December 14, 2018

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Judith Kazantzis, British Feminist Poet and Activist, Dies at 78

Judith Kazantzis, British Feminist Poet and Activist, Dies at 78
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In their book “A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry,” Jane Dowson and Alice Entwistle wrote that in her 1980 poem “The Long-Haired Woman,” Ms. Kazantzis observed how women use “a kind of underground communication system which defiantly uses public places and channels to cut through the isolation of female life, allowing women surreptitiously to ‘move out of place’ both as individuals and in concert.”

It is a kind of network, they wrote, that Ms. Kazantzis described in these lines:

listening from woman to woman

from house to pub to flat to cafe to house

on the phone

to the next woman

Ms. Kazantzis wrote in free verse, her language intelligent but not didactic, powerful but not polemic. It could be witty, with traces of sarcasm. She portrayed women as complex, to correct literature’s pigeonholing them in one-dimensional characterizations as goddess or villain.

For example, in her volume “The Odysseus Poems” (1999), she reimagined Homer’s epic as a tale “about men and women, not men and men,” as she wrote in a postscript. In her poem “Queen Clytemnestra,” which was included in her collection “The Wicked Queen” (1980), the vengeful wife of Agamemnon was presented “not as a crazy bitch, but as a human being with strong passions and good reasons,” the poet and novelist Michèle Roberts wrote in an obituary in The Guardian in October.

“She would take the old patriarchical myths and tear them apart and remake them,” Ms. Roberts, a friend of Ms. Kazantzis’, said in a telephone interview.

She added, “Her writing always felt like something new.”

Ms. Kazantzis also wrote about motherhood, love and aging, as she did in 2004 in “The Mary Stanford Disaster,” about the loss of much of a fishing village’s male population in 1928 when a lifeboat carrying 17 men capsized:

This is the story I tried to tell you in August



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