It’s been about 25 years since I did my last public poetry reading, but I’m gathering up my courage and doing one tomorrow at the Springfield Library. Believing that you “have to get them at ‘Hello!'” I’m going to start with this one. (I just hope that I can pull it off.)
I have always hoped that the human race would evolve beyond greed and self-interest. Of course, there’s nothing in our human history that shows that there’s any hope of that happening.
I’m thinking about the
turn of the century 1900, the era of extreme capitalists, sometimes referred to as “Robber Barons,” that consisted of the very wealthy and everybody else. Those 1% of the 1% fought hard to keep regular people as poor as they could, and they kept every penny they squeezed from the working poor. (Remind you of another time, say … recently? Hmmm.)
I am thinking about Eugene Debs, who fought for the rights of the working class to organize and strike and who founded the Socialist Party. Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States
I think that it’s important to note that:
He refused to allow the Socialist Party to join forces with the various Communist parties that were active at the time, believing that the more moderate Socialist Party platform would win more hearts and minds. Considering that we now take for granted a lot of the things it fought for, the platform was radical for the time. It included:
A minimum wage
An end to child labor
Rights for black Americans
Improving working conditions
Increasing the number of people who can vote
On June 16, 1918, Eugene Debs delivered his final speech before heading to prison. As World War I raged on across the world, he spoke these words near a jail where several of his fellow Socialist Party acquaintances were housed for “antiwar agitation.” 1,200 people attended the party convention. He took advantage of the audience, and the moment in history, to speak to the crowd….His words were later used to sentence him to prison for 10 years. It was from there that he received nearly 1 million votes for president in 1920, running as simply Convict No. 9653.
Check out the Democratic Socialists of America: Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few. We are a political and activist organization, not a party; through campus and community-based chapters DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight for reforms that empower working people.
Every once in a while, I scroll through this blog, re-reading stuff I wrote and forgot. Today I found this short poem.
Some say the world will end in fire,
a sudden spike of life and then the glory.
But for her, it was a slow fall into
the cold of oblivion, the bones of her face
sharding like ice, her fingers blue crystals
clutching frigid white sheets,
sliding toward the final winding.
Had my mother lived, she would have been 99 this month. But it’s good that she didn’t, given her severe dementia at 94. A longer poem I wrote about that has been accepted by Caregiver magazine.
I gave my writing circle the prompt “the coat was shabby.” And I gave them a challenge to use strong verbs and specific nouns. As I began to write my response to that prompt, I decided to put it someplace in history and do a little research for details. This is my result, my first ever try at historical fiction:
The Gypsy Coat Tale
The coat was shabby, but its aspect still spoke of nights thrown over a naked shoulder at a smokey Montparnasse cafe, or tossed onto the back of a scarlet sofa at a late night Paris salon. Its stained fabric revealed a careless pattern of absinthe, bathtub gin, and the mascaraed tears of its most passionate devotees.
They say it once belonged to Nina Hamnett, self-proclaimed and notorious “Queen of Bohemia,” who wore its gold satin lining next to her skin while she danced shimmering lights into the weave of the rich silk brocade. On those nights, the coat created its own melody, a mesmerizing harmony of color, texture, and pattern, the timeless echo of a Siren’s song.
Legend has it that the coat was created by the two Japanese weavers and the Gypsy woman whom Hamnett befriended during her brief stay in Paris before the war started, before everyone folded themselves into enclaves of creative ferment or else fled to the safer shores of England and America.
And that, they say is how the coat finally wound up in the window of the Fifth Avenue Parisian boutique on the afternoon that Zelda Fitzgerald walked out of New York City’s Palais Royale Hotel in search of the perfect evening dress.
She did find the perfect dress: a long black beaded silk with a sheer back that dipped down to her tailbone. But is was the coat that took her breath away – the coat and the legend and the fantasy.
The multicolored floral brocade boasted gleaming gold threads that reflected the bright city sunlight. Elaborate scrolls etched its lush black velvet cuffs and ankle-skimming border. A face-framing swath of black fox, added as an afterthought, brought the coat to the level of a work of art.
By the time I rescued the coat from the empty corner of my spinster aunt’s nursing home closet, its shabbiness was well-earned, having been Zelda’s constant companion through her bi-polar adventures played out over two continents and two decades, until both she and the coat began to unravel.
My aunt had been a nurse at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda spent her final years capturing on canvas the remaining bright colors of her memories and telling my aunt the elaborate coat-tales that fed her lonely dreams of prodigal nights ablaze in the heart of a drowning Jazz Age.
Just days before the hospital fire that took her life, Zelda gave my aunt the coat to wear to a costume party.
And so the Gypsy Coat was retired to the back of my aunt’s closet, although she always took it with her whenever she moved, unable to dispose of its vibrant history. The Gypsy Coat is mine, now, to ponder on the relic that it is – a remnant of legendary lives lived with creative abandon, dazzling artistry, and deadly excess.
The day after I wrote this, as I was watching a “Friends” rerun with the family, Phoebe appeared wearing the coat I had described the day before.
I love it when stuff like that happens.
Well, I say I know her, but she’s really a friend of a Facebook friend. Well, I say that she’s young; she’s really my daughter’s age — just over 50. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.
Anyway, this young woman is very ill with a disease of the blood and will only get worse. She is very smart and creative and well-known and respected in the technical information/education publication world. That is not a world I know. I only know about her. And I only know about her because there is something in her brightness and bravery that moved me and made me want to learn more about her.
