Monday, March 30, 2009

"American Dreams"

Up to now I’ve only posted poems I wrote while living in San Francisco (OK, & one from Idaho), so as a bit of a change I thought I’d post one that’s from my earlier days in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As far as I can recall, this poem was written in 1985—I do recall that the poem was based on a dream; & I should note that “American Dreams” is written in the sestina form. For those who don’t know, a sestina is built on a series of six end words, which then repeat in a pattern. A sestina typically has a three-line coda in which the six words also are repeated in a specific pattern (there are some very good sestinas that don’t include this, however, including one of the best examples of the form I know, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem titled simply “Sestina”). If you follow the pattern, you see that the sixth stanza repeats the cycle of word changes, & if the poem were to continue, the words would return to the pattern of the first stanza. This sequence of repeating words can be expressed numerically as 615243 (i.e. this is how the words are re-arranged starting in the second stanza).

Although I believe my poems from San Francisco are my best work to date (with the possible exception of the half dozen poems I wrote last year), I do still like a number of the Charlottesville poems, & in putting together a manuscript I’ve found that a smattering of them amidst the rather madcap & occasionally disquieting exuberance of the San Francisco poems can provide a welcome textural change. Hope you enjoy this one.

American Dreams

I had to stare at something besides my coffee
something told me. And there was flashing money:
a quarter and a dime left for the waitress
were shining big as planets over Texas
on a napkin. I had to hear this story
she told the truckers, about her penniless father

who'd rented a trailer outside Austin. Her father
migrated south of trees where, black as coffee,
treasures bubbled— or so he'd got the story
on a spree— these lakes of oil, pools of money
under the whole unpromising stretch of Texas.
He'd blown his stake. Then, he married a waitress

who passed this to her daughter, the way this waitress
slid out eggs. She pocketed tips for her father's
marker and mailed change weekly down to Texas.
I had to listen to something besides the coffee
sizzle in its pot or the register ringing money.
Nothing stopped me hearing another story

I told myself. It haunted me like stories
heard when five; that someone was always waiting
in diners, watching me, not plates, his money
dwindling, but still alive. I knew my father
was in that booth. With two men, gulping coffee,
he was hunched. He'd been invited to Texas

by men in bone-white hats who claimed, In Texas
nothing grows but cactus. They're green as stories
your fathers believed, as twenties. He sipped coffee,
rattled tall tales, off the cuff, to the waitress,
and spoke of checks in dry hands. Why was father
talkative in this diner? I fumbled for money,

his wallet I'd picked for years. I held the money,
while men in dazzling boots were offering Texas
and fossils (they didn't promise trees). My father
wanted gold. His knack for telling stories
half-believed, he'd willed to me. Our waitress
filled bottomless cups until they gushed with coffee.

And the old man finished coffee, lost for money,
and swore he'd mail the waitress cash from Texas.
Stories are spent; and what can I lend father?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dad’s Photos #6

For Sunday: more of my father’s pictures from an old photo album. I believe these all date from 1938; they ceratinly are all photos around the Cape, where he worked as a cook in 1938-1939. As usual, the captions are my father’s words.

In case you’ve missed any of the five prev
ious installements, there are links on the left hand frame about halfway down the page. Hope you enjoy.

Bourne Bridge – Cape Side Approach

Near Falmouth on the Cape

Bourne High School

Buzzard’s Bay

Craig Beach – Hyannis, Mass [my father spelled this “Kraig,’ but from what I can determine, it seems “Craig” is more likely]

Bourne Post Office, General Store etc.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Poetic careers can follow an odd trajectory—Wallace Stevens, for instance, began publication in middle age, after he’d established himself in the insurance business; Rimbaud stopped writing poetry while still in his teens. Another part of this is that poetic reputations have an ebb & flow as well: Vachel Lindsay was quite popular in his time; now he’s a name that’s unfamiliar to most; Emily Dickinson was unknown in her time, but is now acknowledged as a truly great poet.

These sorts of fluctuations & trajectories are certainly relevant when we discuss the poet for today’s Weekly Poem, Mina Loy. At one time, Loy was the toast of Paris, London & New York; her poems were highly praised by TS Eliot, Yvor Winters, & Ezra Pound, who asked in a 1921 letter to Marianne Moore, “is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams] and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?” However, by the 1980s, critic Hugh Kenner would say, “Her [Loy’s] utter absence from all canonical lists is one of modern literary history’s most perplexing data.” What happened to Mina Loy?

First, it must be admitted that Loy’s poetry is “difficult”; Loy’s poetical language & her poetical mind are constantly moving in unfamiliar realms—her language & diction can be idiosyncratic & even opaque, & her subject matter is often not conventionally poetical. Even when her subject is more recognizable, such as in the great sequence Love Songs to Johannes, she still manages to imagine the material in an unexpected way. In many ways, Loy’s writing is reminiscent of the work done by two of her close friends, Djuna Barnes & Gertrude Stein—like Barnes, she treated “forbidden” subjects, while writing in a completely individual & innovative style; like Stein, her language can seem to inhabit an unfamiliar grammar & spring from its own dictionary.

To my mind, all of these are strengths. Since there has been some revival of Loy, at least in academic & poetic circles in the last 25 years or so, it seems I’m not alone in this assessment. One poet to whom Loy has been compared frequently as her work has been positively re-evaluated is Emily Dickinson. Although there are any number of differences on a surface level, on a deeper level, Dickinson also wrote from a truly unfamiliar & individual perspective. In many ways, Dickinson’s firmly established canonical position has smoothed out these edges—we’ve learned how to read her, & to some extent, she becomes “familiar.” Yet consider the following lines by Dickinson:

‘Twas like a Maelstrom, with a notch.
That nearer, every Day,
Kept narrowing its boiling Wheel
Until the agony

Toyed coolly with the final inch
of your delirious Hem—

These lines (& the remainder of her poem 414) staunchly resist paraphrase & summary; a poetic singularity that draws us inexorably in.

So it is with Loy’s work. Hope you enjoy the following poem (from around 1915), a description of a sort of Chaplinesque “Little Tramp.” Don’t be afraid to give it more than one read—& hope you may be inspired to read more of Loy. A generous selection of her poetry is available in The Lost Lunar Baedecker (Farrar Strauss & Giroux).


