From the poems of Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, and Emily Dickinson emerges what the author calls FemPoetiks, a discourse of female empowerment. Situating the work of these poets in their historical eras, Linda Nicole Blair considers a sampling of their poems side-by-side with a number of song lyrics by singer-songwriters Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens, and Lucinda Williams, having found commonalities of theme, motif, and language between them. Blair argues that while FemPoetiks has continued to develop in various ways in American poetry by women, the fact that this discourse finds expression in songs by Americana female artists indicates a matrilineal line of influence from the 1630s to today. In order to show the omnipresence of this powerful feminist discourse, she closes this book with eleven interviews she conducted with female singer-songwriters from around the United States. The phenomenon of FemPoetiks is not limited to the arts but extends into all areas of American life, from the domestic to the political. FemPoetiks is a woman’s truth.
Nicole Blair is associate teaching professor at the University of Washington.
Chapter One: The Revelation of the Feminine
Chapter Two: Anne Bradstreet and Brandi Carlile, The FemPoetiks of Resistance
Chapter Three: Phillis Wheatley and Rhiannon Giddens, The FemPoetiks of Revolution
Chapter Four: Emily Dickinson and Lucinda Williams, The FemPoetiks of Rebellion
Chapter Five: Women of Americana, The Interviews
In designing FemPoetiks as an intersectional, interdisciplinary system of critical inquiry, Blair offers a flexible lens to explore the ways artists have demanded space for the female voice in culture. The distinctive strengths of the artists addressed show a persistent exigency to be included in the discourse of society and at the same time generate uniquely creative compositions of poetry and songs to do so…. [Blair’s] dual focus on poetry and music, and the pairings she chooses, are brilliantly cast to illustrate shared cultural spaces and multidirectional movement within the American contra dance…. A thorough, engaging book. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
How do American poems and songs written by women portray society—and more importantly, how do they change that society? These are two of the many fundamental questions that Nicole Blair explores in her phenomenal book, FemPoetiks of American Poetry and Americana Music: A Woman's Truth. Through a deeply intersectional approach, Blair examines six pioneers of songwriting and poetry who have developed a counternarrative that speaks truth to power. This book gives long overdue scholarship to songwriters Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens, and Lucinda Williams, pairing each songwriter with a poet known for her trailblazing work: Anne Bradstreet, the first American published in the American colonies; Phillis Wheatley the first African-American to publish a poetry book; and Emily Dickinson. What all these writers have in common is a resistance to the injustices of their epochs—and a commitment to use art to present the complex truths of their lives. Blair’s scintillating prose is every bit as able to distil complex topics such as feminism, slavery, and racism, as it is in parsing out the intricacies of poetic lines. Her insights are like lightning that illuminates the night sky. This is a deeply necessary book on the power of women’s poetry, songs—and the courage to sing one’s truth.