The Anxiety of the Poet-as-Male

At the moment I’m reading Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973) with a mind towards my thesis overall and in particular the sample of work I have to produce for my transfer of status. Bloom’s is a very robust theory, and occasionally quite difficult to grasp. I can already see how some of his points can be used to highlight the intra-poetic relationship between the generations of Northern Irish poets in the contemporary era.

One thing that bugs me when reading criticism is the seemingly glib characterization of the poet-as-male, although it is certainly ironic in the context of my research. Bloom wallows in this, and this gendering for some reason makes me imagine a David Attenborough voice-over observing the male of the species – ‘from his start as a poet he quests for an impossible object, as his precursor quested before him’.

This stands as a fairly stark reminder that until relatively recent years the poet, in popular and critical imagination, was male. It also opens itself up rather nicely for a feminist re-imagining of the theory – done in this case by Gilbert and Gubar in the late 1970s. This is probably what Bloom would have termed clinamen – ‘which implies that the precursor poem went accurately up to a certain point, but then should have swerved, precisely in the direction that the new poem moves’.

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