Poem In Your Pocket Day

April 26th, 2012 by Cathleen Miller

In honor of Poem in Your Pocket Day, we’re offering some poems by Maine women.  I wish I could read each one to you aloud, as that’s the magic of this community-building poetry event.  I’ll be reading poems to anyone who asks.

On the anniversary of the invasion
by Lee Sharkey (2007)

on my side       knees bent      hand resting
lightly on my rib cage
lightly     your knees touch my knees
your breath washes over my face
my breath washes over your face
our breath sifts out the window
and rides the thermals
over earth’s face scarred and shining
brushing distant faces
turned slightly to the touch of the wind

Wanting to See a Moose
by Kate Barnes (2004)

When I am full
of some transporting emotion,
what I see is that ordinary things
are all extraordinary. But
it’s like gathered dew
on a blade of grass, it falls off
or dries up, and I can’t hang on
to the feeling. In no time
I’m back asking the fates
to let me see a moose
as I drive my car through the marsh–and not
attending to the gathering darkness
of evening, the cloudy light
that lingers, the reeds, the ducks,
the black, still water opening
so silently
beyond the causeway.

by Dawn Potter (2004)

It was darker then, in the nights when the cars
came sliding around the traffic circle, when the headlights
speckled with rain traveled the bedroom walls
and vanished; when the typewriter, the squeaking chair,
the slow voice of the radio stirred the night air like a fan.
Of course, the ones we loved were beautiful–
slim, dark-haired, intent on their books.
The rain came swishing against the lamp-lit windows.
The cat purred in his chair. A clock sang,
and we lay nearly asleep, almost dreaming,
almost alone, nearly gone–the days fly so;
and the nights, like sleep, disappear without memory.

Letter for Emily Dickinson
by Annie Finch (2004)

When I cut words you never may have said
into fresh patterns, pierced in place with pins,
ready to hold them down with my own thread,
they change and twist sometimes, their color spins
loose, and your spider generosity
lends them from language that will never be
free of you after all. My sampler reads,
“called back.” It says, “she scribbled out these screeds.”
It calls, “she left this trace, and now we start”–
in stitched directions that follow the leads
I take from you, as you take me apart.

You wrote some of your lines while baking bread,
propping a sheet of paper by the bins
of salt and flour, so if your kneading led
to words, you’d tether them as if in thin
black loops on paper. When they sang to be free,
you captured those quick birds relentlessly
and kept a slow, sure mercy in your deeds,
leaving them room to peck and hunt their seeds
in the white cages your vast iron art
had made by moving books, and lives, and creeds.
I take from you as you take me apart.

by Sue McConkey (1970)

Birdling nest in moon-
glow.  Sing,   deep night murmurings,
in morning bird song.

The Spring and the Fall
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1923)

In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.

In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There’s much that’s fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
‘Tis not love’s going hurts my days,
But that it went in little ways.

June Shower
by Florence Percy/Elizabeth Akers Allen (1856)

.        How this delicious rain
Brings up the flowers!  One might almost say
It rains down blossoms–for where yesterday
.        I sought for them in vain,
They lie by hundreds on the wet green earth,
Rejoicing in the freshness of their birth.

.        With idly folded hands
The farmer sits within his cottage door,
Watching the blessings which the full clouds pour
.        Upon his thirsty lands–
Where written promise by his eye is seen,
In visible characters of living green.

.        Unyoked the oxen stand,
The cool rain plashing on their heaving sides,
And with wide nostrils breathe the fragrant tides
.        Of breezes flowing bland;
Then, as though sated with the odor sweet,
Crop the new grass that springs beneath their feet.

.         Bloom-laden lilac trees,
Their purple glories dripping with the rain,
Shake off the drops in odorous showers again;
.        And the small fragrances
Of cherry blossoms, and of violet blue,
Come balmily the open window through.

.        No harsh or jarring sound
Breaks the refreshing stillness of the hour;
The gentle footfalls of the passing shower
.        Patter along the ground–
The swallows twitter gladly from the eaves,
And the small rain talks softly to the leaves.

.        Sweet is the gushing song
Which the young birds sing in the summer time,
The wind’s soft voice, the river’s wavy chime,
.        Flowing in joy along.
But more than all I love the pleasant tune
Sung by the rain-drops in the month of June!

“It gives me the greatest pleasure to tell you…” Installment 2 in our publishing series

April 4th, 2011 by Catherine Fisher

So, here it is. The author has toiled, possibly for years, on her story, article, novel or other manuscript and it’s now time to find a publisher for her creation who will launch it into the world. From even a quick skim of some of the correspondence contained in our collections, we can see that making and maintaining publishing connections can be at once rewarding and frustrating. Finding the right fit of work and publisher determines whether or not a manuscript makes it into print in the first place, and then to what degree it will be promoted and seen.

