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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2012

11 - Nineteenth-century American women's poetry: past and prospects


The field of nineteenth-century poetry in the USA – and of women's poetry in particular – is now one of the most lively, active, and exciting areas of Americanist scholarship. A pressing need to clear out the ideological residue of twentieth-century literary criticism, which typically derided nineteenth-century women's poetry as trite, sentimental pablum, has driven innovation on many fronts. The first wave of scholarly attention to nineteenth-century US women poets grew from the related phenomena of feminist studies and the canon wars. Emily Stipes Watts (The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 [1977]); Erlene Stetson (Black Sister: Poetry by Black American Women, 1746–1980 [1981]); Cheryl Walker (The Nightingale's Burden: Women Poets and American Culture Before 1900 [1982]); and Alicia Ostriker (Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America [1986]) all called powerful attention to the extensive and (at that time) entirely neglected body of work by women poets. Scholars today still build on the ground these pioneering scholars cleared, but are simultaneously recasting the field's fundamental terms of inquiry. In the pages that follow, I offer a brief overview of the emergence and development of nineteenth-century American women's poetry studies; I then turn to addressing the problems at the core of the field at the present time.