It’s National Poetry Month, ladies and gentlemen!
So give yourself a gift and go to the library. Wander over to the 811 shelves (or the PN1010-1525 section, if you’re one of that LC crowd). Pull a book of poems off the shelf and open it to a random page. Read the poem. Wrinkle your nose in distaste or confusion or dust mites. Flip the page and read another one. Put the book back . . . and try another one. Maybe in the children’s area—there’s Silverstein in there somewhere, and snark hunting and streets full of mulberries.
And if you don’t end up taking one of those books home . . . try again next week.
You have all month.
While you’re there, you might track down the works of Anne Finch, who unexpectedly became the Countess of Winchilsea only eight years before her death in 1720, by making a love match decades earlier with the uncle of the 4th Count, who died childless.
She wrote several collections of poetry, much of which was about how much she adored her husband—who showed up so often in her verses, he had his very own pseudonym—but also about the creating of poetry and the right of women to write it.
It might be noted here that she published her poetry while she and her husband were in political disgrace and somewhat short of money—it’s one thing for a Countess to have a book published and quite another for a young wife whose courtier husband who refuses to accept the right of the newly crowned Stuart monarchs to reign.
But damned if she didn’t do it. And do it well.
So, in honor of National Poetry Month and one very determined Lady Poet, I’m going to ask you to try something different when you read the poem below.
If you identify as female, I want you to read it aloud. Begin in a calm voice, then clench your fists about three lines in. Clench your jaw, too, and mutter through it. Raise your volume and speed up whenever you like. Stand up, if you want. Smile sweetly or scowl.
If you identify as male, I want you to pretend that the strongest woman you know is reading this to you, hands clenched. Try not to move; she will sense fear.
If you identify as neither binary gender, talk two of the above into helping you out, make some popcorn, and enjoy.
(Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea)
Did I, my lines intend for public view,
How many censures, would their faults pursue,
Some would, because such words they do affect,
Cry they’re insipid, empty, and uncorrect.
And many have attained, dull and untaught,
The name of wit only by finding fault.
True judges might condemn their want of wit,
And all might say, they’re by a woman writ.
Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous creature, is esteemed,
The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.
They tell us we mistake our sex and way;
Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play
Are the accomplishments we should desire;
To write, or read, or think, or to inquire
Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,
And interrupt the conquests of our prime;
Whilst the dull manage of a servile house
Is held by some our outmost art, and use.
Sure ’twas not ever thus, nor are we told
Fables, of women that excelled of old;
To whom, by the diffusive hand of Heaven
Some share of wit, and poetry was given.
On that glad day, on which the Ark returned,
The holy pledge, for which the land had mourned,
The joyful tribes, attend it on the way,
The Levites do the sacred charge convey,
Whilst various instruments, before it play;
Here, holy virgins in the concert join
The louder notes, to soften, and refine,
And with alternate verse complete the hymn divine.
Lo! the young Poet, after God’s own heart,
By Him inspired, and taught the Muses’ art,
Returned from conquest, a bright chorus meets,
That sing his slain ten thousand in the streets.
In such loud numbers they his acts declare,
Proclaim the wonders of his early war,
That Saul upon the vast applause does frown,
And feels its mighty thunder shake the crown.
What, can the threatened judgment now prolong?
Half of the kingdom is already gone;
The fairest half, whose influence guides the rest,
Have David’s empire o’er their hearts confessed.
A woman here, leads fainting Israel on,
She fights, she wins, she triumphs with a song,
Devout, majestic, for the subject fit,
And far above her arms, exalts her wit;
Then, to the peaceful, shady palm withdraws,
And rules the rescued nation, with her laws.
How are we fall’n, fall’n by mistaken rules?
And education’s, more than nature’s fools,
Debarred from all improvements of the mind,
And to be dull, expected and designed;
And if some one would soar above the rest,
With warmer fancy, and ambition pressed,
So strong th’ opposing faction still appears,
The hopes to thrive can ne’er outweigh the fears,
Be cautioned then my Muse, and still retired;
Nor be despised, aiming to be admired;
Conscious of wants, still with contracted wing,
To some few friends, and to thy sorrows sing;
For groves of laurel thou wert never meant;
Be dark enough thy shades, and be thou there content.
So . . . how’d it feel?
Let me know in the comments, if you have the time—I’m sure you’re on your way to the library, right?
The Vonnegut Challenge Winner!
A week ago, I passed along Kurt Vonngut’s Challenge to write a secret poem and tear it up, simply for the joy and rush of creating it.
And also for a mug from Cafepress.
Six people sent me pictures of their poem pieces—and if the poems were half as creative as the images, you all outdid yourselves.
Thank you all so much for playing! I’m sure Mr. Vonnegut would be chuffed.
But I can only afford one mug on a poetry-loving librarian’s salary, so all the names went into the Red Wool Hat of Win and one was selected as the first official act of my younger daughter in her position as family seven-year old.
I’ll drop you a line soon, so can figure out how to get a mug from here to waaaay the heck over there!