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Bat Ode by Jeredith Merrin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001, 68 pp., $15.00 paper.
Coming Back to the Body by Joyce Sutphen. Duluth, MN: Holy Cow! Press, 2001, 109 pp., $13.95 paper.
The Penultimate Suitor by Mary Leader. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2001, 75 pp., $29.95 hardcover, $13.00 paper.
Simon Says by Jan Freeman. Ashfield, MA:
Paris Press, 2000, 120 pp., $13.95 paper.
As poets of the nineties, this quartet of award-winning, fellowship- and residence-acquiring women came of age during the feminist movements of the sixties and the seventies. Three of them are established academics, the fourth runs a nonprofit publishing house. All four still search for wholeness and vision, still record fragmented lives, feel invisible divided. In their poems, the wild women still act up, often in disguise and in or out of love affairs with women or men. Yet their poems are neither political in the broad sense nor feminist in the specific sense. They do not try to deal with women's history or with the politics of race, class and gender. There are no poems about Afghan women's deprivations, Somali women's starvation, or the rape of Bosnian women. There are also few or no poems about incest, rape, child abuse, the Holocaust, small wars, AIDS.
Perhaps, I thought, I ought to call this essay "The West Is Suffering from Compassion Fatigue," the title of a midnineties poem by Shirley Kaufman. Or perhaps I needed to ask, as Adrienne Rich does in the tide of a 1991 poem, "What Kind of Times Are These?" But I read these books first before September 11th, and more than a month went by before I could return to this assignment, reread them, and think again about how to write about them. And, yes, some of these poems seemed different, as I felt different, forever changed by events. Even these seemingly apolitical poems now offered glimpses beyond their smooth or bumpy surfaces of a roiled, sullied world. Were these poets prescient? Or was I carrying my pain into the reading?
In style and substance, the four fall into two groups. I would call Joyce Sutphen and Jeredith Merrin "transparent," autobiographical poets, poets of the clean line, the brief intense focus, poets who remind you of …