Shut it up

Sing silence
To destiny
Give half-a-crown
To a magician
Half a glance
To window-eclipse
And count the glumes
Of your day's bargaining
In the lining
Of your pocket
While compromising
Between the perpendicular and horizontal
Some other tramp
Leans against
The night-nursery of trams

Puffs of black night
Quiver the neck
Of the Clown of Fortune
Dribble out of his trouser-ends
In dust-to-dust
Till cock-kingdom-come-crow
You can hear the heart-beating
of the masculine and feminine
Universal principles
And the martyrdom of morning
Caged with the love of houseflies
The avidity of youth
And incommensuration.

Bursting on repetition
"My friend the Sun
You have probably met before"
Or breakfasting on rain
You hurry
To interpolate
The over-growth
Of vegetation
With a walking-stick

Or smear a friend
With a greasy residuum
From boiling your soul down
You can walk to Empyrean to-gether
Under the same
Oil-silk umbrella

"I must have you
Count stars for me
Out of their numeral excess
Please keep the brightest
For the last

Mina Loy

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Saw Myself Today in Full Bloom

[Another in Eberle's Women's Art is Women's Work follows. Eberle mentions the Thunder Mountain Native American monument near Imlay, NV; the fourth photo in this post was taken there, by Eberle I believe. In case you haven't checked out the recent post about that—complete with slideshow backed by one of Eberle's solo piano pieces—you can do so here]

Sarah Winnemucca (ca. 1841–
1891), writer, teacher, and political activist, spent most of her life working to alter the injustice that Native Americans, & her own people the Paiutes in particular, were suffering through government policies of the times. She went on speaking tours across the country to raise consciousness about sanctioned violence against Native Americans and to gain support for her efforts to reform the reservation system. During one of these trips she met Mary and Elizabeth Peabody (friends of the Alcott family and of Lydia Child) in Boston. The Peabody sisters helped Sarah put her lecture materials into manuscript form and obtain a copyright for Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, published in 1883. Sarah kept pressuring officials in Washington and successfully obtained promises of reform from the government— promises that were never kept. Her book records historic events during her lifetime, her childhood memories, and her career of political activism—as well as the outspokenness that angered many. Addressing a government agent who took action to overturn an order from the Secretary of the Interior allowing the Paiutes interned at Yakima to return to Malheur she says:

Mr. Wilbur, you forget that you are a Christian when you talk so to me. You have not got the first part of a
Christian principle about you, or you would leave everything and see that my poor, broken-hearted people get home… I say, Mr. Wilbur, everybody in Yakima City knows what you are doing, and hell is full of just such Christians as you are.

After returning to Nevada, where she was born, Sarah started a school for Native American children intended to promote the indigenous lifestyle and language. The infamous Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 (requiring native children to attend English-speaking boarding schools) sounded the death-knell for this project. A statue honoring Sarah of Winnemucca stands at the monument created by Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder in the 1970s near Imlay, Nevada.

When Sarah was told that orders had been received to give her people one week before being forcibly relocated to the Yakima Reservation, she records her response in her book:

I have never seen a president in my life and I want to know whether he is made of wood or rock, for I cannot for once think that he can be a human being. No human being would do such a thing as that,—send people across a fearful mountain in midwinter.

I was told not to say anyth
ing till three days before starting. Every night I imagined I could see the thing called President. He had long ears, he had big eyes and long legs, and a head like a bull-frog or something like that. I could not think of anything that could be so inhuman as to do such a thing,—send people across mountains with snow so deep.

From Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims by Sarah Winnemucca (born Thocmentony, Paiute: Shell Flo

Many years ago, when my people were happier than they are now, they used to celebrate the Festival of Flowers in the spring. I have been to three of them only in the course of my life. Oh, with what eagerness we girls used to watch every spring for the time when we could meet with our hearts' delight, the young men, whom in civilized life you call beaux. We would all go in company to see if the flowers we were named for were yet in bloom, for almost all the girls are named for flowers. We talked about them in our wigwams, as if we were the flowers, saying, "Oh, I saw myself to-day in full bloom!" We would talk all the evening in this way in our families with such delight, and such beautiful thoughts of the happy day when we should meet with those who admired us and would help us to sing our flower-songs which we made up as we sang. But we were always sorry for those that were not named after some flower, because we knew they could not join in the flower-songs like ourselves, who were named for flowers of all kinds.

At last one evening came a beautiful voice, which made every girl's heart throb with happiness. It was the chief, and every one h
ushed to hear what he said to-day.

"My dear daughters, we are told that you have seen yourselves in the hills and in t
he valleys, in full bloom. Five days from to-day your festival day will come. I know every young man's heart stops beating while I am talking. I know how it was with me many years ago. I used to wish the Flower Festival would come every day. Dear young men and young women, you are saying, 'Why put it off five days?' But you all know that is our rule. It gives you time to think, and to show your sweetheart your flower."

All the girls who have flower-names dance along together, and those who have not go togethe
r also. Our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers make a place for us where we can dance. Each one gathers the flower she is named for, and then all weave them into wreaths and crowns and scarfs, and dress up in them.

Some girls are named for rocks and are called rock-girls, and they find some pretty rocks which they carry; e
ach one such a rock as she is named for, or whatever she is named for. If she cannot, she can take a branch of sage-brush, or a bunch of rye-grass, which have no flower.

They all go marching along, each girl in turn singing of herself; but she is not a girl any more, – she is a flower singing. She sings of herself, and her sweetheart, dancing along by her side, helps her sing the song she makes.

I will repeat what we say of ourselves. "I, Sarah Winnemucca, am a shell-flower, such as I wear on my dress. My name is Thocmetony. I am so beautiful! Who will come and dance with me while I am so beautiful? Oh, come and be happy with me! I shall be beautiful while the earth lasts. Somebody will always admire me; and who will come and be happy with me in the Spirit-land? I shall be beautiful forever there. Yes, I shall be more beautiful than my shell-flower, my Thocmetony! Then, come, oh come, and dance and be happy with me!" The young men sing with us as they dance beside us.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

For the Record (or Writers I Have Known)

Good blog pal Kat over at the delightful Poetikat’s Invisible Keepsakes asked me to chime in on the 25 writers who have most influenced me, which I believe is a twist on a more general meme about 25 heroes. I usually don’t tend toward memes—some sort of Yankee independent streak no doubt—but I don’t have any hard & fast rule about them: for instance, I did participate in the Omnivores 100 back last fall (as a two-parter, here & here).

