Pollitt, Katha 1949-
Pollitt, Katha 1949-
Born October 14, 1949, in New York, NY; daughter of Basil Riddiford and Leanora Pollitt. Education: Radcliffe College, B.A., 1972.
Home—New York, NY. Office—The Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003.
Writer, journalist, editor, poet, columnist, and commentator. Nation, New York, NY, literary editor, 1982-84, contributing editor, 1986-92, associate editor, 1992—. Guest on television networks and programs, including McLaughlin Group, Dateline NBC, and on Cable News Network (CNN) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Poetry award, National Book Critics Circle, 1983, for Antarctic Traveler; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1984; Peter I.B. Lavan Younger Poets Award, Academy of American Poets, 1984; Arvon Foundation Prize, Observer, 1986; grant, New York Foundation of the Arts, 1987; Guggenheim fellowship, 1987; National Magazine Award, 1992, for "Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me …"; Whiting Foundation writing award, 1992; Maggie Award, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 1993, for "Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?"; "Freethought Heroine" Award, Freedom from Religion Foundation, 1995; Exceptional Merit Media Award, National Women's Political Caucus, 2001.
Antarctic Traveller (poetry), Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.
Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2001.
Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
Author of regular column, "Subject to Debate," Nation.
Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones, New Republic, New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Harper's Mirabella, Glamour, Grant Street, Poetry, Antaeus, and Yale Review.
Katha Pollitt is a poet as well as an acclaimed journalist. She is an associate editor for the liberal Nation magazine and is recognized for her commentary on political and cultural issues. Donna Seaman, commenting on Pollitt's talents as an editorial essayist, declared in Booklist that Nation readers "depend on their Pollitt fix to stay sane" as they peruse her "zestfully argued, blazingly commonsensical, … and morally precise columns."
Pollitt began her writing career in the mid-1970s when she published poetry in such magazines as the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker. When her poems were collected as Antarctic Traveller, she was quickly praised as a refreshing voice in contemporary poetry. Dana Gioia wrote in Hudson Review that Pollitt "has an extraordinarily good ear."
Critics have argued that one of Pollitt's most impressive skills as a poet is her ability to use visual imagery as a means of exploring human thought and emotion. Typically successful in this regard is "Five Poems From Japanese Paintings," in which largely descriptive verse conveys an appropriate sense of reflection or action. In the segment titled "Moon and Flowering Plum," for example, Pollitt employs a brief description of nature as a means for subtly addressing the implications of indecisiveness and commitment. "What Pollitt wants, what she creates," declared Richard Howard in the Nation, "is the alternative life, unconditioned, eagerly espousing all that is unknown." Howard added that in "Five Poems from Japanese Paintings," the "decorous is the decisive moment, indulged only to be twitched away from us with a teasing laugh."
Critics note, however, that Pollitt's strengths are not exclusively visual. She is considered an insightful artist whose perspective encompasses both the personal and the universal. Her thematic interests are particularly evident in poems such as "Discussions of the Vicissitudes of History under a Pine Tree," where the vividness of nature leads to a commentary on human change; and "Thinking of the World as Idea," in which an observation of early morning harbor activities prompts a brief reflection on dreams, poetry, and the world. Even more modest efforts such as "Intimation," in which an old song sparks a mysterious memory, and "Sonnet," where the poet delineates a lover's perceptions, have been praised for the poignancy of their strictly personal contexts and offer stirring insights into behavior, perception, and even memory.
As a poet, Pollitt has often been compared to Wallace Stevens. Bruce Bennett, writing about Antarctic Traveller for the New York Times Book Review, noted that Pollitt seems preoccupied by the artistic process and the inevitabilities of existence. "Like Wallace Stevens," Bennett observed, "Pollitt contrasts life and art." Howard also found similarities between Pollitt and Stevens, but added that Pollitt is unique in avoiding obfuscation in her depictions and interpretations of people and nature. "What gives the distinction, the special twist of idiom we call style," Howard declared, "is the perception of delight in the world entertained on its own terms."
Antarctic Traveller enjoyed immense critical success upon publication in 1982. Gioia wrote that Pollitt "is a poet to watch" and commented: "Her lines are almost always exactly right, and there is a sense of finish and finality to her work one rarely sees in poets young or old—the diction clean and precise, the rhythms clear and effective." But Pollitt had been getting positive reviews even before her book was published. In the 1981 volume Bounds out of Bounds, author Roberta Berke hailed Pollitt as "a miniaturist who captures elusive subjects with great delicacy and concision." Berke added that Pollitt's poems "are unabashedly intelligent and often metaphysical" and that Pollitt "combines her awareness of contraries and her intelligence with a vivid imagination that impels her best work toward that ‘Supreme Fiction’ which was Wallace Stevens's goal."
Not all critical comments, however, were entirely free of objection. New Republic reviewer Jay Parini complained about Pollitt's use of the second-person pronoun, a device that Parini called "an irritating mannerism passed around the various M.F.A. programs like the German measles." Both Gioia and Georgia Review critic Peter Stitt lamented Pollitt's occasional reluctance or inability to pursue the philosophical implications of some poems. But even Stitt, who was less enthusiastic than many reviewers, wrote that Antarctic Traveller signaled the continued existence of the "objective mode of lyric poetry." He added that Pollitt's "best poems have a spare delicacy reflective of a rigorous sense of decorum."
