Composed over a century ago, the poetic worlds of Michael Field are as surprising, immersive, and breathtaking today as when they were written—as inventive as they are formally rigorous as they are deeply felt and lived. After more than a year of editorial preparation we are thrilled to finally be sharing this work, and we are also excited that the inimitable poet Stacy Szymaszek, former director of the Poetry Project, has contributed a lucid and inviting foreword to help ground the volume in our contemporary moment.
"Michael Field" was the shared pseudonym of Katherine Bradley (1846–1914) and her niece Edith Cooper (1862–1913), who lived together as lovers and collaboratively wrote some eight volumes of poetry and twenty-seven plays and whose poetry enjoyed both popular and critical success until their friend, the poet Robert Browning, let slip Field's true identity. While their early poetry displays strong aestheticist currents both formally and thematically, their later poems turn toward Symbolism and Catholic spirituality without ever straying from an idiosyncratic style that is somehow at once extravagantly precise and profoundly sensuous. The selection of poems in Precious against a Precious Thing spans their thirty-year collaboration and a wide range of formal gambits and registers, from erotic reconstructions of Sapphic verse fragments and ekphrastic reveries over Grand Tour oil paintings to theologically freighted odes, sonnets of rural retirement, and elegies to their beloved pet Chow Chow.
In her foreword, poet Stacy Szymaszek writes, “Field’s work is organized around body logic—experience, making a spectacle of one’s own life, beauty and giving pleasure. In the grips of our current political disaster, it may not carry a lot of weight to think one’s work is important for such things. Yet work that excites my mind-body helps remind me that I am an erotic being. When I proceed through life as my best erotic self, I am harder for the law to control. When I am harder for the law to control, i.e., making a spectacle of myself, others can see me. There is always the hope that Emily Dickinson expressed: ‘Are you nobody too?’ I step out of convention for community, and that action is the enemy of fascism.”