"Phyllis McGinley needs no puff": gender and value in mid-century American poetry
Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
University of Tulsa
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This essay takes the work of the “housewife poet,” Phyllis McGinley (1905–1978), as the starting point for a critical examination of the complex relationship between American women poets, masculine literary culture, and the second-wave feminist movement in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It posits a number of factors behind McGinley’s rise to fame as a poet and subsequent decline in reputation, and it establishes hitherto overlooked—and productive—relationships between her writing and that of her better-known successors, including Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Elizabeth Bishop. The essay draws on a range of unpublished archival resources in offering a reading of McGinley’s work in relation to its poetic, spatial, and historical contexts. Specifically, it addresses her choice of “light verse” and appeal to a popular market, her suburban origins and themes, and her opposition to the emergent feminist movement. By deploying McGinley’s life and work as an exemplar, this essay proposes a re-evaluation of the complex discourses of gender, location, and literary value in mid-century American culture.
notes: In press
Copyright Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, University of Tulsa
Vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 355-378