Tag: women poets

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An autographed sepia photo of the Australian poet, Judith Wright, sitting with a sun hat as an older woman.

Refractions of Reflections: on Judith Wright’s “Naked Girl and Mirror”

From time to time I come across some thoughtful commentary about the absence of solid examples of masculinity in modern culture. Any discussion of positive role models is less common than that of its ‘toxic’ counterpart—and is often portrayed by those who fail to embody it. It makes sense that this would have negative effects on young men. But it also seems to me that young women are dealing with a counterpart sickness—one of surfeit. You can binge for hours without ever being satiated, if what you’re consuming lacks substance. Even the most intrepid attempts at “validation” wither when untethered to reality, and so much of what’s held up as models of femininity is shallow and incoherent.

But then consider the issue of “representation” in general. Fair enough, as it’s undoubtedly important: both in terms of who gets to have their work taken seriously, and in what subject matter gets taken seriously. In the sense that insofar as art can distil aspects of reality with a unique power, it’s just nonsensical to arbitrarily exclude whole domains of life from this. But one of the issues with an excessive focus on representation creeps in here, as quality art just can’t be subjected to a quota, and have this result in anything constructive. Inevitably, laziness sways, and it is simply much easier to quantify how many authors published by a certain press have vaginas as opposed to penises, than it is to tease out the particulars that distinguish a masterpiece from a mediocrity.

The consequences? On the one hand, considering how many of the proverbial Dead White Males were themselves trivial, literarily speaking, what harm is there in adding a few more living, be-melanined, or female dull equivalents to their number? The other problem is a little subtler, based on not who gets to write, but what gets written about. Why should representation be aspirational? The idea that art has a duty to present some kind of wholesome moral message (nuance need not apply) seems omnipresent these days. Even putting aside the fact that it’s been proven throughout history that the greatest works tend to chafe against the pettier needs of their times—well. Yet an excellent poem (for example) can offer a vivid representation of life through being able to capture more of its layers and complexities than is possible through any other means. Enough talking about this. Let us look. […]