Historical and Hysterical


A Brief and Inadequate History of Female Comic Poets

by A.M. Juster

Until the 20th century, female poets rarely published humorous verse; fortunately, that situation has changed. Today Wendy Cope is deservedly a best-selling celebrity in England. The books of Gail White and Julie Kane, to name just two, have built appreciative audiences for their work, and America’s most prestigious poetry journal uses a witty triolet by A.E. Stallings for promotional purposes. In this issue of Light (edited by comic poet Melissa Balmain), we are blessed to have Susan McLean as our featured poet.

The immediate predecessors of Cope and Stallings may surprise some readers. Many of our best “serious” female poets who came of age in the ’50s, such as Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), Maxine Kumin (1925-2014), and Rhina P. Espaillat (b. 1932), received important early exposure with their light verse. They often published in “women’s magazines” such as Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Baby Talk, and Lady’s Home Journal, but also in The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Maxine Kumin’s light verse displayed a love of acrobatic rhyme and a focus on family life when she first started publishing in 1953. These two poems appeared in 1953 and 1954 issues of The Christian Science Monitor:

Collector’s Item

Chemists pursue the right catalysts;
Rare issues are sought by philatelists.
Antique lovers rummage in attics;
Still others prefer numismatics,
But even the poet in search of a strophe
Can’t hold a candle to my Aunt Sophie.
She treasures old snapshots; wait till you see
The one on a bear rug she has of me!

Something Exotic, Please!

The precious night we’re out to dine,
To celebrate and play some,
The sign “Home Cooking” I decline;
That’s what I’ve come away from!

In the first half of the century Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) and Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) were national celebrities and best-selling authors. The safer and more prolific McGinley was more popular initially, but much of her work, which tended to focus on the culture of her time, rapidly grew dated as Parker’s edgier and more timeless wit endured.

The achievements of Parker and McGinley are all the more remarkable when one considers that they substantially lacked female literary role models. As education became more universal in England and North America in the 19th century, women began publishing their poetry at such an increased rate that some misguided male poets complained. Until the rise of Parker and McGinley, however, women often seemed reluctant to assume the risks of humor on top of the risks of declaring themselves to be poets.

Women of the 19th century did publish voluminously in the safer world of humorous children’s poetry. Perhaps the most notable poet of this profile was an American, Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), now best known as the author of Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates. Her popular three books of poetry, which included Rhymes and Jingles (1874), Along the Way (1879), and When Life Is Young (1884), included charming poems such as this one from her first collection:

Little Miss Limberkin

Little Miss Limberkin,
Dreadful to say,
Found a mouse in the cupboard
Sleeping away.
Little Miss Limberkin
Gave such a scream,
She frightened the little mouse
Out of its dream.

One can find a little female humor outside of the literary mainstream of the time. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was not a humorous poet in the style of Parker or McGinley, but scholars could write many books about her unexpected satirical twists and absurdist humor, such as her commendation of God for being prompt in Poem 1672.

A Dorothy Parker precursor who never lived up to her literary potential was Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828). Her famous description of her lover, Lord Byron, as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” (an apt description for Lady Caroline as well, as one of her own poems concedes) was the best one-liner of 19th-century literature until Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) overwhelmed the field decades later.

The first of Lamb’s four novels was a roman à clef called Glenarvon that scandalized England with its scathing portrayal of Byron and other easily recognizable leading figures of British society. Her two extant adventures in light verse, “A New Canto” and “Gordon: A Tale—A Poetical Review” (often misattributed to Byron) were also attacks on Byron that demonstrated talent paired with a limited repertoire of subject matter:


He made a gallant youth his darkling prey,
Nor e’er would massacre or murder mince,
And yet I fear, on this important day,
To see the hero pitifully wince:
Go yield him up to Belzebub, and say,
“Pray treat him like a gentleman and prince.”
I doubt him thorough-bred, he’s not a true one,
A bloodhound spaniel-crossed and no Don Juan.
(“A New Canto”)


Of all his brother poets, in the race
For fame and glory, he can run the best,
He strides and bounds with such an easy grace,
That they consider him a downright pest;
He gains so quickly, in so short a space,
There seems no chance for any of the rest,
But just as he is on the point of winning,
He turns aside, sits down, and falls a grinning.
(“Gordon, A Tale, A Poetical Review of Don Juan”)

The life of Lady Caroline Lamb is a sad tale of squandered talent. She died at 42 with a trail of messy romances behind her and no enduring novels or poems—today we remember only her Byron one-liner.