So compiling this list has been fun, but I added a couple of wrinkles. The most important of these wrinkles (to me at least) has to do with this: I’d have to say overall that the people who influenced me most as a writer were writer friends; & because they’ve been more important to me in the big picture than any number of more well-known & canonical writers, I’d like to acknowledge them up front.

First: my dear wife Eberle Umbach, who I’ve known (& known as a writer) since the 80s, & who still amazes me with her insights on the creative process, & whose writing (as Robert Frost’s Banjo readers know) is marvelous—sensitive, observant & dazzling. In addition to her, I’d also name the following in alphabetical order: Carrie Bradley, Meghan Gehman, Eddie Gehman-Kohan, Mari Hata, Dani (L.E.) Leone, Brittany Newmark, Christopher Schreiner, Keith Smith, Priscilla Sneff, Molly Turner, & Jonah Winter; & I’d also name my four teachers: T.Alan Broughton & David Huddle at the University of Vermont (undergrad) & Greg Orr & Charles Wright at the University of Virginia (MFA). While the reading I’ve done has certainly given me ideas & techniques to work with & dialogues to enter into,
I wouldn’t have been the self that created any of my work, nor would that work be what it is, without these friends & comrades. This may not be true for everyone, but for me, inspiration has always come from some form of interaction, & the very best interactions are with people & not with the page.

As far as the “name” folks go, I didn’t include any writers I’ve read only in translation, tho some of this work certainly has had an impact on me—for instance, Mayakovsky & Vallejo & Ingeborg Bachmann, to name a few. There are also writers I admire tremendously—Emily Dickinson springs to mind—whose work seems to inhabit such a different creative space than my own that there doesn’t seem to be as much “dialogue” as with writers who share more similarities in thought or technique—certainly not to put myself on a par with any of these folks, but just to say we’re interested in some of the same things linguistically & conceptually.

Finally, my other added wrinkle is a snippet from each author. In the cases of French & Middle English, I provide translations at the end of the post. For expediency's sake, all the links are from Wikipedia; they should at least provide a starting point. Oh, & it seems I feel kinship with a lot of writers whose last name begins with a B….

Apollinaire: Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure/Les jours s’en vont je demeure - Samuel Beckett: why not merely the despaired of/occasion of/wordshed//is it not better abort than be barren - Ted Berrgian: Alone & crowded, unhappy fate, nevertheless/I slip softly into the air/The world’s furious song flows through my costume - John Berryman: The weather fleured. They weakend all his eyes,/and burning thumbs into his ears, and shook/his hand like a notch. Elizabeth Bishop: The moon in the bureau mirror/looks out a million miles/(and perhaps with pride, at herself,/but she never, never smiles)/far and away beyond sleep, or/perhaps she's a daytime sleeper. William Blake: In every cry of every Man/In every Infants cry of fear,/In every voice: in every ban,/The mind-forg’d manacles I hear - Charles Bukowski: some people never go crazy./me, sometimes I’ll lie down behind the couch/for 3 or 4 days. William S. Burroughs: Stay away from Queens Plaza, son…Evil spot haunted by dicks scream for dope fiend lover…Too many levels…Heat flares out from the broom closet high on ammonia…Raymond Chandler: On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of Scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again. Geoffery Chaucer: For al be that I knowe nat Love in dede,/Ne wot how that he quiteth folk here hyre/Yit happeth me ful ofte in bokes rede/Of his myracles and his crewel yre. Robert Creeley: There are very huge stars, man, in the sky,/and from somewhere very far off someone hands me a slice of apple pie,/with a gob of white, white ice cream on top of it,/and I eat it— Robert Frost: Were he not gone/The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his/Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,/Or just some human sleep. Mina Loy: We might have given birth to a butterfly/With the daily news/Printed in blood on its wings - Hen
ri Michaux: C’est le Temps, bien sûr. (Est-il pareil chez vous?) Il faudrait arriver plus tôt que lui; vous voyez ce que je veux dire, rien qu’un tout petit peu avant. Frank O’Hara: How funny you are today New York/like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime/and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left - Kenneth Patchen: Come back when fog drifts out over the city/And sleep puts her kind hands on all these poor devils - Benjamin Péret: Sors de l'urne/dit l'hortensia à son complice/Et toi de ton Hortense lui répond la/mandoline qui n'était mandoline qu'à la faveur d'un rayon de soleil - Arthur Rimbaud: Ont-elles pris les crèmes brunes/Sur les mares des voluptés?/Ont-elles trempé dans des Lunes/Aux étangs de sérénités? Patti Smith: I am helium raven and this movie is mine,/So he cried out as he stretched the sky,/Pushing it all out like latex cartoon, am I all alone in this generation? Gertrude Stein: A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must. Wallace Stevens: In that November off Tehuantepec,/The slopping of the sea grew still one night/And in the morning summer hued the deck//And made one think of rosy chocolate/And gilt umbrellas. Paradisal green/Gave suavity to the perplexed machine//Of ocean, which like limpid water lay. Tom Waits: The smart money’s on Harlow, & the moon is in the street/& the shadow boys are breaking all the laws. Hank Williams: Hear that lonesome whippoorwill/He sounds too blue to fly. Sir Thomas Wyatt: Drowned is reason that should me comfort/And I remain despairing of the port. W.B. Yeats: ‘A woman can be proud and stiff/When on love intent;/But Love has pitched his mansion in/The place of excrement;/For nothing can be sole or whole/That has not been rent.’

Apollinaire: Let night come toll the hour/Days move on I remain – Chaucer: Although I don’t know love from experience/& I don’t know how he requites [or pays] people [their wages], Still I’ve often read in books/About his miracles & his cruel anger. Michaux: It’s Time, of course. (Is it the same where you are?) One has to get there sooner than it does; you see what I mean to say, no more than just a little bit beforehand. Benjamin Péret: Get out of the urn/the hortensia said to his accomplice/And you ditto Hortense answered the mandolin/which wasn't a mandolin except under the cover of sunlight - Arthur Rimbaud: Have they taken their dusky cream/From voluptuary pools?/Have they soaked in moons/With serene ponds?

