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Books to Read, Part II

By FAM :: 5 September 2006

A very different and perhaps in many ways less immediately accessible read is Robyn Bolamís excellent and very thorough anthology of women poets from 1600 to 1900 Elizaís Babes. Robyn is a respected poet, regarding whose work my only criticism would be that there should be more of it available in print, and a professor at St. Maryís College, Twickenham. She straddles the divide between literary production and literary criticism by teaching creative writing alongside writing poetry, but she is also a very productive literary scholar. Because she is also a good friend, unkind souls might suggest that nothing would find its way into this discussion of her work which would be less than glowing. However, anyone who loves poetry and has an interest in the less well-trodden paths of verse in the English language will agree that this is not only a very comprehensive study of the subject, it also contains two elements so often lacking in many anthologies, a roundly successful selection of material as well as a carefully researched and sensitively presented set of notes, both on the writersí biographies and on the references in the poems that a modern audience would not have ready access to.

Letís begin with a look at the first point, the selection of the material. Clearly, the names you (Aphra Ben, the BrontŽs etc.) would expect are represented. But there are also writers, whose work are much more difficult to get hold of, and it is thanks to Robynís work that these are represented here too, allowing interesting insights into the life and times, as well as the subjects and the angles from which they could be approached, of women writers who even in their day canít have more than a fairly select readership. This is less to do with the quality of their writing than with their biographies. This, clearly is the second strength of this anthology; Robynís brief but highly informative biographical notes allow intriguing glimpses into the lives of women poets, writing in a Manís World, their struggle for recognition and, in many cases, the added day-to-day responsibility of providing for a family. It is in these sketches that one feels the material for a whole range of historical novels lies waiting for an eager pen.

All in all, thanks must go to Bloodaxe for publishing and having the good sense to get Robyn Bolam to compile this fascinating anthology, which is a sheer delight to (seren-)dip into.

Eliza's Babes, ed. Robyn Bolam, Bloodaxe (ISBN 1852245212 PBK £10.95)


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