The golden age of light verse—otherwise known as the Age of Swift and Pope—and the decades immediately afterwards produced a large number of both remarkable and unremarkable comic female poets. In the Low Countries the best of these poets was Juliana Cornelia de Lannoy (1738-1782), a Flemish poet who wrote a satire of etiquette called “Het Gastmaal” (“The Banquet”), and several well-crafted poems with surprise punchlines, including “De Volmaakte Man” (“The Perfect Man”) and a send-up of epic mythology called “Lycaon.”

A talented contemporary of de Lannoy was Elizabeth Moody (1737-1814), who skillfully satirized the literary giants of her generation in “Dr. Johnson’s Ghost [On Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides].” She also satirized housekeeping in “The Household’s Prayer, On the Morning Preceding a Fete” and “Sappho Burns her Books and Cultivates the Culinary Arts,” even though her knowledge of domestic drudgery was almost surely second-hand; she inherited a large estate from her father at 13 and remained financially independent until she married a much younger vicar at the age of 40.

Another writer of this period who wrote light verse was the great novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). Her poetry consisted entirely of occasional verse designed to amuse friends; she never published any of her poems during her lifetime and, as a general matter, they are pedestrian in style and content. Her poetry does have its charming moments, as when she is teasing her niece (and future fiction writer), Anna LeFroy, with tropes of the untamed American landscape in an untitled poem typically known as “Mock Panegyric on a Young Friend”:

In measured verse I’ll now rehearse
The charms of lovely Anna:
And, first, her mind is unconfined
Like any vast Savannah.

Ontario’s lake may fitly speak
Her fancy’s ample bound:
Its circuit may on strict survey
Five hundred miles be found.

Her wit descends on foes and friends
Like famed Niagara’s fall;
And travelers gaze in wild amaze,
And listen, one and all.

Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,
Like transatlantic groves,
Dispenses aid, and friendly shade,
To all that in it roves.

If thus her mind to be defined
America exhausts,
And all that’s grand in that great land
In similes it costs—

Oh how can I her person try
To image and portray?
How paint the face, the form how trace,
In which those virtues lay?

Another world must be unfurled,
Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round
Her charms of flesh and bone.

Men, unsurprisingly, did not escape Jane Austen’s teasing either:

The way’s as plain, the road as smooth,
The posting not increased;
You’re scarcely stouter than you were,
Not younger Sir at least.
(“Oh! Mr. Best You’re Very Bad”)

England’s foremost female light verse poet in the previous generation was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). Indeed, the formidable Lady Mary went toe-to-toe with both of the literary giants of her era. Although mythology now shrouds the causes of these grudge matches, it appears that the feud with Pope was personal (Montagu reportedly snubbed Pope’s advances) and her feud with Swift based more on what she viewed as a negative portrayal of women in Swift’s “The Lady’s Dressing Room” (although in the Dean’s defense, whatever his other shortcomings, he did have an admirable record of mentoring bright and independent women).

In “VERSES Address’d to the IMITATOR of the FIRST SATIRE of the Second Book of Horace,” Montagu holds Pope to the standard of Horace (admittedly a tough standard), and her criticism is venomous:

Horace can laugh, is delicate, is clear,
You, only coarsely rail, or darkly sneer;
His style is elegant, his Diction pure,
Whilst none thy crabbed numbers can endure;
Hard as thy heart, and as thy Birth obscure.

If He has Thorns, they all on Roses grow;
Thine like Thistles, and mean Brambles show;
With this Exception, that, tho’ rank the Soil,
Weeds as they are, they seem produc’d by Toil.

Satire should, like a polish’d Razor keen,
Wound with a Touch, that’s scarcely felt or seen.
Thine is an Oyster-Knife, that hacks and hews;
The rage, but not the Talent of Abuse;
And is in Hate, what Love is in the Stews. [1]
‘Tis the gross Lust of Hate, that still annoys,
Without distinction, as gross Love enjoys:
Neither to Folly, nor to Vice confin’d,
The Object of thy Spleen is Human Kind:
It preys on all, who yield, or who resist:
To Thee ‘tis Provocation to exist.

Pope often replied to Montagu in kind. Well, maybe “kind” is the wrong word…

Montagu’s “The Reasons that Induced Dr. S. to write a Poem call’d the Lady’s Dressing Room” is as acidic as her shots at Pope; she partially attributes Swift’s worldview to impotence:

The Reverend Lover with surprise
Peeps in her Bubby’s and her Eyes,
And kisses both, and trys, and trys.

