If there is anything specific to women's writing, it seems natural to ask whether or not there is a specifically male (or masculine) type of poetry. The claims made about twentieth-century male poets have tended to link their anti-Romanticism with their misogyny. Thus, Dekoven cites Pound's vorticist manifesto as 'characteristic of Modernism's self-imagination as a mode of masculine domination' and puts it in the context of modernist advocacy of 'firm, hard, dry, terse, classical masculinity, over against the messy, soft, vague, flowery, effusive, adjectival femininity of the late Victorians' (Dekoven, 1999, p. 176). She explains this rhetoric largely in terms of 'fear of women's new power' at the turn of the century (ibid., p. 174), although in my own book, I suggest that it is still very much at work in the latter half of the twentieth century (Larrissy, 1990). Nor, of course, is the rhetoric merely a foundation for criticism. It is present in a profound way within the poetry: a complex but readily apprehended example can, I think, be found in William Carlos Williams's 'For Elsie' (Larrissy, 1990, pp. 81—4). Dekoven adds a useful qualification, however, when she notes that 'masculinist misogyny . . . was almost universally accompanied by its dialectical twin: a fascination and strong identification with the empowered feminine' (Dekoven, 1999, p. 174). Whatever about the 'almost universally', this is certainly the case with a number of important modernist poets. Dekoven herself cites Yeats as a rather obvious example of such ambivalence. Gloria C. Kline in her The Last Courtly Lover: Yeats and the Idea of Woman (Kline, 1983) had pointed to the mixture of exaltation and subjugation involved in Yeats's attitude. Readers and critics had always been more or less aware of the importance to Yeats of the traditional female personification of Ireland; and Maud Ellmann (1986) and C. L. Innes (1993, pp. 93—108) offered valuable insights into the extent to which the boundaries between masculine and feminine could become eroded in his work. Elizabeth Cullingford (1993) showed how perceptions such as these could be understood in relation to Yeats's place in history; and in my own book on Yeats I seek to demonstrate that his ambivalent understanding of woman is interwoven with everything that is essential to his artistic thought and practice, and with the changes they undergo (Larrissy, 1994). Thus his doctrine of the Mask (to take but one example) is indebted to his sense of women's self-presentation, but is also something the male poet may learn from as a way of gaining power over women. This specific ambivalence is woven into his occult theories and into his sense of what is the appropriate poetic style and tone: the commanding rhetoric of many of his middle and later poems, for instance, is something he thinks of as masculine. Furthermore, he is capable of writing in the spirit of a number of different positions in the spectrum suggested by this ambivalence, ranging from complete identification with woman to overt misogyny. Nor is the misogyny itself simply to be rejected as unpalatable. Yeats was not the kind of poet who shied away from confronting the part played in life by hatred; and he was inclined to think that there was a fundamental antipathy between the sexes which was inextricably interwoven with fundamental attraction: 'Love is like the lion's tooth' ('Crazy Jane Grown Old Looks at the Dancers').
A broadly comparable ambivalence is to be found in Eliot. Readers have always commented on lines about 'female smells in shuttered rooms', about the presentation of Grishkin or the woman in 'Hysteria', and Tony Pinkney (1984) has documented the pervasiveness of misogynist overtones in Eliot as a central piece of evidence in a psychoanalytic study. Maud Ellmann has connected fear of woman with the fear of what undermines and 'confuse[s] . . . the sense', and has demonstrated the connection of such fears with the development of Eliot's fragmentary and suggestive poetic, which deliberately embodies the contagion even as it expresses the anxiety (Ellmann, 1987, pp. 106—7). In this regard, the general tendency of Eliot criticism is comparable to that of Yeats criticism: namely, to emphasize the extent to which gender images become an opportunity for experimental identification and projection, and thus encourage innovative poetry. Similar conclusions have been drawn about Heaney (Haffenden, 1987; Larrissy, 1990, pp. 148-58) and about another 'misogynist', Larkin (Clark, 1994, pp. 220-57). It does seem that, whether the subject be men's or women's poetry, critics are achieving a broad measure of agreement around the notion that gender identifications provide an opportunity for a profound exploration of the human. They can do this because they are a matter of culturally determined roles and dispositions, rather than of biology. Indeed, recent theorizing, notably the work of Judith Butler (1990), has tended to move on decisively from the argument about sex and to promote the concept of gender as performance. This would appear to be a notion with considerable potential for critics and readers of poetry.
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