I kept going this week and produced drafts of these poems:
- Playing Word with Adrienne Rich
- Nearest Animal Shelter
- Out of the Cradle
- To Keep Things from Working
- Meeting the Relatives
It was a tough week because I had to travel for work and still keep up with a poem a day . . . .
As another important component of NAPOWRIMO, I pulled out the old poetry anthology I liked to teach from and started rereading from the beginning.
These poets might seem old school today, but without these poets we wouldn’t have the poetry we have today–written by women OR men.
The first poet showcased in this book is Lola Ridge. She’s rarely read today, unfortunately. When she was a little girl she moved from Ireland to New Zealand and Australia, and then as an adult, she moved to the United States, possibly to escape a horrific marriage. She was a feminist and an activist. You can read her bio here. Her first book, The Ghetto and Other Poems, is important for its very modern-like treatment of immigrant life 100 years ago–specifically Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of NYC. This is the phenomenal section of the title poem that is anthologized in the book:
I room at Sodos’ – in the little green room that was Bennie’s –
And her old father and her mother,
Who is not so old and wears her own hair.
Old Sodos no longer makes saddles.
He has forgotten how.
He has forgotten most things – even Bennie who stays away
and sends wine on holidays –
And he does not like Sadie’s mother
Who hides God’s candles,
Whose young pagan breath puts out the light –
That should burn always,
Like Aaron’s before the Lord.
Time spins like a crazy dial in his brain,
And night by night
I see the love-gesture of his arm
In its green-greasy coat-sleeve
Circling the Book,
And the candles gleaming starkly
On the blotched-paper whiteness of his face,
Like a miswritten psalm…
Night by night
I hear his lifted praise,
Like a broken whinnying
Before the Lord’s shut gate.
Sadie dresses in black.
She has black-wet hair full of cold lights
And a fine-drawn face, too white.
All day the power machines
Drone in her ears…
All day the fine dust flies
Till throats are parched and itch
And the heat – like a kept corpse –
Fouls to the last corner.
Then – when needles move more slowly on the cloth
And sweaty fingers slacken
And hair falls in damp wisps over the eyes –
Sped by some power within,
Sadie quivers like a rod…
A thin black piston flying,
One with her machine.
She – who stabs the piece-work with her bitter eye
And bids the girls: “Slow down –
You’ll have him cutting us again!”
She – fiery static atom,
Held in place by the fierce pressure all about –
Speeds up the driven wheels
And biting steel – that twice
Has nipped her to the bone.
Nights, she reads
Those books that have most unset thought,
New-poured and malleable,
To which her thought
Leaps fusing at white heat,
Or spits her fire out in some dim manger of a hall,
Or at a protest meeting on the Square,
Her lit eyes kindling the mob…
Or dances madly at a festival.
Each dawn finds her a little whiter,
Though up and keyed to the long day,
Alert, yet weary… like a bird
That all night long has beat about a light.
The Gentile lover, that she charms and shrews,
Is one more pebble in the pack
For Sadie’s mother,
Who greets him with her narrowed eyes
That hold some welcome back.
“What’s to be done?” she’ll say,
“When Sadie wants she takes…
Better than Bennie with his Christian woman…
A man is not so like,
If they should fight,
To call her Jew…”
Yet when she lies in bed
And the soft babble of their talk comes to her
And the silences…
I know she never sleeps
Till the keen draught blowing up the empty hall
Edges through her transom
And she hears his foot on the first stairs.
Sarah and Anna live on the floor above.
Sarah is swarthy and ill-dressed.
Life for her has no ritual.
She would break an ideal like an egg for the winged thing at the core.
Her mind is hard and brilliant and cutting like an acetylene torch.
If any impurities drift there, they must be burnt up as in a clear flame.
It is droll that she should work in a pants factory.
– Yet where else… tousled and collar awry at her olive throat.
Besides her hands are unkempt.
With English… and everything… there is so little time.
She reads without bias –
Doubting clamorously –
Psychology, plays, science, philosophies –
Those giant flowers that have bloomed and withered, scattering their seed…
– And out of this young forcing soil what growth may come –
what amazing blossomings.
Anna is different.
One is always aware of Anna, and the young men turn their heads
to look at her.
She has the appeal of a folk-song
And her cheap clothes are always in rhythm.
When the strike was on she gave half her pay.
She would give anything – save the praise that is hers
And the love of her lyric body.
But Sarah’s desire covets nothing apart.
She would share all things…
Even her lover.
This narrative poem shares as much as a short story in more concise language that vibrates the heart and nerves at the same time.
What you read here is part 2 of a 9 part poem. Although NaPoWriMo wouldn’t be a good time to try it, writing a very long poem like “The Ghetto” would be fun to try if the subject is epic enough. Not a lot of places to get it published, but it could be its own chapbook, I suppose. But what about readers–do readers like to read super long poems?