A Little Women’s History Reading

It’s Women’s History Month, and I want to share a few of the amazing books by and about women that I’ve read recently. I’ve included two classics of women’s literature and three that are a little outside the box, and added a few words about each taken from my Goodreads reviews. All provide insight, inspiration, and a good dose of fun (not unlike time spent with “the girls” in real life!)

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN                                                                                                         Virginia Woolf, 1929                                                                                                                             In this lecture to aspiring women writers, Virginia Woolf walks us through the history of why prior centuries produced so few books by women, and explains why “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” It speaks to a much broader audience though.  Don’t most of us long for a creative life, but find it too frequently out of reach? This book provides fuel for the challenge.

A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN                                                                    Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792                                                                                                                   A long and sometimes repetitive 18th century text, but the ideas—shocking and highly controversial in their time–are simple:                                                                                   woman = human                                                                                                                      education should be the same for everyone                                                                               when you oppress women, bad things happen                                                                                 if you treat people equally, good things will happen                                                                      Of course this applies to all human rights. The argument in favor is simple: equality, inclusion, acceptance, appreciation. What is complex, and what this book helps us study, is the engine of oppression: who starts it, what makes it run, and most importantly, how we might speed up the unbearably slow process of stopping it.

LIVING MY LIFE                                                                                                                            Emma Goldman, 1931                                                                                                                       This famous anarchist’s two-part, thousand page tome of a memoir is actually immensely readable. It’s full of history, adventure, unusual personalities, romances and life and death suspense. The writing is excellent. One of the things I most admire is the matter-of-fact tone she uses, whether relaying her accomplishments or her mistakes. She often writes of working “for my ideal.” It struck me that hers was a positive rather than negative stance. We often fight against things, but how often do we fight for something, let alone for our ideal? What might we accomplish if we did?

WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF MRS. SEACOLE IN MANY LANDS                                                                                                                                                        Mary Seacole, 1857                                                                                                                          Mary Seacole was a wonder; a heroine and larger-than-life character, but at the same time she reminds me of my own very simple, down-to-earth ancestors. Her mother was a Jamaican healer, and her father a Scottish soldier, and it seems she inherited both drives and put them to amazing use. She travelled from Jamaica to Panama and cured cholera patients. When the Crimean War broke out she longed to be a war nurse, but was turned down so she went on her own. I’m not kidding. She hopped a military transport ship to Balaclava, where she attended to soldiers the way she did everything—on her own terms. This book deserves to be better known.

THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE                                                                                     Gloria Naylor, 1982                                                                                                                                A very emotional read, this one hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It is a novel made up of the stories of seven very different women connected by a particular place–a housing development called Brewster Place. Naylor’s writing is stellar, and powerful. A variety of perspectives are explored, but all of the stories tell something so true that it’s shocking. You may think you know what’s going to happen, and maybe you do, but after you read it you know how what happens makes a person feel. That’s the part you don’t know, unless you do know, and then you’ll know how true it is.

I’ll stop with those for now, but I look forward to finding other excuses to recommend women’s stories, any month of the year.

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Four Quote Friday – Romance


“Hold me in your hands like a bunch of flowers.”

Carly Simon, The Right Thing to Do


“Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


“I want to do with you what Spring does with the cherry trees.”

Pablo Neruda, Every Day You Play



“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

Maya Angelou



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Thinking of Poe

We just passed Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. He was born January 19, 1809, and I’ve been reading his poetry and also some of his essays. One of them in particular, “The Poetic Principle,” where he attempts to explain poetry and beauty and art, is well worth studying.

Here’s a poem inspired by his thoughts, and by the drum beat of alliteration that I love in his poetry.

