Celebrating American She-Poets (5): Rita Mae Brown, “I wanted to write a perfect poem.”

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“Time had not teased me. I thought eternity was mine in which to live and in which to write. Thinking myself amazingly intelligent, I saw no reason to hide my light under a bushel basket.  My youthful poetry paraded my stuff. I imitated Horace shamelessly; he still remains one of my favorite poets in the original Latin but I have grown up enough not to imitate him. Who could?

“Perhaps there will only be one Rita Mae.  I’m not sure I could stand another one.  Anyway, as I learned more and more about language and literature I also learned more and more about my own limitations.  I wanted to write a perfect poem.  I was soon humbled and wanted to write a great poem.  I eventually became realistic: I wanted to write a good poem.”

. . . so says American novelist, screenwriter, POET and activist, Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) in the intro to Poems, poetry from her two published collections combined into one book. Who among us can’t sympathize with that ambition? Or perhaps you want to write the perfect short story, paint the perfect picture, or compose the perfect piece of music. It’s all in the same spirit.

Spare and elegant, Rita Mae Brown’s poems deal with war, human rights and feminist and lesbian themes. She’s always confident and often contemptuous.

A Short Note for Liberals

I’ve seen your kind before
Forty-plus and secure
Settling for a kiss from feeble winds
And calling it a storm

Many of the poems were written when she was eighteen and the introduction is written from the perspective of middle-age. She’s fierce, her imagery apt and sometimes breath-taking.

For Those of Us Working For a New World

The dead are the only people
to have permanent dwellings.
We, nomads of Revolution
Wander over the desolation of many generations
And are reborn on each other’s lips
To ride wild mares over unfathomable canyons
Heralding dawns, dreams and sweet desire.

Thumbs-up on this collection.  It’s out of print, but used copies are available through Amazon and other book vendors.

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Rita Mae Brown is also a New York Times bestselling author of the Mrs. Murphy mystery series, which is cowritten with her cat, Sneaky Pie. Other novels include In Her Day, The Sand Castle and Six of One. She’s written two memoirs and was nominated for an Emmy for her screenwriting. Writers might enjoy Starting From Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual. It’s savvy and full of sass, an enjoyable read.

© poems and book cover art, Rita Mae Brown

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