chapter  7
33 Pages

The 1930s: Cultural Politics and the Poetry of Sylvia Townsend Warner, Valentine Ackland, Nancy Cunard, Winifred Holtby, Naomi Mitchison and Stevie Smith

The two strands of modernist negotiations with the British literary tradition, the more stylistically conventional and the avant-garde, continued into the 1930s. The work and public image of experimentalists like Marianne Moore, H.D., Amy Lowell and Edith Sitwell had helped to diminish the 'poetess' stigma. Reviewers were less able to draw upon the myths of feminine simplicity, conservatism and piety but they still positioned women in a literary sidestream. However, as I have set out in Women s Poetry of the 1930s, they were rarely mentioned in histories of 'thirties' poetry. 1 Because 'thirties poets' have been associated with left-wing politics, the omission of women has perpetuated the prejudices that they are politically conservative and concerned with the private life. The fierce egalitarianism of Stevie Smith, and the political engagementofSylvia Townsend Warner, Valentine Ackland, Naomi Mitchison, Winifred Holtby and Nancy Cunard challenge the lingering assumptions that women's concerns are with personal, not public, experience. These poets were active in communist, socialist and feminist movements and attempted to write poetry of commitment which avoided propaganda. Their woman-centred poetry deflates idealised femininity or domesticity and also documents literary women's complex relationship with women's emancipation.