Swift’s ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room” also sparked a memorable 172-line response in tetrameter couplets—allegedly but almost surely not written by a “Miss W”—called “The Gentleman’s Study, In Answer to The Lady’s Dressing Room.” It includes Swiftian jokes about venereal disease, body odor, urination, defecation, vomit, phlegm, lice, ulcers, flatulence, bad debts, commercial fraud, and prostitution with a crudeness never before seen in the poetry of women of the 18th century. The seamless insertion of two Latin lines suggests that, if the poem was indeed the work of a woman, it had to have been one of the limited number of female poets highly trained in Latin who wrote light verse. One has to wonder whether this poem, suspiciously published first in the Dean’s hometown of Dublin, is another example of Swift both having fun and raising his literary profile by anonymously attacking himself.

Another poet who tangled with Swift was Mary Davys (1674-1732), whose husband Peter was a friend of Swift’s. In 1733 Swift described Mary’s husband, who died in 1698, as “a man I loved very well, but marryd very indiscreetly.” That negative assessment may reflect a complicated relationship; Swift also sent this widow of his friend money when she was financially distressed.

Mary Davys was successful enough as a playwright and novelist to buy a coffeehouse in Cambridge. She also published one volume of poetry, The Modern Poet, in 1725. The long, perhaps too long, title poem takes on a tried and true topic for light verse—the pretensions of the poets of the day:

It gave him airs to strut about the town,
Flattering my lord, and railing at the Gown,
With brazen-hilted Bilbo [2] to attack
All those who dare call names behind his back…

A female poet of this period plagued by difficult family relationships was Mehetabel Wright (1697-1750), whose father wrote these memorable words to her after her second extended disappearance with a young man: “Gangrene, farewell! And mayst thou never cause me any pain thereafter!”

Wright’s poetry seems in some ways to anticipate the confessional work of Plath and Sexton, particularly in the last two lines of her “Address to Her Husband.”

Or is it that, oppressed with care,
I stun with loud complaints thine ear,
And make thy home, for quiet meant,
The seat of noise and discontent?
Ah no! those ears were ever free
From matrimonial melody:
For though thine absence I lament
When half the lonely night is spent,
Yet when the watch of early morn
Has brought me hopes of thy return,
I oft have wiped these watchful eyes,
Concealed my cares, and curbed my sighs,
In spite of grief, to let thee see
I wore an endless smile for thee.

She returns to some of the same themes in a more rhetorical and darkly humorous way in “Wedlock. A Satire”:

Eternal foe to soft desires,
Inflamer of forbidden fires,
Thou source of discord, pain and care,
Thou sure forerunner of despair,
Thou scorpion with a double face,
Thou lawful plague of human race,
Thou bane of freedom, ease and mirth,
Thou deep damnation upon earth,
Thou serpent which the angels fly,
Thou monster whom the beasts defy,
Whom wily Jesuits sneer at too;
And Satan (let him have his due)
Was never so confirmed a dunce
To risk damnation more than once.
That wretch, if such a wretch there be,
Who hopes for happiness from thee,
May search successfully as well
For truth in whores and ease in hell.

Mary Barber (ca 1690-1757), a less accomplished poet of domestic relations, received substantial support from Jonathan Swift; he also called her part of his “triumfeminate” with the critic Elizabeth Sican and the poet Constantia Grierson. Barber left us this couplet to remember:

“Her husband has surely a terrible life;
There’s nothing I dread like a verse-writing wife…
(“Conclusion of a Letter to the Rev. Mr. C—”)

A more typical Barber poem contains an interesting premise and a cringe-worthy end:

To Mrs. Frances-Arabella Kelly

Today, as at my glass I stood,
To set my head-clothes and my hood,
I saw my grizzled locks with dread,
And called to mind the Gorgon’s head.

Thought I, whate’er the poets say,
Medusa’s hair was only grey:
Though Ovid, who the story told,
Was too well-bred to call her old;
But what amounted to the same,
He made her an immortal dame.

Mary Chandler (1687-1745), a neighbor of Mary Barber, was similarly long on self-loathing and short on talent. Her book, A Description of Bath, was a great commercial success despite the clumsiness of its light verse, including “A True Tale to Mrs. J—s. Written at her Request” with its unfortunate onion/Socinian/opinion rhymes.

