Unlike the reclusive Emily Dickinson in her Amherst room, modern day poets have a need to reach out to teachers, a creative community of other poets, and to have our voices heard. Support for all aspects of a poet's life come in the form of 59 essays in Women on Poetry.
One of the essayists, Suzanna M. Henson, writes: "Poetry is a living, breathing presence in American life." Emily Dickinson is an example of a poet who translated life experiences into poetry. Her words, as well as those of William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sylvia Plath are cited in "Tapping Inspiration: Using Life Experiences in Your Poetry", which appears in Part 1, "Our Writing Life—A Collective Voice." The section also includes practical and inspiring advice in "The Fine Art of Revision" by Judith Skillman, and "Mirrors and Muses: Poetry with Friends." In the latter essay, Kate Chadbourne, a singer, storyteller and poet in New England, encourages poets to meet with other poets, by sharing poems via email, getting together at a cafe to chat and write, or going to dinner and a poetry reading. She reminds us to support our friends by attending their readings and buying their books. Kristen Berkey-Abbott in "Poetry at the Swimming Pool and Other Unconventional Places" gives pointers on creating your own book tour."Women Writing for (a) Change: History, Philosophy, Programs" is a fascinating essay by Sarah W. Bartlett who is an owner of one of the affiliates of this empowering program in Vermont.
In Part II, "We Who Pass It on—Tips on Teaching," Ellen Bass offers her "Top 14 Teaching Tips." These are essential for those who plan to teach workshops in their community or at conferences and retreats. Her essay is followed by one by popular teacher, Sheila Bender, who has a contribution in this section as well as later in the collection: "Empowering Yourself as a Poet—A Checklist." If you're unsure about how to begin, Doris J. Lynch gives you twelve ways to jump start your poems in "Fishing Lines, Dream Hieroglyphics."
Part III, "The Next Step: Publishing Our Poetry," includes essays on blogging, preparing poetry submissions with a list of women's literary magazines, building your platform, video poetry, presenting to an audience, and even writing book reviews. "Writing book reviews is both a feminist act and a political act," Julie R. Enzer writes.
In Part IV, "Just for Us—Essential Wisdom," Enzer's essay, "Creating an Audience," recalls the second wave of feminism, between 1969 and 1985, during which time lesbian writers, poets and novelists founded their own small, collective presses. Journals were also created at the time including Sinister Wisdom by Adrienne Rich and her partner Michelle Cliff.
Ona Marae writes in her essay, "Safety Concerns for Lesbian and Bisexual Women Poets" that "poetry is one way we express our reality, a reality that is often hidden and shamed." While some lesbians and bisexual women may need to use a nom de plume for safety concerns, Adrienne Rich is given as an example of a poet whose poetry "may inform young women of lesbian life across time and into later years." The poet-essayist's words are prescient as Adrienne Rich died on March 27, 2012, after the book was published. Although Rich lived with long-term rheumatoid arthritis she stood up with a passion for all those who were oppressed.
I became caught up in the enthusiasm of the contributions to this collection. Before reading it I hadn't experienced such an array of poets, engaged in their craft, sharing wisdom in their distinct and modern voices. With all this encouragement we poets can't help but keep writing and sharing our poetry in the world in the myriad ways that is possible.
Award winner Carol Smallwood is the author or editor of numerous books including Women Writing on Family (Key Publishing 2012). Colleen S. Harris is the author of three books of poetry. She works on the library faculty at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as an assistant professor and Head of Access Services. A Puschcart Prize nominee, Cynthia Brackett-Vincent has published over 100 poems, and is the publisher/editor of the Aurorean poetry journal.
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