Pic is of yours truly holding a bilingual complete Rimbaud at the University of Virginia in 1984; taken by Christopher Schreiner

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Diners I have Known #5

I’ve lived in four states in my life, & they’re all distinct in terms of geography & region, but also in terms of memory & personal narrative: Vermont was the place of my childhood, & then, in a different part of the state, the site of my wastrel youth & college years; Virginia—all poetry, all the time, in all the best & worst senses of the word; San Francisco—the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, more poetry, some dear friends, & ultimately a decision to opt for life & health—& the place I plucked my first notes on the guitar; Indian Valley: home now, a place of love & creativity, of gardens & guitars & banjos & blogs….

But now my mind wanders back to Charlottesville, a University town in the heart of Virginia, a lovely place, really, with the magnolia blossoms & the redbuds & the curving brick walls on the campus. My memories of this town are complex & difficult to summarize: all-night poem writing, the oppressive summer heat, the profusion of insects, cigarette smoke all around me—as they said of W.H. Auden, “Everything he touched turned to cigarettes”—true of me at the time; & although my days of booze & better living thru chemicals were already behind me when I landed in Charlottesville, late nights in various nightspots, & those nights full of poetry & amours & the amours very much the stuff of poems; a place for Apollinaire & Sir Thomas Wyatt & John Berryman & Le Roman de la Rose….

& in the midst of this place, unassuming but somehow central to me memory of it was an eatery called the College Inn. The College Inn was (& in fact still is, as I understand, tho they seem to have a problem with their website) located on University Avenue in the area known as “the Corner.” This is right across from the campus on a bit of a slope that eventually leads to downtown proper.

Different people will remember different things about the College Inn of course; for instance, in an email exchange with Audrey Bilger, she mentioned the place mats. I recall the solid clear glass ashtrays & the pattern of tables; & I recall the delicious gyros & souvlaki, which I almost always ordered—tho I believe they could whip up a mean grilled cheese & fries with a salad as well. My love for those Greek fast foods was born at the College Inn & continues to this day. & tho I’ve most happily given up my addiction to Coca Cola a long time past (nothing but coffee, tea, water & juice for this boy now), I remember the big fluted Coke glasses.

So the College Inn wasn’t fine dining—yet everyone came there—undergraduates, townies, grad students such as myself, professors. I specifically remember one day poets Charles Wright & Greg Orr were sitting at a table by the wall, laughing & generally having a good time—I seem to remember that Orr was eating pizza (did they sell by the slice?—I can’t recall).

I often ended up there with very good poebiz pal Jonah Winter, & we’d discuss the absurdities of the universe & the exigencies of various loves & the hilariousness of poetry. Mr Winter saw poetry as closely akin to stand-up comedy, & this has stood him in good stead as he has had some success in the poebiz field—kudos to him. Jonah was always a great fellow to have at a reading because you could rely on him for some belly laughs that would loosen everyone else up.

But at one time or another I was there with practically everyone who was important to me at the time, & I have some personal individual stories connected to this. Poems were written in composition books or on napkins, as were phone numbers. The waitresses knew what we’d order & unless we were there at a busy hour, could tolerate the endless cups of coffee & cigarettes consumed during our symposia.

When I went back on a sort of pilgrimage to Charlottesville in 1996—literally just a few weeks before I stopped writing poetry almost “for good” (a coincidence?)—I didn’t visit the College Inn. The few days I spent there I was on edge, fighting a rush of various memories that I’d only allowed to surface in some transmogrified way in poems. I actually believe my fear of flying, which at this point is admittedly rather morbid, racheted up a notch during that trip, & I just couldn’t feel secure in my own skin. Those are feelings I often had at that point in life, but which I couldn’t really identify….

Ah well, to quote Bob Dylan, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Charlottesville isn’t so much a mixture of fever dream & cartoon & Petrarchan canzone, but a place where I was young beyond my years (to contradict the Dylan quote). Is “youth wasted on the young?” I’ve said that, specifically in terms of Charlottesville—but no, it’s only youth: high spirits & boundless enegry—truly boundless, & thus going in all directions, both for better & worser….

Now I really feel the demons that haunted my poetry have packed their grips & have caught the train to parts unknown; & tho I know they could get a return ticket & catch the midnight special back to town, I’m beginning to see that one might find some measure of peace along with poetic creation—a foreign concept to me for much of my life….

I wonder if the blossoms are already perfuming the Charlottesville air in the evenings….

For your viewing pleasure: a brief tour of Charlottesville from snapshots taken in the 1980s. The house you see is the one where I lived for much of the time & wrote many a poem; there are also interior shots—including one of Eberle’s piano, which she gave to me for safekeeping after she moved to Idaho, & which I played on those warm spring nights. The final shot is yours truly at a poetry reading at Williams Corner Bookstore—now no longer extant, but a truly wonderful place in its day. The music is a solo guitar piece I came up with for our Moominpappa at Sea soundtrack, played fingerstyle on my old Washburn. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

People Who Uke #2

The recent People Who Uke post was quite popular—I really appreciated all the support & enthusiasm. A couple of tried & true followers did miss their own uking favorites, however, & in response to this I’m posting a couple of follow-ups. While the original People Who Uke involved people who are well known for something other than the fact they play uke, the next two posts will involve people who are known for playing the ukulele.

Of course, here the questions of inclusion may be a bit more problematic—there are any number of exciting & talented uke players around right now, & trying to include all of them wouldn’t be possible—
even with two posts it would be impractical in terms of size, & ultimately there’s be any number of oversights.

The original post included 14 famous folks who also play uke, so as an arbitrary figure, I’ll limit these posts to a total of
14 as well. Because I’m writing more about each player than in the original People Who Uke, I decided it would be best to make two posts: the second one will be next Tuesday, “same bat time, same bat channel,” & will continue in alphabetical order. Some names are obvious; others aren’t well-known to the general public, but are highly thought of among uke players. I do believe all of these players made some significant contribution to “uke history.” Hope you enjoy.

