Josephine Jacobsen

On the Incoming Tide

Josephine Jacobsen served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1971 to 1973. The following excerpt is from her lecture, “From Anne to Marianne: Some Women in American Poetry,” delivered on May 1, 1972 in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress.


I believe that the incoming tide of good poetry by American women is going to expand and to deepen. Not steadily, poetry never works in that way, but erratically. It is not any security on the part of women, which is going to cause this to happen. Poetry has small traffic with security. What will contribute is the sense of the freedom and hence power of the individual woman. If the realization of that status of women does not tragically coincide with the diminution of all of us, men and women alike, the right of the human being who is a woman to act and react as an individual, as the thought of human creature she is, without being first and most importantly judged within the context of that constricting niche to which society has assigned her.

In his fine article “A Woman’s Words,” William Jay Smith, quotes Louise Bogan: “The woman poet has her singular and precious destiny.” I think that’s quite a statement. “The woman poet has her singular and precious destiny.” In a preface I wrote some years ago to Three Women Poets, one of whom was Washington’s May Miller, I said of the best women poets, “They extract from the husk, they mine the lode for what it yields and they learn as they do it. Like Theodore Roethke they learn “by going where they have to go.” Power is related to energy and poetry is energy. The power to which poetry is allied is not political or financial power, but moral, physical, and intellectual power.


See also, in this issue, Grace Cavalieri’s interview with Josephine Jacobsen.



Josephine Jacobsen (August 19, 1908 - July 9, 2003) served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1971 to 1973. Other honors include the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry from the Poetry Society of America, and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She published ten books of poems, including In the Crevice of Time (1995), The Chinese Insomniacs (1981), The Shade-Seller (1974), and Let Each Man Remember (1940). Jacobsen also published short fiction and reviews, and her travel essays appeared in the Baltimore Sun.