Where are you pointing, Mr. Poe?                                                                                                               My haunted muse has reappeared and                                                                                                           I search your shrouding shadows                                                                                                               Peer through your misty dripping darkness

As I read your troubled treasures                                                                                                                 Faint ideas push through fog, hesitate                                                                                                          And like kitten paws on keyboards create                                                                                                     A gentle but jangling harmony

Hear with the heart—is that your hint?                                                                                                      I’m frightened at the thought, since                                                                                                            The sounds all settle into seeping sadness                                                                                                  All the words have sorrow’s ring

I’m puzzled, but I’ll persevere                                                                                                                      You lure me with your lingering lines, and                                                                                        Believing reflection brings surprising light                                                                                        Patiently I ponder your perceptions, Mr. Poe.    


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I Believe in New Year’s

2017 was a sad year. In addition to the major shocking, horrifying and depressing events that took place in the world, on a minor, personal note, I got almost nothing written. How can a person who calls themselves a writer end a year with so little to show for it? Where are the publications? Forget that–where are the pages?

Most of what I wrote was book reviews. Reviews of the many, many books I read, partially to escape the shocking, horrifying and depressing things that were going on, and to escape my own writing failures.

Thinking of those books, though, I can’t say I regret any of them. I read James Baldwin for the first time this year: Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, The Fire Next Time, giving me emotional experiences almost as strong as real life. Pablo Neruda’s poetry changed the way I look at everything from tomatoes to cherry trees. And Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness took me on such an extraordinary journey—a difficult journey but with hope found in the strangest places (not unlike 2017, come to think of it).

And that’s why I believe in New Year’s. Even the worst years have redeeming value. Things happen that you wouldn’t want to give back. Even making wrong choices, like choosing to read instead of write, can be rewarding. When you know that going in–know that a year will probably not be what you think, but it will give you much you will cherish–it helps. It gives you hope.

So here’s to 2018. I am so ready to turn the page this year. Turn the page and write something on it, hopefully!


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Poetry Summer

Troubled times. Hurricanes and floods, fear and outrage, unbelievable politics and uncertain futures. Where can we turn?

Perhaps to poetry. The word comes from the Greek “Poiesis,” or “to make.” Long before we wrote anything down, we recited poetry to each other in order to preserve; to remember. A versatile art, it can be used for marking events or for making something out of all the feelings bubbling up inside of us.

Audre Lorde, in her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” put it this way: “Poetry forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change …”

In June I decided to read more poetry, to make it a “poetry summer.” I didn’t have a plan—just went with what called to me, starting with Elizabeth Barret Browning. In poor health from an early age, she had her own understanding of suffering. I loved these lines, from “Sonnets from the Portuguese, Number V”:                                                                          … And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn                                                                                      The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see                                                                                          What a great heap of grief lay hid in me …

Next I tried Pablo Neruda, and fell head-over-heels for his words, the way he makes things bloom on the page. In this poem, he takes a sad subject and makes it something beautiful: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/40470/a-dog-has-died

I found a more lighthearted celebration of dogs in Mary Oliver’s collection “Dog Songs.” And one of the poems in Margaret Atwood’s “Morning in the Burned House” was ripped right from my childhood. How did she know?

Then I read every poem in my collection of Emily Dickinson, a book I’ve had around for years but somehow never opened before. This is one of my favorites, with its description of being enveloped by the surf: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50976/i-started-early-took-my-dog-656 

I know, I know! There is a pattern here. Clearly I find dogs as comforting as poetry.

I’m finishing the summer with Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” A little challenging, but so full of life. As a matter of fact, is that a barbaric yawp I hear? Must be Walt, calling me back. And he’s got a dog with him too!


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Four Quote Friday – Eclipse

Most of the dandelions had changed from suns to moons. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita


The sky is that beautiful old parchment in which the sun and the moon keep their diary.           Alfred Kreymborg


We are the sun and moon, dear friend; we are the sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement. Hermann Hesse


Men should take their knowledge from the sun, the moon and the stars. Ralph Waldo Emerson


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If Only

I am honored to have my poem “If Only” included in the Spring issue of Apeiron Review!

Issue Twelve is an intense collection, with some amazing prose, poetry, photographs and illustrations.

You can read it online here. (“If Only” is on page 30.)


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