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Poem on Poem Ekphrasis: Brian McHale's Feminist Reading of Berryman's Homage to Mistress Bradstreet

In Brian McHale's The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole: Postmodernist Long Poems, he starts his chapter on Susan Howe's The Europe of Trusts with a short introduction to the idea of silence of women and the canon, describing "Berryman's 'Homage'...as a kind of parable" of "the received version of literary historiography" in which women are silent or overwritten (205). McHale argues that Berryman's "poetic 'homage' to the precursor-poet consists in silencing her." (205)

Anne Bradstreet , in "Upon a Fit of Sickness" writes, 'Bestow much cost there's nothing lost,/ to make salvation sure,/ O great's the gain, though got with pain, / comes by profession pure."

In "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet", Berryman says as Bradstreet's persona "Hard and divided heaven! creases me. Shame /is failing. My breath is scented, and I throw / hostile glances towards God. "

You might be wondering, but what does he say about Howe? I have an annotated bibliography coming up that I'll put on my website. But I thought this brief framing of feminist poetry with the context necessary to know the constructed void of silencing that Howe is writing into is a great example of how (unfortunately) necessary it is to bracket feminist recovery projects with the (often unacknowledged) context of suppression in which they become even more valuable as art pieces.

Here's a post I wrote on Susan Howe's Singularities.

Comments

I am proud to be descended from Anne Bradstreet.

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