Jim Beloff: A solid uke player (& composer), but best known as the man behind Flea Market Music, one of the best sites for uke-related merchandise (including Beloff’s “Jumpin’ Jim” series of uke songbooks) as well as home to the Flea Market Music Bulletin Board, a major cyber gathering place for ukers of all descriptions. Also, along with his sister & brother-in-law, Beloff developed the Fluke & Flea brand ukuleles—odd looking critters, but nice players that a person can buy for a very reasonable amount of $. Would the uke be a hot item today without Beloff?—possibly. But he’s done a lot to raise consciousness about this wonderful instrument.

May Singhi Breen: Not as well known as she should be, Ms Breen was an early (1920s) player who was also influential as an arranger & teacher; in fact she was a major force in convincing music publishers to include uke arrangements (many by her) on most sheet music produced from the '20s & beyond (a tradition that lapsed some time ago). She was also instrumental (as it were) in getting the Musician’s Union to recognize the uke as a legitimate, sanctioned instrument. Ms Breen was married to songwriter Peter DeRose & they performed on radio for a number of years as “Sweethearts of the Air.” May Singhi Breen was also known as “The Ukulele Lady”—not as the inspiration for the song, but one who could make the song come to life.

Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike ): Most folks wouldn’t know this now, but in the 20s, Ukulele Ike was the “cat’s pajamas”—he was a star of Bing Crosby dimensions, & was invited to introduce a number of well-known standards, including such Gershwin works as “Lady Be Good” & “Fascinatin’ Rhythm;” he also introduced “Singin’ in the Rain” long before the movie was even a gleam in anyone’s eye. Besides being a master of the uke, Edwards developed a strange & wonderful style of scat singing which he called “effing.” (hmmm….) Ukulele Ike is known to film buffs by his given name, Cliff Edwards—he acted & sang & uked in films in the 30s, tho his biggest role came as the voice of Jiminy Cricket (singing “Give a Little Whistle” & “When You Wish Upon a Star”) in Disney’s Pinocchio. Ukulele Ike could get pretty ribald in his vaudeville songs, but he could show a soft side too. He did a ballad version of “Only a Paper Moon” that’s superb. Edward's also produced a series of ukulele instruction books in the 1950s.

George Formby: OK, speaking of ribald, there’s British music hall king, George Formby. I believe our British & Canadian readers will be pretty familiar with George Formby, but he's not well-known in the U.S. except in the uke community. Like Ukulele Ike (& roughly contemporary with him), Formby was a star as a singer & a film actor, & for all the comic nature his act, was a masterful banjo uke player. As I mentioned in the first People Who Uke post, Formby was a big influence on the Beatles. Thankfully, his recordings (like Edwards) are available, so you, too, can treat yourself to such delights as “Leaning On a Lamppost” (yes, Herman’s Hermits covered Formby!), “When I’m Washing Windows” & others; & you can see George Formby in action in the video clip at the end of this post. As Formby would say, “Turned out nice again.”

Arthur Godfrey: We’re now in good times for the ukulele, & that’s been the case for a while. As I mentioned in the first entry, that’s true in no small part to Jim Beloff. Well, the 50s were also a good time for ukes, & Arthur Godfrey was a big factor in that resurgence. He played the uke on his radio & TV shows; he had plastic ukes sold under his name (actually, these 50s plastic ukes—made by Mario Macaferri of Django Rheinhardt guitar fame—are really decent instruments), & he played a very large role in the design & introduction of the baritone ukulele. Godfrey wanted something that was easier to play than a guitar, but more “guitar-like” in tone than the smaller ukes, & the baritone ukulele was born. It’s the one form of uke that didn’t directly descend from the original Portuguese instrument.

Ernest Kaleihoku Kaai: Perhaps the most obscure name on the whole list, but very deserving of recognition. Kaai was an early 20th century uke virtuoso—according to the Ukulele Hall of Fame, he may have been the first player to perform “chord melody,” which means playing a song’s melody using chords—it’s a challenging but enjoyable way to play a full arrangement solo, without the necessity of a rhythm guitarist or second uke playing chords behind the melody. Kaai also was instrumental in developing uke tablature & published what is believed to be the first uke instruction book: "The Ukulele, A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It." This came off the press in 1906, quite some time before the first mainland ukulele boom in the 1920s.

Eddie Kam
ae: Mr Kamae has been a true champion of Hawaiian culture since he began playing ukulele in the 1940s. While many of the hot Hawaiian uke players were concentrating on jazz standards or “hapa-haole” songs—essentially Hawaiian tin pan alley tunes such as “My Little Grass Shack,” “Sweet Leilani,” or “Pearly Shells.” A number of these (tho not all) were written by Anglo songwriters & while admittedly fun to play, can present a somewhat stereotyped picture of island life. Kamae has concentrated on more genuine Hawaiian music, & along with his legendary band, the Sons of Hawaii, has been able to keep some gorgeous traditional music alive. In addition to his considerable uke playing skills, Kamae is also a talented composer—his song “E Ku’u Morning Dew” is simply lovely. Sadly, I couldn’t find a YouTube video featuring Kamae’s playing, but the Sons of Hawaii’s cd are available. I’d also encourage folks to check out Eddie Kamae’s website: Hawaiian Legacy Foundation. A quote from Kamae on the home page is worth contemplating: “All cultures evolve & change, but it is important to identify the heart & soul of a culture—that part is irreplaceable.”

Hope you enjoyed this look at some great uke players, & hope it may inspire you to check out some uke music—or perhaps even consider playing yourself! Don’t forget the inimitable Mr Formby’s video, & be sure to check back for the thrilling conclusion!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

"Full Moon Wearing A Fez"

I mentioned in response to a recent comment that I’m planning on self-publishing a collection of my poems from San Francisco & Idaho, as well as a handful from Charlottesville, within the next month—as far as the Charlottesville, Virginia poetry goes, I am planning on publishing that work separately, probably next year. I’ll give more details in this space as they arise.

These poems really lay dormant & practically unremembered from the late 90s until last year, when they came bursting out the door once again, & were even joined by some new ones. Had that not happened, I doubt very much that there’d even be a Robert Frost’s Banjo, as this space has helped me to work out some very complicated & contradictory feelings regarding poetry.

