Women and Poetry in the 21st Century: Kicking Daffodils III Two-day conference: 6th and 7th September 2006 University of the West of England Abstract: Christy Weyer, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa Being a Woman-Poet: Carrying the Fire Without Burning Down the House In her first collection of poetry, Joan Metelerkamp, an important voice in the emerging South African women’s canon, writes: ‘I find my-/self torn between the ambition to / be what they call someone, recognised, / named (poet or academic), and / the inverse desire to accept / the limits of anonymity’, to be ‘[s]he who looks after children’. This struggle, a lived contradiction for many women-poets (who live ‘in the depth of impasse’), is the central and unifying theme of Metelerkamp’s work. Her poetry grapples with this contradiction by exposing the dissociating tensions, as well as the resonances, between these disparate spheres of the woman-poet’s identity, and by forging (guiding) links with her literary mothers: both literal (Adrienne Rich, Eavan Boland, Ruth Miller), and mythic (the weavers/writers Arachne and Philomela). Metelerkamp’s poetry is consciously and unflinchingly located in the context of contemporary South Africa, and her work thus examines these general (global?) issues of the woman-poet’s identity in their interaction with her socially and politically turbulent local situation. Her work, as is appropriate for such a strongly-located poet, is underpinned by a profound ontological and epistemological foregrounding of the body, and she accordingly also evokes her muse in undeniably material terms. Metelerkamp thus writes of ‘carrying the fire’, of poetic inspiration, ‘all through the body / like in naked hands’. This powerful image shows her muse to be both vital and necessary, and destructive – to herself, her children and her husband, who is consequently described with ‘ash on [his] hands … / as if they were burnt / on [her] back’. My paper analyses and discusses the tensions and contradictions of being a woman-poet, as explored in the poetry of Joan Metelerkamp. The question this paper seeks to examine, a general question common to many women-poets, as well as a question specifically experienced and explored by South African Metelerkamp, is: how does a woman-poet ‘[carry] the fire’ (to use the title of Metelerkamp’s most recent collection) of her poetic inspiration and passion, without burning down the house?