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 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.
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?
Finishing Line Press announces a new title: What the Seasons Leave. The poetry chapbook, part of Finishing Line’s acclaimed New Women’s Voices Series, is by Massachusetts author Elaine Frankonis.
“The poems in this chapbook,” Frankonis explains, “become a brief episodic memoir of an ordinary life lived with a sense of personal myth and magic.”
With the acceptance for publication of her first poetry chapbook by Finishing Line Press at age 74, Frankonis, has finally filled the only item on her bucket list.
A “chapbook” is a small collection of poetry centered around a specific theme and published in a limited edition. What the Seasons Leave begins with the metaphor of a compost pile and ends with the image of
...spears of brazen Jerusalem artichoke,
that perplexing garden gypsy
that blossoms and burrows,
grows up to nine feet tall, and
in the harsh summer storm
dances her defiance
to the grim arrogance
Psychotherapist, poet, and author Edward Tick (Dream Healing, War and the Soul, The Golden Tortoise) has said of Frankonis’ work: “Frankonis is a poet who is at once easy and difficult. She is easy because she is lyrical and familiar and embraces the everyday of loving, parenting, gardening. She is difficult in her demand that we go deeply into the simple and squeeze out the juices of love and wisdom. Frankonis lives up to her demand of poets – to make ‘the earth grow bones.’”
Over the past 50 years, Frankonis has had her poetry published in a variety of small presses and online journals (many of which no longer exist). Earlier versions of several of the poems in this chapbook have previously appeared in The Berkshire Review, the Ballard Street Poetry Journal, and Mused: the BellaOnline Literary Journal. In 1998, several of her pieces appeared in the anthology Which Lilith: Feminist Writers Recreate the World’s First Woman.
With a BA and MA in English/Education from the University at Albany, she was accepted by and participated in two competitive poetry workshops offered by the Writers-in-Residence Program of the New York State Writers Institute. For several years, she served on the Board of Directors of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and was co-editor of, and contributor to, Gates to the City, the literary anthology for the Albany, New York Tricentennial celebration.
An admirer of all things Joseph Campbell, Karl Jung, Clarissa Pinkola Estes,
Ursula LaGuin, and the 1940s version of Wonder Woman, Frankonis is a perpetual student of feminist archetypes in various mythologies and science fiction.
When weblogs started to become popular, it was not surprising that she became one of the early adult female bloggers and was the first president of “Blogsisters,” the
oldest women’s group blog on the net. She continues to blog, although sporadically, at Kalilily Time.
Finishing Line Press is a poetry publisher based in Georgetown, Kentucky. In addition to the New Women’s Voices Series, it sponsors the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition.
Cover art for What the Seasons Leave is by Troy, New York artist and print-maker, Linda K. Ryder, Ryder Studio, Troy, NY. Stone and polyester plate lithograph detail from “Diva” series (2009 to present).
Copies of What the Seasons Leave is scheduled for release January 3, 2015. It can be pre-ordered online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Click on “Preorder forthcoming titles” and scroll down the list to her name.
It can also be ordered directly from the publisher. Send a check or money order in the amount of $15.58 (includes shipping), to
Finishing Line Press
Post Office Box 1626
Georgetown, KY 49324
There’s a Facebook meme circulating to which I am moved to respond, especially because, in thinking about the challenge, I see that my choices are very idiosyncratic. And, while I read much more fiction than non-fiction, it is mostly the non-fiction books that I remember because they had such an effect on my ways of thinking and creating. The fiction I remember because they were quirky and mind-bending.
1. If You Meet the Buddha on the Road by Sheldon Kopp
2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
3. Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
4. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
5. The City Not Long After by Pat Murphy — a sci fi novel where artists save the world after an apocalyptic event
6. The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
7. Collected Poems, by T.S. Elliot
8. Words for the Wind by Theodore Roethke
9. a quirky transgender sci fi novel the title and author of which I can’t remember; but I remember the cover image, which looked a little like Prince (the artist formerly known as) with purple pompadour, and I remember becoming totally engrossed in the created reality of the novel
10 the Bible, both Old and New Testaments but not all of either — mostly the gospels because, as a kid, I liked reading about the dramatic exploits of Jesus while I sat through the boredom of mass
ADDENDUM: The sci fi book the title of which I couldn’t think of just popped into my head: Crygender by Thomas T. Thomas. Hardly great literature, but that was not the topic of this meme.
Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt
Go here to read the pieces about the image that others have written.
He was the one (she whispers,
her gaze time-shifting from the photo
caressed by fingers trembling
with fearless age and old desires).
I saw him by the shrine at the crossroads,
where he sprawled beneath the ancient willow
offering newly weaned kittens
to passersby by, like me,
strolling home from morning mass,
smelling of incense and warnings
against the lure of strangers offering
mysteries beyond our simple path.
His dark eyes burned, even through
the dark glasses he wore, turning my skin
liquid, my hands yearning for the silk
of his shirt, the brocade of his waistcoat,
his lips hinting of arrogance and sweet
submission. Instead, I took a kitten,
smelling of some other incense,
redolent of mythic midnight fires.
That was not the last of him in my life.
We were each other’s secret, and we shared
each other as we shared the cat, who loved
us both in her dark feline freedom.
