Corrections or additions?

Author: Pat Summers. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 9,

2000. All rights reserved.

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, & Poets Can Help You

It all started simply enough: "A couple of us

had done funny erotic poems," one of them recalls, and the others

said, "Wow! We should do a sex reading." Then one thing led

to another, and on Sunday, February 13 — that’s right, Valentine’s

Eve — Micawber Books hosts "Hot Poems by Cool Women,"

a reading by seven illustrious, and for the time being,

out-of-character,

area poets. For about an hour, starting at 3 p.m., they will take

turns reading their love poems — particularly those that are sexy

or funny, as well as accessible on first hearing.

The seven women make up a three-year-old poetry-critique group that

meets monthly to review one another’s writing. Award-winning published

poets, teachers, and grant recipients, these are not frivolous women

— except maybe for a while on February 13. "This is not the

reading where we go into the dark night of the soul," Penelope

Scambly Schott says. "We’ll try to keep a general air of

silliness.

The right reaction would be laughter."

"None of us is anti-men, and most of us believe in romance,"

she says. Ah, but love comes in many guises:

That’s mine,

that one, that

hot-off-the-show-floor Porsche,

flashing redder than the neon

shouting "Harry’s Bar and Grill"

out on route forty-one,

and when I slam into the parking lot

the guys will drop their Buds.

And with many behavior patterns:

. . . You’re trying to cook

or sleep or read,

and here’s Sir Penis

plump with need . . .

The poets’ group meets at a member’s home one Sunday afternoon

a month. No moderator, no leader — just seven copies of each poem

to be shared and taking turns till time runs out. A member may agree

with others’ reactions, or not. Early on, they had put egos aside,

and everyone has had enough success so no one feels threatened. Even

comments like, "I don’t know what you mean" are helpful. For

a couple of hours they hear, read, and react to one another’s poems,

then they go away and write some more.

"This group gives us all this permission, this courage," says

one member. Their ages range from 40 to 60-something, they live in

the Princeton, Hopewell, Rocky Hill area, and they usually write in

their own varieties of "free verse" — that is, unrhymed,

though often rhythmic. There may be internal rhyme; there may be

minimal

punctuation and capitalization; but inevitably there will also be

the compressed language and surprising, right-on metaphors that are

among the attributes distinguishing poetry from prose.

And on the subject of romance, if not poetic license, and

foreshadowing

besides, one group member, Eloise Bruce, was married in Robert Frost’s

New Hampshire barn. Today, she brings poetry to school children around

the state through the New Jersey Writers Project, administered by

the State Council on the Arts and the Young Audiences program. Bruce

speaks of "the little crack between the imaginary world and the

everyday, real world — I try to live in that crack." Involved

in theater until about 10 years ago when she switched to poetry, she

writes a lot, she says, about what goes on in her life now and in

her past.

When you are angry and close-mouthed,

I have no breath. I have no tonic to fill me.

Fear furnished the silent rooms of my youth

where my parents quietly hated each other.

No sound throbbed between them.

My prince would arrive with some noise and jingle.

Sylvia Plath — for some, the poet’s poet — caused

Carolyn

Foote Edelmann to start writing poetry in the ’70s. A friend

challenged

her to send her poems to Princeton University, and the next thing

she knew, she was "standing on a hillside in Montana," while

her husband told her by phone that she had been accepted into its

advanced poetry program.

Edelmann speaks freely of her muse’s presence and absence. "The

muse went away from me for a couple years and only came back last

May. The new poetry was different and stronger — she came back,

and she’s writing these things." Saying she’s "terrified"

when the muse goes, the poet does all she can to "honor" her

and keep her muse present. "For me," Edelmann says, "food

and passion are very close," as demonstrated in "The Baker’s

Wife":

I don’t make bread

but something about you

makes me long for leaven

of my own devising

an enormous buttery bowl

mounded with flours

white and silken

as your wrists I’ve yet to touch

something in me knows when the yeast is ready

how to plunge and knead the strangely living fabric

of our loaf

"I think that writing creates the world, and without writing

I have very little idea what I am doing here," says Lois Marie

Harrod, who writes, and creates her world, with the aid of a

"quirky"

imagination.

