Sunday, August 31, 2008
Women Poets on Mentorship
I loved this book. It's a collection of essays by women poets about their relationships with the women poets who served as their mentors. There's a lot of variety among the essays and the kinds of mentoring described in them.
Jenny Factor writes about her first shy encounter with Marilyn Hacker. She writes about how the older poet became her teacher and how the relationship evolved into friendship. Beth Ann Fennelly writes about how a single poem, "Bulimia," by Denise Duhamel, revolutionized her own understanding of what poetry could be and do. Daphne Gottlieb, instead of focusing on a single relationship, describes how an entire community of like-minded people became her mentor. Joy Katz writes about how the poetry of Sharon Olds, not the poet herself, served as a mentor. I particularly liked this approach as it mirrors my own experiences and philosophy, i.e., the poems themselves are often our best teachers.
Erika Meitner describes what might be regarded as a more traditional mentoring relationship with Rita Dove who was part of Meitner's MFA program. Cin Salach's relationship was the one that took the most unexpected direction as she and Maureen Seaton moved from mentor and student to lovers. For me the most surprising relationship was between Rebecca Wolff and Molly Peacock. This relationship began when Wolff was only in 9th grade and found herself in Peacock's class back when Peacock was still a full-time teacher. She then continued for three years to work with Peacock. This relationship surprised me because the two poets could not be more different, but Wolff makes it clear that she was able to throw off the influence of her mentor's formalism because her mentor gave her permission to do so and encouraged her to find her own style. And isn't that what a mentor ought to do?
Since all of the essayists are poets, it is not surprising to find some really wonderful prose here, some of it, for example, Miranda Field's piece on Fanny Howe, just exquisite. I also enjoyed the Introduction by the editors, Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker. The collection is also a wonderful mixture of prose and poetry. Each poet's essay is followed by three of her own poems and then one by her mentor.
The one thing missing for me was an essay by an older poet, someone who found poetry late. How did this person find mentors? And were they younger or older? But maybe that's a topic for volume two. I hope so.