Deborah Pope

Deborah Pope on: "Diving into the Wreck"

The wreck represents the battered hulk of the sexual definitions of the past, which Rich, as an underwater explorer, must search for evidence of what can be salvaged. Only those who have managed to survive the wreck--women isolated from any meaningful participation or voice in forces that led to the disaster--are in a position to write its epitaph and their own names in new books.

From A Separate Vision: Isolation in Contemporary Women’s Poetry. Copyright © 1984 by Louisiana State University Press.

Deborah Pope: On "Women"

The collection's two central emotions--fear and denial--reach their nadir in the poem "Women." Whereas speakers in previous poems found it possible, even convincing, to place responsibility for isolation on forces such as tradition, magic, male figures, and age, the voice in "Women" internalizes the enemy and turns on her own feminine self. The "body of this death" becomes identified as her own female body. The poem's unrelieved bitterness toward gender epitomizes the worst kind of isolation, extending to encompass both the outward and inward worlds. Women are excoriated as stunted, constricted creatures, senselessly paralyzed and paralyzing.

[. . . .]

Hermetic, ingrown, they have sensuousness neither in themselves nor in their perception of the varied world about them. Everything they do evokes suffocation; life itself is a mistake for these eternally blundering women. Unable to build or create, they only destroy. Worse, they cannot even mother.

[. . . .]

The encompassing nature of the attack is clear from the bluntly inclusive title and the rapid, accusatory They's with which half the lines begin. The women are composite reductions of previous personae, isolated from nature, the material world, productive social interchange with either sex, and themselves.

Yet strangely enough, in many ways "Women" is tremendously freeing. Bogan herself always retained a particular fondness for the poem, and later had it reissued privately. Unquestionably the poem is cathartic. In terms of the opening epigraph, it faces squarely and summarily every aspect of gender that frustrates deliverance and admits death, while it simultaneously abandons hope for a third-party rescue. Underlying its leaden charges is the awareness that only the self can alter the self.

From A Separate Vision: Isolation in Comtemporary Women's Poetry. Copyright © 1984 by Louisiana State University Press.

Deborah Pope: On "Medusa"

"Medusa" continues the previous poem's ["A Tale"] final image of a static, unproductive landscape dominated by forces "looking quietly upon each other." In order to create the ideal environment the youth sought, Bogan turns to the figure of Medusa, whose mythic power stops time and process, seeking the goddess the way the youth seeks his desert.

[. . . .]

After this apparition, the speaker is frozen in a landscape that evades the death wish of the youth by virtue of its water and foliage; yet, through the agency of Medusa, any threatening process is also evaded. In this fantastic realm, the speaker has it both ways, much like the figures adorning Keats's Grecian urn. There is fertility (water, grass, hay) without the corruption of it (the water does not fall, nor the hay get mown).

[. . . .]

This paradoxical stasis and motion is not "dreadful" to the speaker, as are the opposing forces of "A Tale"; here all has come to a "great balanced day." The drawback is that this balance is possible only through the intervention of the supernatural. At this point the speaker cannot appropriate for herself the feminine power embodied in Medusa, and so she remains still and passive in the dead scene.

From A Separate Vision: Isolation in Contemporary Women's Poetry. Copyright © 1984 by Louisiana State University Press.

Deborah Pope: On "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

The fearful, gloomy woman waiting inside her darkening room for the emotional and meteorological devastation to hit could be Aunt Jennifer, who is similarly passive and terrified, overwhelmed by events that eclipsed her small strength. "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" is, however, an even clearer statement of conflict in women, specifically between the impulse to freedom and imagination (her tapestry of prancing tigers) and the "massive weight" of gender roles and expectations, signified by "Uncle's wedding band." Although separated through the use of the third person and a different generation, neither Aunt Jennifer in her ignorance nor Rich as a poet recognizes the fundamental implications of the division between imagination and duty, power and passivity.

From A Separate Vision: Isolation in Contemporary Women’s Poetry. Copyright © 1984 by Louisiana State University Press.