Our symposium on “The Global Poetess” at Rutgers considered the situation of “the Poetess” in recent scholarship on nineteenth-century women’s poetry which, in recent years, has shifted from recovering the works of neglected writers to considering the Poetess as a type that governed the circulation of women’s poetry in a burgeoning market for print.  The sentimental and genteel conventions that are the hallmark of nineteenth-century women’s lyric aren’t simply an embarrassment for the modern woman poet to overcome, they served as a medium for women poets to pass between public and private spheres, a means of circulation rather than an index of constraint.  The figure of the poetess became a type with cultural work to do, a mode of subjectivity and a vehicle for public speaking claimed by an increasingly wide range of women writers.

This symposium addresses the writing of five women poets who variously identify with and transform the figure of the poetess, from the influential early poetesses Felicia Hemans and Lydia Sigourney, to the ethnically and racially identified late nineteenth century poetesses Emma Lazarus, Pauline Johnson, and Sarojini Naidu.  How do the conventions that governed gendered self-representation in Victorian England and antebellum America translate on the world stage?  Does the global circulation of the figure of the poetess alter this figure in significant ways?


Introduced by Meredith McGill

Speakers: Max Cavitch, Virginia Jackson, Meredith McGill, Yopie Prins, Sheshalatha Reddy, Jason Rudy

Respondents: Carolyn Williams



Anon,  The African’s Complaint on Board a Slave Ship  (Gentleman’s Magazine, 1793)

Browning, Robert. Men and Women. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1856.

Dodge, Mary Mapes. The Two Mysteries.

Eells, J. M. Impromptu Stanzas, Suggested by the Working of the Fugitive Slave Act, as Illustrated in the cas of Rev. Doctor Pennington.

Hemans, Felicia. From Selected Poems, Prose, and Letters. New York: Broadview, 2002.

Johnson, Pauline. (Ad)

Thomas, Edward, review of Pauline Johnson: “New Poetry.” Bookman, 45:268 (1914:Jan.) p.234

Lazarus, Emma. The Poems of Emma Lazarus. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1889.

Naidu, Sarojini, The Golden Threshold. London: William Heinemann.

Sigourney, Lydia, Letters of Life (1866), Traits of the Aborigines of America (1822), Pleasant Memories of Pleasant Lands (1842),and Pochantas and Other Poems (1841). Other select poems may be found here and here.

Webster, Augusta, from Blanch Lisle and Other Poems, London: Macmillan, 1860.

Carroll, Lewis from Through the Looking Glass.

[PDF: Webster and Carroll]