Sexually Empowered Poetry

Kate Bolick finds that the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay “was blessed with not only uncommon genius but the romantic Gibson Girl looks prized by her era—winsome face, comely curves, heavy masses of auburn hair—and she wasn’t afraid to use them”:

In 1917 Millay’s first book, Renascence and Other Poems, made her the muse and celebrity of Greenwich Village bohemia, and as fans of her poetry are well aware, she took so effortlessly to the neighborhood’s progressive sexual politics that she fast became its emissary. Millay wasn’t the first woman to tell a lovesick man to just get over it (“And if I loved you Wednesday, / Well what is that to you? / I do not love you Thursday— / So much is true”), but she may have been the first to publish a poem in a respected literary journal saying so. Indeed, she had so many lovers that she hardly took the time to differentiate them in her poems, much to the disgruntlement of her conquests, who’d hoped for at least a compensatory brush with immortality.. …

A generation of “new women” just beginning to flex their own personal agency needed exactly such a voice, and her use of familiar, traditional forms—she was partial to rhyming couplets and the sonnet—helped deliver her version of female independence to a public newly ready to receive it.

Read another meditation on Millay’s pull here.