Archive for the ‘Edna St. Vincent Millay’ Tag

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”:

 

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.

 

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

 

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:

 

http://www.youtube.com/user/MsPetersonReads?feature=mhee

 

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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.