Sunday, August 28, 2011

she walks in beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems

by Wendy

A close girlfriend of mine gave me this book when we met at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. this summer. On the ride home on the Metro, I thumbed through it in anticipation. I am a woman! I am halfway through my journey (If I live to be a hundred, which is likely considering the shelf life my body must have, considering all the processed food I eat)! I write poetry! This is perfect! A book of poems by and about women!

Except it's not. I read the first poem, "She Walks in Beauty." By Lord Byron. Yes, by a man. And he has plenty of company. Of the nearly 200 entries, approximately a third are written by men. Now, I have nothing against male writers, I just thought this book could have been a wonderful opportunity to showcase female poets exclusively, especially considering the subject matter.

The collection, selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy, promises to be, as Kennedy writes in the introduction, " . . . an anthology of poems centered around the stages of a woman's life . . .." And, aptly, she walks in beauty is divided into several sections, including, "Falling in Love," "Breaking Up," "Marriage," "Motherhood," "Work," and "Growing Up and Growing Old," among others. There are classic poems, such as "To My Dear and Loving Husband," by Anne Bradstreet and contemporary poems, such as, "PS Education" by Ellen Hagan. There is a nice diversity in the collection, with poems by Dominican-American Julia Alvarez ("Hairwashing," Woman's Work," and "Woman Friend"), African-American Parneshia Jones ("Bra Shopping"), Arab-American Naomi Shihab Nye ("My Friend's Divorce"), among others. There are humorous poems, such as Dorothy Parker's "Sympton Recital" and touching poems, such as Jo McDougall's "Companion." (One of my favorites.) There are poems about heterosexual love, lesbian love, motherly love, sisterly love, and yes, chocolate love. When I finished reading the last poem, I decided that, although I consider the title misleading, ultimately, Kennedy's book is a nice addition to my collection of poetry books.

by Jo Mcdougall

When Grief came to visit,
she hung her skirts and jacket in my closet.
She claimed the only bath.

When I protested,
she assured me it would be
only for a little while.

Then she fell in love with the house,
repapered the rooms,
laid green carpet in the den.

She's a good listener
and plays a mean game of Bridge.
But it's been seven years.

Once, I ordered her outright to leave.
Days later
she came back, weeping.

I'd enjoyed my mornings,
coffee for one;
my solitary sunsets,
my Tolstoy and Moliere.

I asked her in.


  1. I will think better of this volume and take a look at it, then. I don't know exactly why, but Caroline Kennedy doesn't strike me as the person I want collecting poems for my perusal.

  2. How odd that an anthology of female poetry contains poems written by men. I don't read a great deal of poetry but I do like the one you quoted.


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