An extraordinary writer who benefited greatly from Swift’s patronage was Laetitia Pilkington (1709-1750), whose troubled life Virginia Woolf aptly described as “a very extraordinary cross between Moll Flanders and Lady Ritchie, between a rolling and rollicking woman of the town and a lady of breeding and refinement.” The following poem reflects that “extraordinary cross” and displays her considerable talent:

A Song (II)

Lying is an occupation
Used by all who mean to rise:
Politicians owe their station
But to well-concerted lies.

These to lovers give assistance
To ensnare the fair lover’s heart;
And the virgin’s best resistance
Yields to this commanding art.

Study this superior science,
Would you rise in church or state,
Bid to truth a bold defiance,
‘Tis the practice of the great.

Most scholars agree that Pilkington’s Memoirs are an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the history of the Age of Swift and Pope.

A Pope imitator who was less prickly and talented than her model was Mary Jones (1707-1778); she published several light verse poems in her 1750 book, Miscellanies in Prose and Verse. Her “Epistle to Lady Bowyer” begins in leaden pentameter instead of the bouncier tetrameter of most of her models and peers:

How much of paper’s soiled! What floods of ink!
And yet how few, how very few can think!
The knack of writing is an easy trade;
But to think well requires—at least a head.

This poem does not improve much over 127 lines, and it is not much better than such excessively long attempts at wit as “Soliloquy on an Empty Purse” and “Epistle from Fern Hill.”

A better channeler of Pope was Elizabeth Frances Amherst (1716-1779). She wrote humorous lyrics for songs and concluded her rebuttal of a Frenchman’s theory that fallen angels animate animals with these lines:

If these are evil spirits, then
What spirits, pray, possess you men?
(“Verses Designed to be Sent to Mr. Adams”)

One has to love someone who defends the decency of her dog, cat and canary with such vigor.

One of the most promising light verse poets of this era, Mary Leapor (1724-1746), grew up in a poor family and died at an early age from smallpox. Despite her early death and lack of education, she left a small group of witty poems, including the brilliantly titled “Proserpine’s Ragout,” a parody worthy of a tipsy A.E. Stallings, and the wickedly titled “The Headache. To Aurelia.” Leapor pokes fun at herself and her background in the daffily chatty opening of “The Epistle of Deborah Dough”:

Dearly beloved Cousin, these
Are sent to thank you for your cheese;
The price of oats is greatly fell:
I hope your children all are well
(Likewise the calf you take delight in),
As I am at this present writing.
But I’ve no news to send you now;
Only I’ve lost my brindled cow,
And that has greatly sunk my dairy.
But I forgot our neighbor Mary;
Our neighbor Mary—who they say,
Sits scribble-scribble all the day…
She throws away her precious time
In scrawling nothing else but rhyme;
Of which, they say, she’s mighty proud.
And lifts her nose above the crowd…

Montagu, Davys, Wright, Pilkington, Leapor, and their contemporaries did have a forerunner in the form of Aphra Behn (1640-1689).  Behn was a spy on the Continent, a prolific writer of bawdy plays, and a translator as well as a poet. Unlike Montagu, she managed to keep a more cordial relationship with the other literary leaders of her day. Like Montagu, she took on impotence in “The Disappointment,” 134 lines of bucolic randiness that end with the following twist:

His silent Griefs, swell up to Storms,
And not one God, his Fury spares,
He Curst his Birth, his Fate, his Stars,
But more the Shepardess’s charms:
Whose soft bewitching influence,
Had damn’d him to the Hell of Impotence.

Behn was sometimes known as part of “the triumvirate of wit” with Delarivier Manley (c. 1663-1724) and Eliza Haywood (c. 1693-1756), both of whom wrote mostly plays and fiction. Behn’s more obscure contemporary, Jane Barker (1652-1732), also flashed occasional displays of wit:

He’s gone, and Fate admits of no return.
But whither is he gone? to’s grave, no doubt;
Where, if there’s any drink, he’ll find it out.
(“Epitaph on the Secretary to the Muses”)

Incautious Youth! Why dost thou so misplace
Thy fine Encomiums, on an o’erblown Face?
Which after all the Varnish of thy Quill,
Defects and Wrinkles shew conspicuous still.
(“To My Young Lover”)

England in the Age of Shakespeare may have had a queen who wrote poetry, but there were very few female poets. In France a popular formulaic love poet, Madeleine de l’Aubespine (1546-1596), broke from the conventions of her time and wrote an amusing epigram bawdily teasing her husband about his masculinity. In “Epigramme. Par Madame de Villeroy Parlant de Som Mary,” she declares that while others think of him as “a handsome fox,” he really has “just a bunny tail.”