I needed/wanted to do something for her — because I can’t fix any of the things wrong with this world, with my country, with all of those folks hurting and trying and dying. Because I am a maker of things and because I wish — how much I wish — I could make magic.
And so I got on Google and downloaded images from her Facebook page and from her book covers on Amazon. I figured out how to do a simple world cloud using words from her various posts.
I printed out the images on washable fabric. I appliqued the images onto the front of a t-shirt.
Then, I appliqued a healing mandala on the back of the shirt.
And then I looked up her address on 411.com and put it in the mail.
And I included this note:
If Magic were something I could make,
I would spin you a spell of healing,
thread it with the strength and energy
of all of your best moments, color it
blue like water teeming with life,
the burgundy of blood, the red and white
of cells induced to dance again,
of a thousand loving thoughts
warming the fabric of hope.
Then you could wear it like armor
a curative cloak, medicinal mantle,
that primitive sympathetic magic
powerful in intent as any prayer.
I did it as much for me as for her. We are both powerless against the arbitrary surges of fate that drag us into those dark places where we would not choose to go and then leave us, spent, to find a way out. Only she has no way out of this one.
It never mattered much before how often and where my poetry got published. I wrote because it was a compulsion. When I did send anything out, it was to publications to which I figured I had a good chance of being accepted. Every once in a while I would get a rejection, but it wasn’t very often.
Suddenly it’s mattering to me to know if my poetry is really any good. Am I average? Am I a “B” level poet? I know I”m not an “A.” I’ve never been an “A” in anything. “B+” is about as high as I go, and that goes for my talents at knitting, crochet, sewing, and ballroom dancing.
Now, writing is something else. I’d say I’m about an “A-“. Every job I’ve every had has involved writing, and I’ve always done well at it. I’m a pretty good “persuasive” writer. I used to say that I am able to spin straw into gold; I can take disjointed ideas and turn them into a compelling piece of written material.
So why, now, is it important for me to know if my poetry is considered “good” by others? It doesn’t seem to matter how good other people think I am at anything else I do. It’s all just part of how I spend my time.
But with my poetry, it’s different. For some reason, now, at my advanced age, I need to know.
So I’m taking a chance and sending poems out to more discriminating poetry publications. I need to know.
And if they are rejected? It shouldn’t matter, right?
My cousins in downstate New York are all ready for Christmas with their cookies, posting photos and recipes on Facebook and making me feel inadequate as a grandmother.
My mother started baking after Thanksgiving and didn’t finish until the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, after all, was always the extended-family gathering at my own grandmother’s for the Polish Wigilia, a meatless night of eating and drinking and singing “Koledy,” Polish Christmas Carols.
When I moved away decades ago, I drifted away from those traditions, and, not really being into housewifery, I didn’t get into the baking, either.
One of my mother’s specialties was “pizzelles,” which are of Italian origin, but that didn’t stop my mother. She got the recipe from her Italian sister-in-law and each year gave everyone in the family a batch of her homemade pizzelles — which are made on a kind of waffle iron and which take an awful lot of time to make. You have to pour each one separately and then stand there while the hot gadget bakes them. Then you have to remove each one separately and set them carefully aside to cool and harden.
One of the few things I took for myself after my mother passed away was her pizzelle maker, and this year I unearthed it from the cellar, cleaned it up, googled a recipe, and made a batch that I will take to my daughter’s in-laws on Christmas Day.
I found that I actually enjoyed making them — something about the meditative calm of the repetitive task, the memory of my mother humming softly while she poured, clamped, waited, opened, and gently removed her perfectly round and patterned pizzelles.
Mine are not so round or so perfectly patterned, but it was my first try.
My mother always bought — rather than made — one kind of pastry for the holidays. She called them “bow ties” and got them especially for my son, who loved them. They are really Jewish “egg kichel,” and this year I ordered some from Etsy and sent them to my son in Portland OR in memory of my mom. He said that they were just as good as he remembered.
I don’t have many Christmas traditions (especially since I don’t really celebrate the religious holiday) but I think I will make making my mom’s pizzelles one of them from now on.
My son-in-law found the box of my poetry that I packed up to move here five years ago. I have enough for a book. They are mostly very dark. I would call the book “Dark Matters.”
In the bottom of the box is a journal where I wrote poems about some of the lovers that moved through my life back in those disco dancing days. I take the journal to bed and read their names, remember their faces, how they danced. I remember them all except one. Brad. My poem remembers him even though I no longer do. Why is he the one I can’t remember?
I just had two poems accepted for the Winter Solstice issue of Mused: The BellaOnline Poetry Review. There’s no payment for getting published; there’s just exposure. And it’s better than having my poetry sit unread on my hard drive.
Mused published a poem and an essay of mine a couple of years ago, so I started wondering if they just accept every submission. I couldn’t find any info about that through an online search, but I did wind up on their Facebook page, and the comments there indicate that they, indeed, do NOT accept every submission. Of course, I have no way of knowing if my stuff is just the best of a bad bunch or how it stacks up against other accepted submissions.
No matter. I know that I’m no Elizabeth Bishop.
I finally got off my lazy butt and organized a “writing circle” at the public library. It’s held every other Wednesday afternoon and is loosely based on the Amherst Writing Method. I say “loosely” because, while I have participated in the program in the past, I have not been officially trained to lead a group. But we follow the suggested “prompt, write, respond” method, and it is working very well for us, I think.
So, today the folks each brought in an object for someone else to use as a prompt. I chose a pair of very worn women’s shoes from the turn of 19th century. I had posted it here but removed it because I am submitting it to a poetry journal.