It isn’t easy to even think about Edna St. Vincent Millay’s body of work without also thinking about her—well—actual body. This is entirely her doing. Born in Maine in 1892, she was blessed with not only uncommon genius but the romantic Gibson Girl looks prized by her era—winsome face, comely curves, heavy masses of auburn hair—and she wasn’t afraid to use them. In the spring of 1912, just 20, she put the finishing touches on her epic poem “Renascence” and submitted it to the prestigious Lyric Year poetry contest. When the editor, a man, responded with a letter praising her verse, she replied with a photograph of herself. He asked if he could keep it. Let’s just say Millay placed fourth in the Lyric Year poetry contest but won the war. Published alongside the victors in a commemorative anthology, her poem incited a public sensation that biographer Daniel Mark Epstein ranks on par with that of “The Waste Land” and “Howl”: readers fought the verdict in letters and newspaper columns; the winner recused himself from the awards banquet.
more from Kate Bolick at Poetry here.