneth Lewis, Denise Levertov, Kathleen Jamie and Grace Nichols.

Up until perhaps the 1990s, British poetry was heavily dominated by male writers. There were way too many male writers and I was not at all proud of the fact that when Faber published my poems in 'Poetry Introduction 7' there were no women writers represented among the eight new voices presented.

Some of this bias has been countered by the seemingly conscious efforts of the publisher Bloodaxe to redress the balance. There are now many more women poets getting published and read.

It seems that this problem also exists in France, only worse. A recent article posted here on Poezibao laments the presence of only fifteen books by women writers among Gallimard's poetry editions which number around 400 titles and which dominate the poetry section of FNAC bookshops all over France. It seems that at least half of these writers are not even French but well known American, British or Russian poets in translation.

As if to rub salt in the wound, a recent Gallimard anthology which celebrates the city of Paris includes 45 contributions with not a single one by a woman writer.

By way of redress, when I've finished translating Michaux's long poem 'La Ralentie', I'm not going to publish any more translations of male poets on this blog until I've translated work by several French women poets. I have no idea at all who to start with, so if any readers have a suggestion, please leave a comment. And if there's some interesting women poets I've left off my list, leave a comment about that also, especially if they write about geology or science.

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