A Room of One’s Own

We are nearly at the end of April and NaPoWriMo. April 30th is also Poetry Day Ireland. Yesterday brought sad news of the death of Irish poet Eavan Boland, a recent editor of the Poetry Ireland Review, at age 75. I once heard her on a BBC Radio 4 broadcast years ago recount her query to women poetry workshop participants. She asked if they would go back to their homes and tell people they were poets. One woman balefully responded, “Why no! They would think I was the kind of woman who never washed her curtains!” Shocking! Which became an example for me. I write poetry. I rarely wash my curtains. I only dust because I have allergies. Today’s prompt is sourced in another woman poet who greatly influenced my life, if not my poetry style. That was Emily Dickinson, who I first encountered in a child’s biography in the Berwick Public Library. I bought a thin volume of her poems from my weekly allowance instead of expanding my Nancy Drew collection.

The NaPoWriMo Day 28 prompt includes an excerpt by Emily Dickinson’s niece, describing the poet’s room, a prompt devised by the Emily Dickinson Museum. “Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s description of her aunt’s cozy room, scented with hyacinths and a crackling stove, warmly recalls the setting decades later. Describe a bedroom from your past in a series of descriptive paragraphs or a poem. It could be your childhood room, your grandmother’s room, a college dormitory or another significant space from your life.

I scrolled back to my bedroom when I was eleven and first encountered Emily Dickinson.

A Room of One’s Own
is always, in memory, golden.
See my bedspread? It matches the finish
of the glass fronted bookcase, marketed
as the 1960s version of ‘Antique Gold.’
It’s full of volumes by Alcott, Emily Dickinson,
and hand me down vintage Nancy Drews.
I liked things to be mellow and old, too nervous
a child for psychedelic acid yellow and rock n roll.
This was my place to retreat  
inside pale green walls of a castle built of books.
I could dream of a life where one day
I would see a moor and sail out overseas
to the origin lands of my foreign doll collection,
all neatly arrayed on their peg board display –
the Dutch girl and Indonesian man, the Greek boy,
the kimonoed geisha brought home
from the New York World’s Fair.
None of that would have done for Emily.
But it was much, much better for me.
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

We, Perceiving the Past Week

Normally, I would have written a poem earlier in the week and then buffed it up a bit by the time I come to post the Sunday Weekly Poem on this blog. This week has not been a normal week on so many levels. I spent a few days in bed with a severe cold. I lost my voice (a worry for a poet, who sees metaphors always lurking in the psychic underbrush.) I slept a great deal. I watched snippets of news as the history flickered across the screen. I felt stuck and unequal to writing anything.

In those times when the well is crying ’empty’ I sometimes turn to other’s words. This video clip I found on YouTube of Adrienne Rich reading her poem In Those Years seems to speak our times.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXRSUQ7C8No. It will take less than a minute to watch, but it has been a touchstone for me this morning.

A storm has been tearing through our part of Ireland all yesterday evening, with the rain lashing and the wind huffing and puffing and, occassionally, roaring. It made for a restless night for me. It still has not expended all its energy. When I eventually emerged earlier today, I still had no clue what to write. I considered revamping something from last week’s workshop. But that seemed a bit feeble and lacking in moral fibre. Adrienne Rich was still rolling around my subconscious. So, it being the Sabbath, I turned to a text. Not from scripture, but from the alternative service as written by Emily Dickinson. I picked a card from my “Divining Poets: Dickinson” pack created by David Trinidad for Turtle Point Press. This is what Emily had to say to me this morning. (And though she was a recluse for much of her life, she had lived in Washington, DC for time when her father served in Congress, lived in the time of slavery and abolition debates, read despatches of a Civil War; though isolated, she didn’t need to visit a moor to be able to know a moorland landscape.)

