Legendary Women of Poetry March 31st 2012   1 comment

Portrait of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1933-01-14)

Portrait of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1933-01-14) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On March 31st the Free Poets’ Collective organized their second Legendary Women Poets event, this time at the Forbes Library inNorthamptonMassachusetts. I was honored to be again included in the list of readers, this time focusing on Edna St. Vincent Millay.


Northamptonis the home ofSmithCollege, aMeccaof sorts for female poets, as it’s the Alma Mater of Sylvia Plath. The Forbes Library is surrounded by coffee shops, bars, art galleries and theaters. There are trendy shops including the impressively named Sid Vintage, a store featuring (what else?) vintage clothes. In addition to my reading of Millay, Ms. Plath’s works were also included in the event, as well as Lucille Clifton and others, including poets fromRussiaandSpain.


I love working with the Free Poets Collective, Colin, Yvon, and Andrea bring a great energy to every reading they organize. You can tell they’re truly passionate about the written word, and I always come away both entertained and enlightened.


For this reading, I decided to do something a little different. In addition to poetry, Millay wrote short stories and plays as well. One of her plays, Conversation at Midnight, was first written during the time Millay’s house burnt down. She lost the whole manuscript, and resolved to rewrite the entire thing from memory. It’s a great story, and an inspiration for me whenever a computer crashes or a flash drive goes missing. I happen to have a third edition copy of Conversation at Midnight, vellum wrapped and encased in a baby blue gift box. It’s one of my prized possessions, and I’ll take every opportunity to take it out and show it off. So, instead of reading her poetry, I read excerpts from her play instead.


After reading from the play, I shared with the audience two of my poems inspired by Millay. “We Were Very Tired” is inspired by Millay’s poem, “Recuerdo”:




We were very tired, we were very merry–
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable–
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on the hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry–
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawlcovered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and the pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.



My poem is one of the poems in the second part of my book, Melons and Memory:


We Were Very Tired

We were very tired,
We were very hungry
We went through the drive thru
Without a lot of money

In the car we smelt the smell of the consignment shops
We’d bought pants for the boys and for Sissy frilly tops

We were very tired,
We were very hungry
We went through the drive thru
Without a lot of money

The windows were all rolled up, to keep out rain and wind
The sound of Ella Elephant singing scat blasting from within

We were very tired
We were very hungry
We went through the drive thru
Without a lot of money

The window girl cried Lord Bless You! For the nickels and the dimes
As we asked for no ketchup, extra napkins half a dozen times.




The second poem was inspired not by Millay’s work, but by her life. Her mother, Cora, reportedly would put Edna or her sisters in a scalding hot bath or forced them to ride bareback whenever she feared they might be pregnant as young women. Very competitive with her daughters for men and fame, Cora feared ever becoming a grandmother, and worked hard to prevent it by any means necessary. This poem was published in 2010 by Snow Monkey.




After the readings there was a brief open mic period, in which my good friend Michelle read the poem I-95 from the same section of Melons and Memory.

It was a great day and well worth the hour and forty minute drive. I look forward to working with the Collective again in the future!


You can watch videos of this and other events I’ve read at on my Youtube channel, MsPetersonReads:




One response to “Legendary Women of Poetry March 31st 2012

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  1. I have always loved Millay. I find myself thinking about how I started getting into her. It was at a bar one night when the bartender and I were quoting poems to each other… But I think I’ll write about it in verse if I can. 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration! “Ricuerdo” is one of my very favorites by her, and your spin off is delightful.

    I’m happy to have found this blog of yours. Heading toward your YouTube channel next.

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