Despite her success as a poet, Pollitt is perhaps better known for her role as a leading social critic with essays written primarily for Nation but also for periodicals such as the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and the New York Times Book Review. "A superb stylist, Pollitt can always be relied on for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime," observed a biographer on the Nation Web site. Pollitt describes herself as a liberal and a feminist, and she is particularly famous for her critiques of various facets of the feminist movement and its implications for female empowerment. Her commentary has been collected in two volumes, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism and Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture. In Reasonable Creatures, Pollitt deals with issues as diverse as abortion; arguments about the literary canon; "difference feminism"; and the rape trial involving William Kennedy Smith, during which journalists for the first time decided to expose the name of the alleged victim. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Maureen Corrigan noted that to read these essays "is to be bombarded, gloriously, by the force of Pollitt's contempt for intellectual sloppiness." Similarly, New Statesman & Society reviewer Kirsty Milne called the essays "cheeringly argumentative and hearteningly accessible" and remarked that Pollitt "is living proof that journalism needn't be glib and feminism needn't be dull." And Boyd Zenner, commenting in Belles Lettres, averred that Reasonable Creatures "will confirm [Pollitt's] standing as one of the most incisive, principled, and articulate cultural critics writing today." Zenner concluded: "Pollitt's graceful style and frequent flashes of real wit are reason enough for rejoicing, but even more impressive is the fact that they never obscure the power and urgency of what she has to say."
Subject to Debate earned similarly favorable reviews. The author "is out not only to criticize the left," Arianne Chernock suggested in the New York Times Book Review, "but also to reinvigorate it." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commended the work for its "clarity, logic, humor, and sensitivity," adding that the book would "perhaps challenge … the politically correct on the right or the left." A Publishers Weekly critic wrote: "Pollitt's … eye is steely, uncompromising, and sharp." The same critic concluded that Pollitt is "never tendentious and always witty."
Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time assembles eighty-four of Pollitt's columns that appeared in the Nation from 2001 to 2006. "While it's become commonplace to describe journalism as a ‘rough draft of history,’ this collection of Pollitt's columns rises to the level of history itself," commented Jessica Clark in an In These Times interview with Pollitt. The author "offers a running chronicle of the issues of the day," Clark noted, and "tackles each topic with humor and passion, always returning to the central role that women play in U.S. and international politics." Pollitt's work addresses a wide variety of social issues, foreign policy failures, political victories and defeats, scandals, and disasters that have dominated the news and national discourse in the half-decade covered by her book. Much of her work bears sharp criticism labeled at American political conservatives. She considers the counterproductive and sometimes dangerous health advice given to women and argues that conservative antiabortion positions are often concealed under the guise of protection of women's health. She also discusses issues such as the privatization of Social Security, the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church, the difficulties with childcare availability in the United States, bogus research that undermines women's progress, and the continuing attempt by Republicans to overturn the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade. Among the more notorious pieces is Pollitt's post-9/11 column in objection to unrestrained flag-waving and uncontrolled American jingoism in the wake of the September terrorist attacks.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Pollitt "one of the country's finest left commentators and feminist stalwarts," and found her essays to be "invariably witty, astute and relentlessly logical." Library Journal reviewer Erica J. Foley noted that Pollitt's "writings lean decidedly to the Left, but this collection deserves a place in any balanced political commentary section." This collection of "sharp, insightful columns," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic, "should be required reading for the left and the right: You may not agree with Pollitt, but you can't dismiss her."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Berke, Roberta, Bounds out of Bounds: A Compass for Recent American and British Poetry, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 28, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, Boyd Zenner, review of Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism, p. 19.
Booklist, August, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 2002; February 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture, p. 1034; June 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time, p. 22.
Georgia Review, summer, 1982, Peter Stitt, review of Antarctic Traveller.
Hudson Review, winter, 1982-83, Dana Gioia, review of Antarctic Traveller.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2001, review of Subject to Debate, p. 39; April 15, 2006, review of Virginity or Death!, p. 397.
Library Journal, May 15, 2006, Erica L. Foley, review of Virginity or Death!, p. 116.
Ms., September-October, 1994, Mary Suh, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 78.
Nation, March 20, 1982, Richard Howard, review of Antarctic Traveller.
New Republic, April 14, 1982, Jay Parini, review of Antarctic Traveller.
New Statesman & Society, March 3, 1995, Kirsty Milne, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 37.
New York, October 10, 1994, Walter Kirn, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 78.
New Yorker, October 17, 1994, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 121.
New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1982, Bruce Bennett, review of Antarctic Traveller; October 9, 1994, Susan Shapiro, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 22; February 25, 2001, Arianne Cher- nock, review of Subject to Debate, p. 19; July 2, 2006, Ana Marie Cox, review of Virginity or Death!, p. 11.
Poetry, December, 1982, review of Antarctic Traveller.
Poets & Writers, March-April, 1997, Heather Stephenson, "Katha Pollitt," author interview, p. 32.
Progressive, December, 1994, Ruth Conniff, "Katha Pollitt," p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, June 27, 1994, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 64; March 12, 2001, review of Subject to Debate, p. 74; April 17, 2006, review of Virginity or Death!, p. 179.
Washington Post Book World, February 21, 1982; September 25, 1994, Maureen Corrigan, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 10.
Women's Review of Books, April, 1995, Rickie Solinger, review of Reasonable Creatures, p. 1; July, 2000, "Reasonable Doubts," p. 11; April, 2001, Kathryn Abrams, "Refusing and Resisting," p. 1.
Freethought Today,http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/ (April 15, 2007), "Katha Pollitt: Freethought Heroine."
In These Times Web log,http://www.inthesetimes.com/ (October 27, 2006), Jessica Clark, interview with Katha Pollitt.
Lip Magazine,http://www.lipmagazine.org/ (April 15, 2007), Jessica Clark, "Beyond the Politics of Irony & Lip Gloss: An Interview with Feminist Writer Katha Pollitt."
Nation Web site,http://www.thenation.com/ (April 15, 2007), biography of Katha Pollitt.