Renown perceives itself

And that defiles the power

Emily Dickinson

 We, Perceiving the Recent Past

“ Renown perceives itself
And  that defiles the power.”
-          Emily Dickinson

This is us now. Or at the very least
the 70% who know we are no better,
and definitely worse than those beasts
that claw, purr, slobber, and wag the tail.
Idealists betrayed grow into cynics
who throw their principles out with
the baby bathed in the kitchen sink.
Because we all really bought into the myth.
Which may also account for how lawyers
seem to proliferate and we seek our day in court.
But they are much like those humble sawyers
buzz-sawing trees into planks to make into forts.
What shelter can be found when built of smoke
and mirrors by blinkered folk who love the roar
of the crowd, the greasepaint stroked
on clown face,  and sleight of hand candy store.
Bloated self-renown, the kind that thrives
in reality TV, defiles. The power, trapped
in the Fun House Hall of Mirrors, survives.
But the plate glass tower’s windows  are cracked
by the mournful pile of birds' corpses tossed
by gale force currents, whose beaks beat the glass,
their bodies’ evidence  of a reality without gloss,
left on the ground, hard and fast.
A single hand clapping makes no sound.
But it still can wave farewell to all the carnival clowns.
Copyright ©Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Emily Dickinson app'd
Emily – app’d

Featured image Photo by Josip I. on Unsplash

Last Sunday Poem of a Decade

It is the final Sunday of 2019, not just the final Sunday weekly poem of the year, but also the final poem of a decade that marked my most solid commitment to improving the art and craft of poetry writing. I woke up early because I am especially excited to be going to see the new cinematic version of Little Women today, with some of my favourite women friends. And also, it feels appropriate to close off the year with a homage to two of the most formative women writers. Because I encountered them in childhood, I learned that writing was a fit occupation for women. I also grew up in a household with an elder sister who was a writer, so even though there was a dearth of women poets in anthologies or studied at school, I had these 19th century role models.

I first read Little Women in an abridged form when I was around eight or nine as I recovered from one of those childhood illnesses that kept you in quarantine for a fortnight. I became a rabid Alcott fan and over the years acquired Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom. I found An Old Fashioned Girl at a library book sale. A Garland for Girls and Cornelia Meig’s Alcott biography, Invincible Louisa appeared under the Christmas tree. By the time I was twelve I could have had an MA in Alcott. I had all but her Gothic early fiction, which was still out of print in the 1970s. In my early teens I was a devout transcendentalist and had moved on to Thoreau and Hawthorn’s Blithedale Romance. One summer vacation my brother, mother and I had a little pilgrimage to Orchard House where I bought the pamphlet Transcendental Wild Oats. I drew a little water from Walden Pond as I would from a holy well. Alcott made me.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Louisa May Alcott, literary shero

Emily Dickinson was my literary sister from another mother. I discovered a biography of her in the public library when I was about eleven years old and began to read her poetry and write cryptic ones in her style as a tween. Very fitting that my brother in Brooklyn should include some Emily Dickinson Divination cards in my Christmas box this year (many thanks, Steve!) . I have been drawing one daily, along with a Susan Seddon-Boulet Animal Spirit card for clarification.

Omen Days
The Omen Days – Day 4 draw

I will be doing this daily during this Christmas season that is ‘time out of time.’ From St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day) on 26th until Women’s Little Christmas (or Epiphany) on 6th January, it was custom to scan nature for omens of the year to come. But these literary divination cards were just begging to be used for the Omen Days. There are twelve months in the calendar year and twelve days of Christmas. Hence, looking for signs and portents of the year to come during these days that were considered, and still are, a gateway time of endings and beginnings. There is more about them in this post from last year. https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/12/26/the-omen-days/

But now to the final Sunday Weekly poem of 2019. I played around with a five line format a lot in July this year that takes a quotation as its first line. To find out more about the form, check out this post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2019/07/06/all-poets-can-do/.

In this case I have used Dickinson’s own words for the first and final lines.

This Being Mortal

Mortality is fatal.

Grief becomes our work in progress,

constantly hunting for what’s been lost –

The love that so eludes us,

The Soul there – all the time.

Top and tail lines by Emily Dickinson

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

I will do a quick New Year post mid-week. Then it will be back to the Sunday Weekly poem schedule.