At the Convention of Breasts

there was, you know,

a lot of blatant sexism

barelaced and brazen

as a pair of sandals . . .

A teacher, Harrod does most of her writing on weekend mornings,

putting that time aside for it. "Writing regularly and accepting

the time when I write junk is important. Also, I am not sure how or

why, it keeps depression at bay — well, not exactly, but the `bay’

moves off a little." She says her background is another reason

for writing. "I grew up in a Lutheran minister’s household. My

writing comes from silence — from the world I wasn’t allowed to

say," as in "The Hierarchy of Bad Words":

Gee was bad

(unless you were an Amishman

in a book talking to his horse)

because Gee was short for Jesus

and Dad would stop

razor in mid-course,

his face a half-plowed field,

to tell us bickering

outside the bathroom door

that we had profaned the name.

And God was worse

as in God, I forgot to do my arithmetic,

enough to stop the toast

ascending to the open mouth,

Sweet Jesus and Vulgate jam.

For would-be poets motivated by Valentine’s Day to compose for

their beloveds, Harrod says, "Don’t be trite," advising those

who want to read fresh and original love poetry to try Pablo Neruda’s

100 love sonnets to his wife.

Like others in the group, Betty Bonham Lies ("Lees") jots

notes for her poetry on scraps of paper. "It starts with language.

Either an image or a phrase may come to mind, and that usually

suggests

the topic." She keeps jotting until she’s ready to revise her

work on a PC. With a mother who loved poetry, Lies wrote it from

childhood,

stopping only when she reached college: "If you weren’t male,

if you weren’t T. S. Eliot . . ."

In the ’80s, while she was still teaching English at Stuart Country

Day, Lies joined her students in doing the exercises suggested by

a visiting poet — and got back into writing poetry. Now she’s

a visiting poet in the schools. In "Your Bones," Lies writes:

. . . this time I would hold you

as you entered life, I’d sing you

through the thin black breath of space

and when we came to air we’d open

like a firework flower, a peony,

ruddy and ruffled, fold inside fold.

Possessed of both a hearty laugh and a family tradition of

writing,

Joyce Greenberg Lott advises Valentines’ — and all — poets,

"Never write a poem with the idea you’ll show it to the person

you’re writing about. In fact, swear you’ll never show it."

Otherwise,

she says, you might alter what you write to please the subject, then

you won’t produce at the level you might have. Lott, a high school

creative writing teacher, knows "What It Would Take to Make Your

Husband Happy":

. . . he turns on a ball game

in the TV room he planned to finish last year.

You sit on a ladder; your feet on a paint can.

He sits on the tool box next to you. You know

the names of the players and cheer on your team

which happens to be his. At halftime

you chat about your children,

how perfectly they’ve turned out. He reaches over

and presents you with a wood shaving. . .

An artist in residence at Princeton Day School, Judith Michaels

prefers writing her poetry with a pencil — "The sensation:

your heart is beating faster, you feel tense." She makes final

revisions on her computer. In her poem, "Parris Island, 1943,"

Michaels recalls:

Alone and young in my Gothic dorm

I’d played Bach and Cimarosa, an old LP,

"The Quiet Door," tasting of cloister

and tea on a hot plate. Bach flavored

the Anglo Saxon endings

and all of Henry James. . .

Though she grew up reading, hearing, and memorizing poems, and

writing iambic pentameter with rhyme schemes, Schott believes "the

more you know, the more choices you have." And so her poetry is

different now. With more concern for stressed and unstressed beats

than for end-rhyme, she takes on subjects that are funny — as

in "Poor Dear," excerpted earlier — and intensely loving:

I imagine these two gold rings

under windless dirt:

after there’s nothing but knuckle,

our two left hands struck apart by shovel . . .

In advising would-be Valentine’s poets, one group member

expresses

her belief that there’s no new love poetry under the sun. The

poet-for-a-day

might be wiser to borrow from a professional, then, proffering

"The

Passionate Shepherd to His Love," express regret that Shakespeare

got there first.

— Pat Summers

Hot Poems by Cool Women, Micawber Books, 114 Nassau

Street, 609-921-8454. Valentine’s Day reading includes candy hearts.

Free. Sunday, February 13, 3 p.m.


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