Sometimes an author will establish a lifelong relationship with one publisher, and in other cases an author of three books might work with just as many different houses. It’s clear that acceptance of one piece of an author’s work does not by any means guarantee that all future submissions of hers will get the green light. One example picked from the archives gives us a glimpse of such a road block. Blanche Willis Howard, who published many novels and plays in the 1890s, received a disappointing letter from her attorney/representative, saying,

“I regret very much to say that Mssrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co. do not feel like undertaking the publication of your new novel. Mr. Mifflin came to see me himself for the purpose of explaining to me how great a personal disappointment it was to him…They are very anxious to have a novel from you, but the subjects of the last two have evidently not commended themselves and in the last case there is something also in the treatment which they find objectionable…Mr. Mifflin evidently feels that the book will not help you in future work…”

That had to sting a bit. Sadly, we do not have a copy of Howard’s response to this news, if there was one, but we can find a similar rocky patch in the papers of Mary Ellen Chase. In a 1948 exchange, Chase did not take the news Good Housekeeping’s reversal of an acceptance lying down. To the editor’s letter of the news of their decision not to publish her story The Plum Tree after all, she replied with a demand for a reason and got one:

It all turned out well in the end, however, because The Plum Tree found a great home at Macmillan a year later, almost to the day. They were thrilled to publish the story in book form and keen to promote it.

The novel, set in a home for aged women, eventually went into four printings and received critical acclaim. And considering the substantial file of fan mail Chase received, the efforts certainly were well-placed. One woman wrote,

“If you were a mind reader (and in a larger sense you are!) you could tell how difficult it is for me to tell you just how much your Plum Tree means to me. It is, in the first place, an answer to a personal prayer…All my grown life I have visited old ladies’ homes, hospitals and rest homes and so I prayed for years, ‘Please God, have someone someday write a great book about these forgotten women.’”

For some, especially authors whose genre is the short story, article or poem and whose target outlet is the periodical, submitting work can be as time consuming and challenging as the writing itself. It’s rather exhausting to take in Elizabeth Coatsworth’s record of submissions and their responses, imagining her maintaining relationships with many publications at once and determining the best bet for each story or poem’s acceptance. And keep in mind she wasn’t achieving this constant exchange by the grace of email. Hopeful submissions were enclosures, not attachments, and one waited for the mail to go and come, to be sure.

Turning to the language of some of these letters, I’m struck by how solicitous and even genteel publishers can sound in their correspondence. To Coatsworth in 1944, for example:

No matter how elegant their rejections, though, in the end their motives are clearly all business. And just as fickle as are the whims of the clothing and art worlds, publishing fashions also come and go with the stroke of a pen. Authors can experience sudden and dramatic shifts in their desirability in the eyes of publishers. Elizabeth Akers Allen, when rumors of her supposed ill health got around in the mid-1800s, noted that publishers became more interested in her work when they believed she would soon be dead.

It’s perhaps no wonder that many authors today are choosing to publish their work themselves.

Celebrating 100 years of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme, “Pathway to Decent Work”

March 8th, 2011 by Catherine Fisher

Here at the MWWC, our mission is to celebrate the “decent work” of writing and to champion any woman’s path to it. Traditionally for women the road to becoming a writer and doing the work of writing has been fraught with obstacles, and in the company of our collection are many women who overcame much to answer their true callings. Their courage to actively pursue the goal of writing, claim the time and the space to write, own and honor a voice to write, and respect the writing enough to make it public deserves our admiration and gratitude. Whether the limitations have been educational, financial, political or domestic, every writer in our archives has seen her way clear to do the decent work of writing and contribute her part to the vibrant collective.

At risk when the pathway is blocked is spelled out in a letter by Gladys Hasty Carroll, 1991:

“If women don’t tell how women feel, and why they feel that way, and how the world and the future look to them, how is anybody going to know? And how much sweet mystery, true enchantment, bewitching diversity, and superb innovation will be lost to the world!”

One of the major obstacles to engaging in the decent work of writing, that of finding uninterrupted time, is explained by poet and journalist Elizabeth Akers Allen in a 1910 letter:

“When I was preparing my last book, I was more than once called down stairs seven and eight times in one afternoon. In fact, I am never sure of one uninterrupted hour. How much work would Longfellow or Lowell have done in such circumstances?…it is the breaking of the thread of thought, the “losing one’s place,” the entire displacing of one’s ideas by something entirely foreign to the work in hand, which does the mischief…”

This difficulty is echoed a few decades later by Florence Burrill Jacobs, who wrote poetry, fiction and greeting card verse:

“It takes time, it takes energy, physical and mental. When you have finished a good big ironing, even with a mangle, you don’t bring to writing a poem the same fresh outlook and uncluttered imagination that you might had you been walking on a beach. Time, actual physical time, three or four hours; it takes energy; and there is always some detail ahead, start supper…and a constant mental drain, bring in the clothes if they are dry enough…”

In the collection and preservation of poetry and cookbooks, novels and memoirs, scientific studies, political papers and scholarly works, the Maine Women Writers Collection honors all women’s voices, all forms of writing and expression, and values the documents that illustrate the pathway each woman traveled and illuminate the obstacles she overcame. Decent work is a choice and a purpose, as activist Ramona Barth declares in her 1990s article, “Woman and the Postwar World”:

“I maintain that today’s woman who is choosing work instead of shopping and playing is better equipped to talk, think and plan peace than the woman rightly featured before this war by the advertisers as the sheltered, pampered lady. She is a responsible, integrated, purposeful being, instead of the useless dilettante of yesterday.”

The choice of Maine’s women to persevere in the work of writing has had positive international impact on peace, education, the environment, empowerment of women, and cultural enrichment. Rather than being lost to the world, their voices have helped clear the pathway to decent work for generations of women, today and tomorrow.