In the medieval period, women tended to use the dominant literary language of Latin to write “serious” poetry, primarily religious poetry, and avoided riskier topics that male poets writing in Latin would be more likely to try. Female poets did seem to have been more comfortable taking occasional risks of humor in their vernacular languages, particularly in troubadour songs and other song lyrics.

A troubadour song provided a natural platform for humor because the very act of the song constituted a gender role-reversal in a setting where gender roles were particularly important. One example of this type of lyric is this anonymous (but almost surely written by a woman) punning ditty on impotence in Middle English, probably from the 15th century:

Atte ston casting my lemma niches
and atte warastling sone I hym les
allas þat he so sone fel
wy nadde he stande vile gerel

I chose my lover at a casting of stones
And I lost him at the wrestling match;
Alas, that he fell so soon!
Why didn’t he, the vile pig, stand up better?
(A.M. Juster trans.)

Another notable troubador lyric, “Na Carenza al bels cors avinen,” was an Occitan tenso (debate song) from the 12th or 13th century. It was apparently co-written by three women, including two nuns. In this poem the women decide not to bear children because childbirth makes breasts sag and makes stretch marks. As with many other medieval lyrics, their risk-taking extends only to lamenting a woman’s lot in society—few medieval satires or epigrams by women tread outside that zone.

The most daring medieval humorous poem by a woman was “Cywydd y Cedor” (“Poem of the Pussy”) by the late 15th century Welsh poet Gwerful Mechain, a response to  “Cywydd y gal” (“Poem of the Prick”) by the great Welsh poet, Dafydd ap Gwillym. Mechain, using heavy alliteration and witty rhymed couplets, takes men to task in her retort for praising so many parts of the female body—but overlooking the genitalia.

In medieval Andalusia a number of 11th- and 12th-century female poets wrote comic verse in Arabic, often in the form of invectives, sometimes surprisingly risqué, against their husbands. The most prominent of these poets were Wallada (1001-1091) and Nazhun bint al-Qalai (probably late 11th and early 12th centuries), who was famous in her time for winning extemporaneous verse beat-downs with male competitors.

Perhaps the most broadly ranging of the medieval female comic poets was Kassia (ca 810-ca 860), the only significant Byzantine female poet. She is still celebrated today for both her gorgeous religious poetry and caustic secular verse; according to legend, her wicked repartee prevented her from being selected as the emperor’s bride. She went on to found a nunnery, and balanced her religious masterpieces with Greek epigrams that included such lines as “I hate a rich man whining as if he’s poor” and “There’s absolutely no cure or help/For stupidity except death.”

One of my favorite pieces from Late Antiquity (the rebranded “Dark Ages”) is Eucheria’s “Adynata.” Eucheria was probably the wife of a nobleman from what is today southwestern France and part of the literary circle of the poet Venantius Fortunatus (ca 530- ca 609). Only her “Adynata” survives, a witty and daring piece (I can’t quite bring myself to use the overused adjective “transgressive”) that plays off the rhetorical technique of adynaton (proving a point by extending hyperbole to impossibility). An apt example of adynaton might be the feminist slogan of the 1970s that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

In the surviving manuscript of Eucheria’s poem, there is no title. I have used a title similar to that used by others in part to give the closing couplet some context for its comic twist.

Eucheria’s Impossibilities

I’m longing for my golden metal threads that shine
and bristly knotted hair to intertwine.

I chat about a gemstone-studded silken coat
as if it were a garment made of goat.

A prince’s purple and a homely rag are wed;
a brilliant gem is fused with heavy lead.

Now let the pearl be robbed of glittering appeal
and may it glow inside some gloomy steel.

Let emeralds be guarded with my Gallic brass;
may sapphires now equal stones in class.

The jaspers, cliffs and boulders are the same, it’s said;
the moon now chooses darkness of the dead.

Let us tend lilies now where mingled bramble grows;
may dreaded hemlock clutch the crimson rose.

So, piling on, let us now wish for garbage fish
while passing up a tasty seafood dish.

Let a toad love a bream, a bass his serpent too;
may trout and snail pursue their rendezvous.

Let noble lioness and lowly fox romance;
may a chimp give that pretty lynx a chance.

Let buck and donkey, tigress and wild ass now date;
may nimble deer and sluggish cattle mate.

Now let a bitter herb befoul the sweet rose wine;
may honey and repulsive gall combine.

Let us blend crystal water from a spring with mud;
may our refreshing fountain stir up crud.

