Beyond bitcherel

MAKING FOR PLANET ALICE ed Maura Dooley, Bloodaxe pounds 8.95
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The Independent Culture
WHEN I heard that Bloodaxe were publishing another anthology of women's poetry, I wondered, like many others, if there was any need for yet another women's anthology. Since the publication of Bloodaxe's Sixty Women Poets (1993), surely poetry by women has by now been accepted into the mainstream? By publishing an anthology by women, aren't we just re-ghettoising them and excluding male readers? Then The School Bag came out, edited by perhaps the two most famous poets of our time, the Laureate and the Nobel. Out of the 271 poets who appear, a paltry 23 are women.

Making For Planet Alice is an intelligent and often surprising appraisal of poetry by women in the 1990s - all of the 30 poets chosen have had first collections published in the last seven years. The title and the cover illustration are misleading: "Alice" implies Lewis Carroll's Alice, the embodiment of childish precocity and reason; while the cover picture shows a dark-haired woman, red lips parted, pretending to be Marilyn Monroe - the archetype of submissive, childlike, feminine sexuality. These women don't seem to be making for anything - they're unmistakably already there.

They are not emulating their male counterparts and neither are they writing about the staple "women's poetry" preoccupations - "blood, babies, the moon and jam-making," as editor Maura Dooley (above) puts it. Their subjects and concerns are at once universal and particular, encompassing travel, science, ghosts, slugs, race and, of course, sex. The barbed debate of gender politics is ever-present, from Eleanor Brown's unforgettably forked-tongued "Bitcherel", who says of her ex's new girlfriend, "There isn't a law that a face should have features, / it's just that they generally do", to Linda France's woman scorned who sows cress into her adulterous lover's carpet. Men be warned: you don't get off lightly here.

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