I wrote this poem about him back then,
before he left to seek another destiny,
following the call of his blood
and the hypnotic drift of the Danube.
There are others I have wanted,
but you flow like the river
through my out-stretched hands.
I would not catch you if I could.
Instead, I ride the edges of your tide
and let the strength of your windswell
wash the stones from my hair.
Here on this weblog, I write about whatever interests me at the moment, even though, at the time, I recognize that it might not interest anyone else.
But every once in a while, out of nowhere, it does.
I just received an email from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada regarding a blog post I did back in 2003 about friends of mine leaving to join a group in Edmonton that I consider a cult.
You can read the post here — and be sure to read the comments as well.
Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.
I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.
That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.
Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.
Whatever. It all works for me.
We were all out digging and clearing today.
I come from a family of Polish farmers on my mother’s side. (My father’s side of the family were more educated and tended to be white collar workers in old Poland.)
I love digging in the dirt. It has to be in my genes. And that’s also probably why my son is now part owner of a herd of urban goats and just loves taking care of them.
And that’s why this poem by Marge Piercy is one of my favorites:
The Common Living Dirt
by Marge Piercy
The small ears prick on the bushes,
furry buds, shoots tender and pale.
The swamp maples blow scarlet.
Color teases the corner of the eye,
delicate gold, chartreuse, crimson,
mauve speckled, just dashed on.
The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.
As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.
You can live thousands of years
undressing in the spring your black
body, your red body, your brown body
penetrated by the rain. Here
is the goddess unveiled,
the earth opening her strong thighs.
Yet you grow exhausted with bearing
too much, too soon, too often, just
as a woman wears through like an old rug.
We have contempt for what we spring
from. Dirt, we say, you’re dirt
as if we were not all your children.
We have lost the simplest gratitude.
We lack the knowledge we sowed ten
thousand years past, that you live
a goddess but mortal, that what we take
must be returned; that the poison we drop
In you will stunt our children’s growth.
Tending a plot of your flesh binds
me as nothing ever could to the seasons,
to the will of the plants, clamorous
in their green tenderness. What
calls louder than the cry of a field
of corn ready, or trees of ripe peaches?
I worship on my knees, laying
the seeds in you, that worship rooted
in need, in hunger, in kinship,
flesh of the planet with my own flesh,
a ritual of compost, a litany of manure.
My garden’s a chapel, but a meadow
gone wild in grass and flower
is a cathedral. How you seethe
with little quick ones, vole, field
mouse, shrew and mole in their thousands,
rabbit and woodchuck. In you rest
the jewels of the genes wrapped in seed.
Power warps because it involves joy
in domination; also because it means
forgetting how we too starve, break,
like a corn stalk in the wind, how we
die like the spinach of drought,
how what slays the vole slays us.
Because you can die of overwork, because
you can die of the fire that melts
rock, because you can die of the poison
that kills the beetle and the slug,
we must come again to worship you
on our knees, the common living dirt.
Six years ago today, my friend and once-husband died of lung cancer. This is the only existing photo of the day we eloped in 1962.
We were kind of a fire and ice mixture. Made some fascinating patterns and two great kids, but we were destined to destroy each other if we didn’t separate.
Our son published some of his writings, which are available on Kindle. In the early days, we were very competitive with each other regarding our writing/achievements. Back then, I kind of viewed us as an “F. Scott and Zelda” situation.
Only I didn’t jump into a fountain and wind up in a loony bin. I jumped out into the life I was destined to have.
We eventually were able to become good friends, and I was with him on his last day.
I often think about how much he would be enjoying the paths that our two kids have taken and the way his grandson is blossoming.
Why do I have him listed with Kerouac and Kafka in a poem that I wrote when I was twenty years old?
Even the information about him in the last available copy of his chapbook that I just bought for $10 doesn’t tell me anything about how I might have come to know anything about him more than a half-century ago.
Apparently, he wrote back in the late 30s and 40s, and this chapbook is his only collection. The inside cover says
Only a limited edition of 1000 is being printed, and none of them will ever be available except as a personal gift from the writer.
The copy I bought is inscribed to “Doc Chandler: who appreciates cheesecake and football predictions — all the good things in life. Jack Trussell, 10-15-57.”
I was a freshman in college in 1957. Might I have heard him read his poetry on campus? Did one of my fellow pseudo-beatniks tell me about him? Did I share a beer with him one night in the tiny bar on Central Avenue in Albany where we gathered around a table in front of a bizarre mural of Buddha, Shiva, and various other inspirational myths? I don’t know why his name would appear in my poem.I don’t remember. Have no idea. “Doc Chandler” certainly doesn’t ring a bell.
About the poems in this collectin Jake says “To me, poetry was always a personal thing, written for the pure joy of writing and for no other consideration whatsoever. These poems were written at very odd moments ….and on the strangest assortments of materials (napkins, the backs of old football programs, and scraps of typing paper crammed into a beat up portable late at night on a kitchen table).”
I guess that sounds pretty much like what we were all doing back then.
Most of his poems have end line rhymes, which I rarely like. I might never know why his name found its way into one of my very early efforts. Maybe I had read this one of his; I know I would have liked this one, which he wrote in 1938: