Can this be true?

This is a conundrum. Every day I receive The Writer’s Almanac daily email, and usually I read the title of the poem and plunge straight into the poem without seeing the poet’s name.

If the poem is striking, even in part, I play a little game with myself: is the poet a man or a woman? Is it possible to tell the poet’s gender through his/her use of language, choice and treatment of topic, attitudes?

I’m not talking about gender-specific poems, just general life kinds of things that could rationally have been written by either sex. (And of course, as I always remind students, the voice of the poem is not necessarily the voice of the poet: Was dear Emily actually dead when she heard that fly buzz?)

It is astonishing to me how often I am correct in my guesswork. Is there a gender-based difference in poetics? Or is Garrison Keillor just drawn to poems that reflect the poet’s sex?

2 thoughts on “Can this be true?

  1. Sometimes not, but “Jeff” and “Mary” are good clues. Unless it’s a nom de plume, he mused, reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch as he is. In which case, all bets are off.

    It’s tempting to wave it all away with the shibboleth, “Gender is just a construct,” but that would be ignoring the hard fact that it is a construct, i.e., the construct exists and must be taken into account.

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