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,
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
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 one, that
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.
. . . You’re trying to cook
or sleep or read,
and here’s Sir Penis
plump with need . . .
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
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
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
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.
Foote Edelmann to start writing poetry in the ’70s. A friend
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
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 have very little idea what I am doing here," says Lois Marie
Harrod, who writes, and creates her world, with the aid of a
At the Convention of Breasts
there was, you know,
a lot of blatant sexism
barelaced and brazen
as a pair of sandals . . .
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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
. . . 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. . .
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,"
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. . .
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 . . .
her belief that there’s no new love poetry under the sun. The
might be wiser to borrow from a professional, then, proffering
Passionate Shepherd to His Love," express regret that Shakespeare
got there first.
— Pat Summers
Street, 609-921-8454. Valentine’s Day reading includes candy hearts.
Free. Sunday, February 13, 3 p.m.
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