At any rate, “Full Moon Wearing a Fez” dates originally to the very early 90s in San Francisco. It’s a “formal” poem—the form, which as you can see involves repeating lines in a certain pattern, is called a pantoum. It’s an Asian form, tho it has been used by a number of other English-language poets, including John Ashberry. The poem as it existed from the 90s was never just how I wanted it, however, & so it underwent quite a bit of revision last spring. As such, it’s a poem that bridges my writing in San Francisco & my return to poetry—such as it has been—over the past year.

Hope you enjoy.

Full Moon Wearing A Fez

In a castle that's brainstorming atop a mesa,
in Istanbul under an orange street lamp,
the typewriter won't stop clattering—
which irks Max Gala, the infamous ballerina who's tipsy

in Istanbul. Under the orange street lamp
Jimmy Calypso does the sort of tango
which irks Max Gala. Infamous as a ballerina, tipsy,
sweating capsized stars from a dry martini,

Jimmy Calypso does the sort of tango
that also looks like a sharkskin suit
sweating capsized stars from a dry martini.
These love letters penned in the moon's ink seem hypnotic

& also look like a sharkskin suit
lacking a handkerchief. Max Gala stares at
a love letter penned in the moon's ink; it seems hypnotic,
& literally flies off the clattering typewriter

like a handkerchief. & Max stares at
the castle's silent films while Silent Alice
literally flies off the clattering typewriter
that keeps itself busy cranking out

the castle's calamitous films; while Silent Alice
is smoking Chesterfield Kings on the heavenly elevator
that keeps itself busy cranking, out
where there are just a few stars

smoking Chesterfield Kings. On the heavenly elevator
also, Max feels like a palm tree in an Istanbul saloon
where there are just a few stars.
Some are blondes, & some the are the red-heads

Max also feels like. Palm trees in an Istanbul saloon
are obsessed with Silent Alice, like everyone else;
some are blondes & some are the redheads
drunk on french kisses—the french kisses

are obsessed with Alice. Like everyone else
Max sometimes takes life for a 3-ring circus
drunk on french kisses, the french kisses
glowing like the whiskey sours

Max sometimes takes life for; the 3-ring circus
is sparkling in the oasis amongst the stars; they're
glowing like whiskey sours
the moon sucks through puckered lips

sparkling in the oasis. Amongst the stars there are
last cigarettes & then there are last cigarettes
the moon sucks through puckered lips.
Max Gala thoughtfully finishes off the sky's

last cigarettes. & then there are last cigarettes
rolled up in Jimmy Calypso's love letter
Max thoughtfully finishes off. The sky's
like Alice's rhinestone-studded sunglasses, absorbing things

rolled up in Jimmy Calypso, his love letters
& Max Gala's feathered Stetson & Alice's
rhinestone-studded sunglasses. Like Alice, absorbing things,
a beautiful brunette bird's soaring thru the miasma

like Max's feathered Stetson. & Alice is
also one of the Queen of Night's incarnations that's
a beautiful brunette bird soaring thru the miasma
flecked with light, & graceful as a leather jacket

that's also one of the Queen of Night's incarnations.
That's how night exists in the desert castle,
flecked with light like a leather jacket
Max sports in delinquent mufti. She knows

that's how night exists in the desert castle
where bubbly's drunk from the snakeskin boots
Max sports. In delinquent mufti, she knows
the last dance is saved for Alice who's soaring

where bubbly's drunk from the snakeskin boots
that are actually Alice's;
the last dance is saved for Alice who's soaring
where the moon's fez is also floating. These thoughts

are actually Alice's
in a castle brainstorming atop a mesa,
where the moon's fez is floating, these thoughts also
are the typewriter's, & it won't stop clattering.

John Hayes
© 1990-2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Fine Day Out #2: Whiteman Lane

An outing can nourish the spirit without involving travel to some distant & exotic locale; in fact, sometimes an outing simply involves walking out the front door & exploring the landscape around you. That’s what Eberle & I decided to do on Saturday.

As long-time readers know, we live on a dirt road that wends its way over the course of several miles past our house upward into the Payette National Forest. Almost directly opposite our house, another dirt road turns off at a 90-degree angle; this is Whiteman Lane, named after the ranching family that once owned 1,000 acres in this part of the valley—our 10-acre lot was really the only piece of land around her that wasn’t owned by the Whitemans.

Back around ‘00, the current Whiteman, a retired County magistrate, decided to sell his land & cash in on the boom that was beginning at the time. The 1,000-acre Whiteman r
anch became the “Gray’s Creek Meadows” planned unit development, in which 40-acre lots were up for sale. One fine spring day in the late 90s, a large sign appeared down the road from us advertising the development & showing the numbered lot parcels.

It was a sad day. Up till then, our little corner of the world had a sort of “splendid isolation” (to quote Warren Zevon, but in another context). There was very little traffic on the dirt road that ran past our property & practically no houses in view to the east.

This began to change. Soon cement truc
ks & pick-ups with metal toolboxes in the bed, & flatbeds carrying lumber & trusses began to roll down the road with regularity. We felt quite fortunate that the two 40 acre lots across the road from our house were bought by some good-hearted folk who were interested in doing some ranching. But other lots were built up, all further to the east, & a road was constructed for the sub-division. Of course, folks who bought their property in the spring, when Indian Valley is a verdant paradise, became quite confused by July or August, when the land reveals its desert soul, & it’s 105 degrees & no rain has fallen for a few months.

A resort started across the mountain from us in Donnelly; Tamarack Resort—it was going to be the next “big thing,” & transform the McCall-Donnelly-Cascade area into the new Sun Valley. Land prices went thru the roof in that area, & while Indian Valley never saw the completely insane parts of the boom, a lot of effects were felt here as well—most notably, Governor Dirk Kempthorne (later Secretary of the Interior under Bush Jr) decided there had to be a fast route for getting from Boise to Tamarack—coincidentally, Kempthorne was an investor in the resort. There’s been talk of a road going from Emmett, Idaho thru Indian Valley for about 70 years, & Kempthorne resurrected this plan. The Emmett-Indian Valley Road was going to be a four lane highway smack thru our sleepy little village (not to mention smack thru elk & antelope habitat); moreover, the County Commissioners told me that the road would be close enough to our house that Eberle & I could run a roadside attraction….