Let ghastly buzzard and swift swallow have their fling;
may dour owl and nightingale now sing.

Let somber screech-owl and his flashy partridge nest;
may raven and sweet dove embrace at rest.

Let creatures trade their turf for risky area
as hick and slave pursue Eucheria.
(A.M. Juster trans.)

Regrettably, there is no extant humor by female poets writing in Latin prior to Eucheria, unless one counts a little Augustan archness by the earlier of the two Sulpicias, an elegist in Tibullus’ literary circle.

There are fragments of original texts and tantalizing hints in secondary sources of comic genius in female poets of ancient Greece. The earliest candidate for “first lady of light verse” is Cleobulina, who appears to have written poetry during the middle of the sixth century BC. Verse riddles were a form of popular entertainment in her day, and her only work that survives (and some scholars are unpersuaded by the attribution) are three riddles. Aristotle cites her several times, and both Cratinus and Alexis named comedies after her. Nonetheless, there is not enough of a record to know whether a comic Muse truly inspired her verse.

The most likely candidate for the “first lady” may be Praxilla, a poet who probably wrote during the middle of the fifth century BC. Despite some criticism that she was a courtesan, her verse generated respect for centuries after her death and she was sufficiently famous in Aristophanes’ time that he satirized her work in two of his plays. She wrote in a variety of poetic genres, and invented a meter for scolia (drinking songs)—three of her eight surviving fragments are from her scolia. There is nothing obviously funny in her few extant lines, but judging from the contemporary comments, her interest in scolia, and the instruction “Avoid the cowards, knowing that a coward’s gratitude is small,” we probably lost the work of a witty poet.

There is at least one more candidate for “first lady of light verse”: Anyte of Tegea (third century BC), who wrote this one sweet, but funny, epigram:

Goat, with bright purple reins placed upon your back,
And then a bridle on your shaggy face,
Kids tell you bounds of this god’s temple are a track
So that you bear their fun with gentle grace.
(A.M. Juster trans.)

More of Anyte’s work survives than for most other ancient Greek female poets, but this piece suggests she had a gently comic sensibility.

Much comic verse by women did not survive or survived only anonymously, and I have surely failed to identify important voices from various eras and cultures. Due to constraints of space and my short attention span, I have also not explored interesting questions raised by the lives and works of these poets, particularly how they came to have the freedom to be poets, and then how they had the freedom to assume the additional risks of humor in societies where irreverence put a writer’s life in danger. My hope is that others will enjoy the work of the poets I have discussed and focus on these questions.


[1]         “Stews” were brothels.
[2]        A “Bilbo” was a small sword.

Selected Sources

Barnett, L. Jonathan Swift in the Company of Women (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007)

Clarke, N. Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington (London: faber & Faber, 2008).

Dickson, L. & Douglas, P. The Works of Lady Caroline Lamb (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009)

Kord, S. Women Peasant Poets in Eighteenth-century England, Scotland and Germany (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2003)

Liu, B. Medieval Joke Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Department of Comparative Literature, 2004)

Lonsdale, R. 18th Century Women Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)

Marcovich, M. & Georgiadou, A. “Eucheria’s Adynata” Volume 13 No. 1 Illinois Classical Review (1988) at 165-174

Meijer, M; Eijsker, E.; Peypers, A. & Prins, Y. The Defiant Muse; Dutch and Flemish Feminist Poems from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York: Feminist Press, 1998)

Perfetti, L. Women and Laughter in Medieval Comic Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003)

Plant, I. Women Writers of Ancient Greek and Rome: An Anthology (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004)

Selwyn, D. (ed.) Collected Poems and Verse of the Austen Family (Manchester: Carcanet press, 1996)

Stevenson, J. Women Latin Poets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

This essay would not have been possible without suggestions and comments from Karolyn Kinane, Elizabeth McAvoy, Lisa Perfetti, Aaron Poochigian, Mary Meriam and Julie Stoner. I want to thank Leigh Montgomery of The Christian Science Monitor for his prompt and extensive assistance. I also want to thank Daniel Kumin for graciously providing permission to reprint a few of his mother’s poems published in The Christian Science Monitor. Mistakes are my own alone, and I feel terrible about all of them.


purpleLA.M  Juster‘s most recent books are The Satires of Horace (U. Penn Press 2008) and Tibullus’ Elegies (Oxford University Press 2012). His book of original poetry, The Secret Language of Women (University of Evansville Press 2003), won the Richard Wilbur Award and he is a three-time winner of The Formalist‘s Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award.