Snow Monkey   1 comment

Photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Image via Wikipedia

http://snowmonkeyjournal.blogspot.com/2010/05/helen-peterson.html

This May, Snow Monkey published my poem, “Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother“. Giving credit where credit is due, the title came from a book I once bought my mother-in-law for her birthday. This was a running joke with us, since she was in her mid thirties when I had my oldest son. Her husband, my ex-husband’s step-dad, was twenty seven, but it’s funny, I never did find a Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandfather book. Freud would have something to say about that, I’m sure.

Anyway, the title may have come from a funny little book, but the body of the poem came from the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of my favorite poets. According to Nancy Millford’s excellent biography, Savage Beauty, when Millay’s mother thought her daughter might be pregnant, she forced her to take multiple scalding hot baths, and ride her horse bareback up and down the valleys and meadows near their home. It was such a crazy contrast to how my own parents and in-laws reacted, it stuck with me, more than anything else in the book, and it was a very good book, worth the read if you have the time and wish to do so.

You may notice, though, that I don’t use Millay’s name in the poem. In earlier drafts I did, added more details specific to her own life. In workshopping, others found the specificity distracting, and so I applied a name I had used before, in Baby Girl poems, the fragile and distracted Sweet Baby. It added another slant to the idea of a mother manipulating her daughter’s body, even after the girl is grown into her own sexuality.

This is just one example of how I sometimes get inspired by the lives of real people, and by what I read in books. Take something you’ve read, that has stuck with you, and use it as a writing prompt this evening. When you’re done, pick up a book you’ve been dying to read.  Begin to read it with an eye for inspiration, as well as for leisure. Taste the words and stories within, mull it around your tongue with the spices from your own life. Begin to read like a writer.

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One response to “Snow Monkey

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  1. I loved “Savage Beauty.” Check out this album of songs inspired by the same book: “No Clothes on Ragged Island.”

    http://www.noclothesonraggedisland.com

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