Book review: Lyric interventions

Lyric interventions: Feminism, experimental poetry, and contemporary discourse
Linda A. Kinnahan
U of Iowa Press, 2004

In five chapters Linda Kinnahan explores linguistically innovative poetry by contemporary women in North America and Britain that represents feminist reconsiderations of the lyric subject.

Kinnahan’s goals in this study are:
To add to discussions of women avant-garde poets within a critical discourse largely centered upon men until the past five years or so,
To call attention to innovative women poets advancing a feminist sensibility;
To consider an experimental alternative to male-centered narratives and theorizations of Language writing; and
To broaden discussions of women’s innovative poetry to include the British context.

She contributes to discussions of Language-oriented poetry by focusing on women writers and feminist percspectives. Her study of lyric experimentation calls attention to contexts of nation, gender, and race “as they shift the terms by which the experimental is understood.” Kinnahan explores the overlaps between feminist and Language debates, and how they amplify each other.
Kinnahan argues that ‘real’ poetic theory is still perceived as a masculine domain and that this perception colors the narratives of language poetry. In a general sense, she says, women’s experimental poetry has often been overlooked as too untheoretically aware or sophisticated. Linked to this perception she says, has been a perception of women’s (retrograde) attachment to the personal and to the lyric.

She introduces newcomers to the electronic journal HOW2, a web site for women’s innovative writing, visual experimentation, and critical scholarship. It descends from Kathleen Fraser’s print journal HOW(ever), published in the eighties and early nineties. That journal “occupies an important textual space for historicizing and theorizing the public, political possibilities of an avant-garde feminist practice,” she says.

Both Language writing and feminist innovation sought to undermine interpretive codes, she writes, “by self-consciously playing against ingrained habits of reading and critiquing the boundaries of the poem. . . . Language writing resists the idea of the reader as passive consumer, involving the reader actively in the production of meaning and seeking to understand how relations of power that inform the everyday are disseminated and veiled through language.”

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