Vindication of Women Writers Part 1

I am reflecting upon some comments made by the poet Sean O’Brien at the Robert Graves Conference in Majorca. O’Brien gave a rather good paper, ‘Missing, Presumed Dead? Graves and Contemporary Poetry’. But he marred his presentation with cheap digs at Laura Riding, Graves’s lover and collaborator for 13 years, and who, I believe, may have saved his post-war sanity if not his life (then the opposite too but that’s another story for later!), and certainly was a HUGE influence for the good on his work from 1926-1936. Worse though, were O’Brien’s comments about “older lady writers”, and his caution to poets who give workshops to ignore them “at your peril” [these “hobby writers” are the bread and butter i.e. a necessary evil]. He received the cheap chuckle from the audience he’d anticipated.
Well after enduring an opening lecture by another male poet of an age, in which misogynist clangers were dropped left and right, and the de rigeur digs at Riding (cheap laughs to a chapel already half-converted), I felt like getting up and walking out, but in both cases I didn’t. Why? Because I didn’t want to be rude to my host, the very kind and generous William Graves, the poet’s son, but a person in his own right entirely.
Still, I am compelled to write about those two male poets of an age, after reading an interview, in today’s Guardian, with Margaret MacMillan, Oxford don, historian, author of several big history books, the most recent being “The War That Ended Peace”. I met Margaret at a reception Canada House this year in London. She’s Canadian and is the head of an Oxford college. She is, to put it mildly, a brainiac. A soft-spoken, approachable and thoughtful scholar is she, and respectful… repeat, RESPECTFUL to her audience. 
Well reading her interview today I read that her breakthrough as a writer came when she was in her 50’s. And I thought about all the amazing women who began writing in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s, and I thought about those cheap remarks made for cheap laughs that O’Brien et al. dropped on us. I contend that for many, many women, it is not until their childbearing and childrearing years are done (even if women don’t have children their years and bodies are somewhat concerned with this, thus the wonderful phenomena of “post-menopausal zest”), and the bulk of their husband-sitting is done (i.e. anchoring the home while he makes his big career in some cases… it’s observed in some widows too, a surge of creativity and sparkle once their grieving is done), that there is little room in which the woman has space to write – literally and figuratively, most importantly, emotionally and psychologically. 
Many women do not have the confidence to write until much later, or in some cases, it is only later in life that they have the time to formulate what they need to say, and how they wish to say it. So to poke fun at new writers who are women in their 60’s and 70’s for example, is blatantly wrong. 
“A Room of One’s Own”, wrote Virginia Woolf, is what a woman writer needs. She adds too, that a personal income of approx. $50k is necessary. She also needs a partner who sees her work as work, and not a hobby, even if it doesn’t make the big $$$, and a partner who does not feel threatened by her success.
Well Mr. O’Brien, what I say a woman writer needs, is to have respect given to her for the wisdom of a woman’s life lived. A boy is encouraged to speak out. At 60 or 70, or 80, our elders lived through a time when this was discouraged, and they deserve to be listened to, whether in poetic form, or otherwise.
Here endeth the sermon.


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