There was a wild speculation—all the lots in Gray’s Creek Meadows were bought (tho very few were built up) in anticipation of Indian Valley becoming a stop on the way to the “World Class Resort” at Tamarack. The road that would come roaring thru Indian Valley would connect to a road up over Council Mountain along the Mild Fork of the Weiser River. Since very few people reading this have ever seen the current Middle Fork Road—a winding mountain dirt road that frequently narrows to one-lane with a cliff rising to the north & a precipice down to the river on the South—I can only say that building such a road would have been a very expensive proposition.

Then the bust came. Tamarack Resort is now bankrupt & closed & owned by a receiving company. Land values have fallen as precipitously as they rose. Any plans for the Emmett-Indian Valley road or the Middle Fork highway are completely moribund.

Obviously, the economic downturn has brought troubled times & an uncertain fut
ure to us all. It’s a cause for anxiety, & for many people, a source of real hardship. On the other hand, Indian Valley is once again sleepy—the meadowlarks & blackbirds are singing from the cottonwoods & aspens; the frogs are singing in the irrigation ditches. Somewhere south of the village in the empty rangelands, the antelope are grazing….

What does this have to do with our walk on Whiteman Lane?—nothing, or everythin
g. It’s a quiet dirt road that lies between rolling pastureland, with the round mass of Sage Hill to the northeast & a view of the eastern mountains stretching beyond. The cows are nursing & tending this year’s calves—barely a month old. There’s practically no traffic on the road, & no houses on the section we walk, just a red barn.

Hope you enjoy the pictures, & please take a few minutes if you can spare ‘em to watch the slideshow. The background music to the slideshow is a piece called “Hatrack the Horse” that Eberle & I wrote for a theatrical production of Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories—Hatrack the Horse is a character in those tales. It’s really pretty much a jam with yours truly on tenor banjo & Eberle on marimba. The slideshow also has pictures of the little “dump” that lies on the western side of the road. This (thankfully) is no longer a dump, but is an almost archeological collection of items that must date back a good 50 years, & is I suspect, a remnant from the old ranch. Various items become unearthed there, & Eberle & I—both inveterate junk collectors—often come away with some little treasure—an interesting & smooth piece of old glass, a small unidentified metal device, etc.

Welcome to our world (or a part thereof).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

“The River Humber”

Believe it or not, I do get stumped sometimes about what poem to post for the Weekly Poem. Such was the case yesterday: nothing I could think of seemed quite right. So I asked Eberle: “What poem would you like to see?” & she said, “You said you were going to post more Stevie Smith.”

This is true. One of the first poems in the Weekly Poem series was “Not Waving But Drowning,” & in that post I promised to post poems by this unique &, I think, under-valued poet. For those of you who don’t know, Ms Smith was a British poet & novelist whose writing career began in the 1930s & continued until her death in 1971. Smith’s work is extremely hard to categorize—her poems have a deceptively simple surface, but a deep pattern of poetical thinking flows consistently below. For those unfamiliar with her work, it’s a bit like Ogden Nash meets Thomas Hardy, with some other very individual elements thrown in.

Today’s poem, “The River Humber,” seems like a piece of rhyming description on the surface. As is often the case with Smith’s poems, the lines are metrically irregular & the rhymes are “slant” or “off-rhymes.” But Smith’s poem is like a landscape painting that invites us in to meditate on the “why” of a natural setting. This subject is fascinating to me—I often like to meditate on poet W.D. Snodgrass’ line: “We need the landscape to repeat us.” Smith’s poem takes a “poetical” observation & examines the questions posed by that observation. In a certain way this reminds me of a very favorite poem of mine by Wallace Stevens, “Sea Surface Full of Clouds.” Although Stevens’ poems registers high on the rhetoric scale & Smith’s poem is under-stated, both draw us in to a transformative watery landscape, & there’s a sonorousness in both poems that very much rises to the level of meaning in sound.

Speaking of meaning in sound, I learned yesterday that this poem, (along with several others, including “Not Waving, But Drowning”) has been set to music by composer Simon Rowland Jones. Smith herself used to sing her poems to old Anglican hymn settings—more grist for the “poetry & music” series, whenever I get around to writing same.

Hope you enjoy the poem, & that some of you may be inspired to seek out more work by this intriguing writer.

The River Humber

No wonder
The river Humber
Lies in a silken slumber.

For it is dawn
And over the newly warm
Earth the mists turn,

Wrapping their gentle fringes
Upon the river where it hinges
Upon the perfect sleep of perfected images.

Quiet in the thought of its felicity
A graven monument of sufficiency
Beautiful in every line the river sleeps complacently.

And hardly the dawn distinguishes
Where a miasma languishes
Upon the waters’ farther reaches.

Lapped in the sleeping consciousness
Of its waves’ happiness
Upon the mudbanks of its approaches,

The river Humber
Turns again to deeper slumber,
Deeper than deeps in joys without number.

Stevie Smith

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Equinox & the Egg

As most of you no doubt know, today is the Vernal Equinox—the first day of spring. I’m extremely happy to say that spring in Indian Valley has arrived with the calendar—even a few days ahead of schedule. Our property, which stands on a south-facing slope, is pretty much free of snow, & the blackbirds & other songbirds are singing quite merrily & madly. Last night: a beautiful clear sky, thoroughly saturated with stars—& even a falling star as we stood on top of Mesa Hill.

The Vernal Equinox brings me back to a story from the first year Eberle & I lived together, 1998. It seems that Eberle had gotten a story from dear Robert Frost’s Banjo pal Audrey Bilger about how an egg will stand erect on the Vernal Equinox. Although this story dated back to the days when we all lived in Charlottesville in the mid 80s, certain aspects had never been “put to the test;” I believe the main point they hadn’t tested was whether this could be done at other times of the rolling year as well.

But of course, as with any mythic story,
such considerations are really irrelevant. To my mind, the brilliant observation contained in Audrey’s story is connecting the egg & the Vernal Equinox, & whether or not eggs will stand on their ends on other days is less significant than contemplating this connection.

