“Phyllis McGinley needs no puff”: Gender and Value in Mid-Century American Poetry

Jo Gill, University of Exeter
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Fall 2015), 355-378

This essay takes the work of the “housewife poet,” Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978), as the starting point for a critical examination of the complex relationship between American women poets, masculine literary culture, and the second-wave feminist movement in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It posits a number of factors behind McGinley’s rise to fame as a poet and subsequent decline in reputation, and it establishes hitherto overlooked—and productive—relationships between her writing and that of her better-known successors, including Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Elizabeth Bishop. The essay draws on a range of unpublished archival resources in offering a reading of McGinley’s work in relation to its poetic, spatial, and historical contexts. Specifically, it addresses her choice of “light verse” and appeal to a popular market, her suburban origins and themes, and her opposition to the emergent feminist movement. By deploying McGinley’s life and work as an exemplar, this essay proposes a re-evaluation of the complex discourses of gender, location, and literary value in mid-century American culture.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]