BOOK REVIEW / Gender bending

So men sometimes write as women, and women write as men. 'So what?' asks Judith Palmer; The Routledge Anthology of Cross-Gendered Verse edited by Alan Michael Parker and Mark Wilhardt Routledge, pounds 11.99 paperback

Once upon a time there was a poem, and it lived happily in its own slim volume. One day the poem caught the eye of an anthologist. "You're just what I've been looking for," said the anthologist. "Come home with me and I'll make you famous. You can live in my anthology with lots of other poems. I know you'll get on together, you have so much in common."

He had been a rich multi-layered poem of shifting meanings and vibrant ambiguities. "You won't need those here," said the anthologist, as he stripped him of his shimmering cloak of inflections. "Put this uniform on, it's much more practical, one size fits all. Isn't that better? Now everyone knows exactly what sort of poem you are." But did they? "I'm an exploration of the soul's conflicting impulses towards salvation," called the poem enticingly to a reader browsing nearby. "Don't be silly," replied the reader, "everyone knows you're just a minor example of a cross- gendered poem."

All anthologies are factitious but some are more factitious than others. They can provide illumination, different contexts in which to reinterpret a poem, a new lens through which to read. Too often, however, the lens distorts. Poems are wrenched from their original context and yoked by violence together, to form a sort of literary chain-gang. Alan Michael Parker and Mark Willhardt, editors of this anthology, are heinous offenders, mercilessly shackling poems to their own spurious thesis.

An anthology of cross-gendered verse does not, as you might suppose, consist of poems by, for or about transvestites, transsexuals or hermaphrodites. No glimpses of Dynel tresses backstage at Madame Jo-Jo's. No Jayne County, Barry Humphries or Ruby Venezuela.

No sign either of genderly-challenged poetic characters such as Shakespeare's Rosalind (requiring a boy actor to play a girl pretending to be a boy), Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (inspiration to many, including Ovid, Swinburne and Hughes), or Eliot's "old man with wrinkled dugs'', the soothsayer Tiresias.

Parker and Willhardt have made the breathtaking discovery that poets sometimes adopt personas. Women write in the voice of men, men in the voice of women. It's taken for granted that novelists invent characters, yet is considered unusual for poets to write anything that isn't confessional or autobiographical.

So we find Chaucer's Wife of Bath riding side-saddle with Tennyson's Rizpah and Blake's Nurse. Anne Sexton writes as Jesus, Lucille Clifton as Powell, the officer charged with the beating of Rodney King. A hundred poems from Middle English and early Scots through to present-day New York, offer a succession of dramatic monologues delivered in voices of the opposite sex.

Some of my favourite poems are here: Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife", for example: "While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead/ Played I about the front gate, pulling flowers"; or Rita Dove's "Genie's Prayer under the Kitchen Sink": "The hot water squeezed/ to a trickle so she counted out the finger holes/ and dialled her least-loved son."

"What remains consistent through all this diversity," the editors insist, "is the sense that each of these works should be seen within the context of gender and as an exploration of gender." Yet the book provides no biographical material. Are the poets gay or straight? At what stage in their lives was the poem written? Did the poet specialise in dramatic monologues or was the form chosen on one occasion only? In the absence of context, the anthology remains arbitrary.

It may look like a valid excuse for a poetry anthology, but look beneath the pancake make-up and false tits, and you'll find it's a travesty.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence