The Enright Files on Pioneering Female Poets

It doesn’t seem strange that the best-loved and best-selling English language poets should be women, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, arguably the greatest American poet of the 19th Century – Emily Dickinson – wrote in total obscurity during her life. But by the middle of the 20th Century, Dickinson, and the generations of female poets she inspired, were beginning to get their due. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich – women who inspired poets of the last few decades.
Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Adrienne Rich have been an inspiration to many poets of the last few decades. (Wikipedia/AP/Chuck Knoblock/AP)

Mary Oliver, the beloved American poet who died last month at the age of 83, was described by The New York Times as "far and away this country's best-selling poet."

It does not seem strange at all now that the most prominent of poets should be women, but until relatively recently, poetry was considered, however chauvinistically, as a robustly male preserve. The vast majority of towering figures in English-language poetry were men until around the middle of the 20th Century. 

But just as Mary Oliver has inspired countless women – and men – with her poetry, her predecessors from decades or a century and a half ago deeply influenced Oliver's generation.

On this month's edition of The Enright Files, conversations about Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich –  some of the greatest female poets whose heirs are writing and reading poetry today.

Guests in this episode: 

  • Lyndal Gordon is a writer and biographer. He book about Emily Dickinson is called Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds. It's published by Penguin Books.
  • Sarah Churchwell is a professor of American literature at the University of London. She is also a writer and author. 
  • Elizabeth Winder is a poet and author. Her book about Sylvia Plath is called Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. It's published by Harper Collins.
  • Lorna Crozier is a Canadian poet and author, and the winner of the 1992 Governor General's Award.
  • Kate Sutherland is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and founder of the Law and Culture Blog.

**The Enright Files is produced by Chris Wodskou.


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