The egg is, after all, a truly venerable mythic symbol. Eberle recently came across a 3,000 B.C. Sumerian poem describing the goddess Ishtar; this poem contained the line: “My mother is a vessel made from an ostrich egg, full of perfumed oil.” We can learn from any number of sources about eggs being mythic symbols of creation & resurrection throughout the ancient world; the Egyptians placed them in tombs, the Greeks placed them on graves. The devotees of the Orphic cult spoke of the birth of the cosmos from an egg; Eberle has found a similar Nordic myth (in which the egg was a duck egg); & scholars now believe that the many “breasts” on the well-known Lady of Ephesus & Artemis of Ephesus statues are in fact eggs. Eggs were common offerings, especially to various manifestations of the European & Near Eastern triple goddess, & were also used as holders for lights in temples. The egg was also a symbol associated with Demeter’s Eleusinian Mysteries.

The connection of the egg with death & resurrection has
also found its way into Christian iconography in the person of Mary Magdalene. Icons of Mary Magdalene often portray her holding an egg (usually red). There are also paintings of the Crucifixion showing eggs at the base of the cross. According to legend, the Magdalene’s connection with the red egg comes from one (or both) of the following stories:

One tradition concerning Mary Magdalene says that following the death and resurrection of Jesus, she used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while
she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.

Another version of this story can be found in popular belief, mostly in Greece. It is believed that after the Crucifixion
, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary put a basket full of eggs at the foot of the cross. There, the eggs were painted red by the blood of the Christ. Then, Mary Magdalene brought them to Tiberius Caesar.
Quoted from Wikipedia’s Mary Magdalene page

Of course it’s fairly widely accepted that the celebration of the Christian Easter festival integrated elements from pre-Christian equinox festivals, just as Christmas has incorporated elements from pre-Christian solstice festivals. The summer solstice festi
val, or Midsummer as it used to be known, also was a major Christian feast day thru the Renaissance & beyond: it’s the feast of St John the Baptist. While the feast is still observed by some Christian denominations, it no longer has the same wide cultural significance. In fact, the English word “Easter” is itself a close variation of "Eostre," a goddess worshipped in Anglo-Saxon England (attested to by Bede the Venerable).

It also appears that the c
onnection of the egg with Vernal Equinox festivals is also ancient. Again, to quote from Wikipedia:

The ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which falls on the Spring equinox. The Nawrooz tradition has existed for at least 2,500 years. The decorated eggs are one of the core items to be placed on the Haft Seen, the Persian New Year display. The sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying eggs for Nowrooz to the king.

At the Jewish Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes both new life and the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course, Easter can’t actually fall on the Vernal Equinox, based on the dating established by the Council of Nicea in 325. Based on the ruling at this council, Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. Of course, even this has been subject to other controversies—including the change from the Julian to the Greg
orian Calendar—a change not followed by the Eastern Church, which means that Orthodox Easter usually falls on a different date than Western Easter.

So we see that while Easter is not a festival on the equinox, it is a festival related
to the equinox—as well as to the phases of the moon. In any case, the emergence of the bare ground after winter’s introspection is a perennial time of birth—with its attendant joys & struggles. Eberle once watched a guinea hen chick emerge from an egg back in the days when we raised these birds, & she says the most memorable feature was the egg’s elasticity, & how the egg & the chick seemed one; in a sense, the struggle of the chick was an emergence from another form of itself. When we think of the egg in those terms, as a living container of life, it is a potent representation of new birth.

"Sisterhood of the Pen"

(Hello all—I’m back. Sure did miss everyone while away; thanks for the nice wishes. Here’s another installment in Eberle’s Women’s Art is Women’s Work series. Hope you enjoy it; I may have another post up this afternoon as well)

Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818)

Long before the internet came on the scene, women were creating virtual communities among themselves. Jane Austen includes fictional characters as well as authors and readers in the female community she sketches out in Northanger Abbey. Women who would probably never meet could connect wit
h each other both in and through literature. In reading the female-authored novels of the day, women had a body of opinions and narratives to discuss, and in reading novels written by women in the past, a specifically female history to explore. Women took novels so seriously that it was a literary commonplace to make fun of their inability to separate romance from reality—perhaps because the reality offered to them outside of fiction seemed at times so unreal and certainly lacking in the romance so vaguely promised to the womanly woman.

Women authors referred to fictional characters from other works in their novels, and also talked about sister authors being read by their fictional characters, as Louisa May Alcott does in this excerpt from Little Women:

“Here!” answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo's favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn't mind her a particle.
Louisa May
Alcott, Little Women (1868)

One way to start recovering the lost trail of women authors is to trace these authors whom women embedded in their own writing. Charlotte M. Yonge (1823–1901) was the British author of the best-selling Heir of Redclyffe mentioned by Louisa in Little Women. Charlotte had a long and successful career as a novelist and she was also the editor of a magazine for young ladies for close to forty years. It was through Charlotte’s close friendship with another woman writer, Marianne Dyson, that she got the idea for the Heir of Redclyffe. Marianne showed her the notes to a story she had abandoned and offered the idea to Charlotte. It produced Charlotte’s first commercial success.

Without knowing that these women considered themselves part of a sisterhood, it’s easy to think of them as writing in isolation. But they were all reading each other, both in England and America. Jane Austen praised the works of Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth. Maria was also one of Beatrix Potter’s favorite authors, and she admired the New England writer Sarah Orne Jewett as well. Elizabeth Gaskell had friendships and correspondence with Charlotte Brontë, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot, an
d Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the age of ten read A Vindication of The Rights of Woman, written by Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and its effect on her was life-long. Her husband Robert did not approve of novel reading or novel writing—what Elizabeth referred to as “women’s books.” Elizabeth describes these books, including works by George Sand, as having ministered to her through the prison bars of her isolation—“though in dear discreet England women oughtn't to confess to such reading,” she goes on to say.

Emily Dickinson read Emily Brontë's poetry and was so moved by it that she requested that Brontë's “No coward soul” be read at her own funeral. “No coward soul” was the last poem Brontë wrote before her own death in 1848.

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,

And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life—that in me has rest,
As I—Undying Life—have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;

So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,

And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Pictures from top: "Catherine reading": an illustration from Northanger Abbey.
Charlotte Yonge
Title Page from
A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Emily Brontë