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.

Writing Room

As many emerging poets gear up for writing a poem a day during NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo 2019 from April 1st, they may want to consider the space they occupy while writing. Virginia Woolf wrote passionately for the woman writer’s need for a room of her own. Which may sound like a recipe for writing as an occupation open only to the middle classes. However, solitude is a requirement. The lack of solitude is eloquently documented in Tillie Olsen’s “Silences,” and the deleterious effect it can on on writer productivity. A dedicated writing space can be hard to find if you share living quarters with many people, some of whom may be needy. Other’s may be time famished, hounded by the clamour of unpaid bills. Carving a place for creative work and thinking can be an act of creativity in and of itself.

This morning I was perusing a past Christmas present from my sister, a book titled “Carolina Writers At Home,” where writers living in North and South Carolina described their living and writing spaces. Cassandra King confesses that for years her writing room had to be an academic office with a door open for students to interrupt her at any time. Women often lack dedicated space for writing. They also often need to overcome the guilt for shutting out all other claims upon their attention. Women, especially those of certain past generations, were conditioned not to be selfish. The solitary nature of writing can look an awful like selfishness to people who do not appreciate the writing process.

Finding a place of solitude for regular writing can be problematic, especially since writing is not always remuneratively rewarding. That is why library closures are so heartbreaking. They are public spaces available for free, offering many of the resources writers need – a space for a laptop or use of a computer, free internet access, books for reference and refreshment, quiet. Libraries are the Democratic Republic of Books and writers are their most needy citizens. The Public Library has often been a haven for a nascent writer, myself included. (Thank you, Jean Walters!)

I started poetry practice this morning thinking that it would go one way. And then it took a sharp left turn. What emerged is a kind of ‘not a sonnet’. It has fourteen lines of ten syllables, but the rhyme scheme would not go to traditional order. So it’s a bit of a mish mash.

Writing Room

A place to look out from - also, within.
An old dog's breath is no interruption
as she gently snores and snuffles in sleep.
Otherwise, it's all silence that will keep
me undiverted, solitude replete.
That is necessary as a heart's beat.
Reading is "that selfish activity"
some would say, yet  reading is writing's key.
Find me a writer who does not worship
at the Temple of the Book, We are trollops
awaiting the penetrating insight,
the ecstatic divinely inspired light.
The writing room's holy sanctuary
is womb incubating life abstractly.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash