CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (36): Effie Waller Smith, Bachelor Girl

She does not shirk, but does her work,
Amid the world’s fast hustling whirl,
And come what may, she’s here to stay,
The self-supporting “bachelor girl.”

– Effie Waller Smith in New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descen, Margaret Busby



Effie Waller Smith (1879 – 1960) was an African-American poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She was smart, independent, and ahead of her time. Her collections are:  Songs of the Month (1904), Rhymes From the Cumberland (1904), and Rosemary and Pansies (1909). Her work was featured in local newspapers and in some of the major publications of the day.

Effie Waller was born to former slaves in the rural mountain community of Chloe Creek in Pike County, Kentucky, on a farm located a few miles from Pikeville.Her father, Frank Waller, migrated to the East Kentucky mountains sometime after the Civil War, having spent most of his early life as a laborer on a Virginia plantation. Her mother, Sibbie Ratliff, was born and raised in East Kentucky and met Frank Waller in the early 1870s. Effie was the third of four children.

Frank Waller was a blacksmith and a real estate speculator. Chloe Creek, the area in which the Wallers lived, was unusual for the time. It was racially integrated. The Wallers were responsible, hard-working, and clean-living.  Frank and Sibbie, realizing the limits of their own educations, were determined that their children would receive a quality education and Effie and her siblings were educated at Kentucky Normal School for Colored Persons in Frankfort, the capitol of Kentucky. Effie subsequently taught in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Effie Waller Smith’s work is worth reading. Unfortunately, the charges on Amazon and Alibris are outrageous and her work is not included in The Gutenberg Project, where you’d be able to download it for free. You might try connecting with Steve at Scholar and Poet Books, EB and Scholar and Poet Books, Abe Books  to see what he has at what price. You can find a few of her poems around on the Internet. Her poems The “Bachelor Girl and The Cuban Cause are included in New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent, Margaret Busby. The “Bachelor Girl” is also posted on Literary Ladies HERE. I clipped Apple Sauce and Chicken Fried (posted below the video) from Poem Hunter.

With a nod to Wikipedia; Illustration: Public Domain

It you are reading this post from an email subscription, it’s likely you’ll have to link through to the site to view this video of Effie’s life and work.

Apple Sauce and Chicken Fried

You may talk about the knowledge
Which our farmers’ girls have gained
From cooking-schools and cook-books,
(Where all modern cooks are trained):
But I would rather know just how,
(Though vainly I have tried)
To prepare, as mother used to,
Apple sauce and chicken fried.

Our modern cooks know how to fix
Their dainty dishes rare,
But, friend, just let me tell you what!-
None of them can compare
With what my mother used to fix,
And for which I’ve often cried,
When I was but a little tot,-
Apple sauce and chicken fried.

Chicken a la Française,
And also fricassee,
Served with some new fangled sauce
Is plenty good for me,
Till I get to thinking of the home
Where once I used to ‘bide,
And where I used to eat,- um, my!
Apple sauce and chicken fried.

We always had it once a week,
Sometimes we had it twice;
And I have even known the time
When we have had it thrice.
Our good, yet jolly pastor,
During his circuit’s ride
With us once each week gave grateful thanks
For apple sauce and chicken fried.

Why, it seems like I can smell it,
And even taste it, too,
And see it with my natural eyes,
Though of course it can’t be true;
And it seems like I’m a child again,
Standing by mother’s side,
Pulling at her dress and asking
For apple sauce and chicken fried.

– Effie Waller Smith



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Celebrating American She-Poets (34): Clarissa Simmens, A Passion for Shakespeare

Clarissa Simmens

“I adore social media.  FaceBook and WordPress have been incredible avenues of not only reading the words of poets world-wide, but also gaining friends, virtual but real  . . .The poets are people like me and you who want the same thing: respect, a safe and healthy environment for family and friends, and the freedom to have fun without being hurt or harming others.  I think the great [William Shakespeare] would have loved the world-wide web…” Clarissa Simmens



A couple of weeks ago The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt was Spinning With Shakespeare. Readers were challenged to write a poem using phrases from Shakespeare that have come into general usage. It was fun. The poems were great. You can read them HERE.  Meanwhile, it happens that Clarissa Simmens has a passion for Shakespeare, so much so that she does a yearly poetic homage to WS, as she refers to him. She shared her 2018 homage with us in comments. Here (below) are those poems for you to read today along with an interview of Clarissa and her bio.   

Shakespearian Trivia: As I read through Clarissa’s responses to my interview questions, I had to chuckle.  Her intro to Shakespeare was in high school and included a local movie-theater-showing of Hamlet with Richard Burton in the lead.  I suspect Clarissa and I are of an age and may have seen the same show.  My intro to Shakespeare included the 1964 “electrovision” (early video/closed circuit TV) version of Hamlet at our own local movie theater. Apparently this presentation was being delivered to high school students all over the U.S. as an English literature course requirement. The production was directed by Sir John Gielgud. It was done sans period costumes and with minimal sets. It is said that Burton disliked the production and wanted the videos destroyed.  Apparently at least one copy survived. I found it HERE on YouTube.  Time has tampered with the visual but there’s nothing wrong with the sound. Close your eyes and listen. Enjoyable!

– Jamie Dedes


THE UNCERTAIN GLORY OF AN APRIL DAY…

Shakespeare’s Birthday Approximately April 23, 1564

In cold country I sadly plucked the lute
Shining in England, you the rising son {sun}
Seeking me in verse, yet remaining mute
Why don’t you know we are meant to be one

Oh, dear Will, you were fated to be mine
Although centuries separate us now
Twin souls formed by a heavenly design
Calling your name, but me you disavow

Yet I’ve glimpsed your soul somewhere in my space
Perhaps in a yellow striped bumble bee
And though you changed I recognize your face
But stung by your insensitivity

Wading through tears, my grief so prodigious
We’ve lost so much, love now sacrilegious

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

AND HERE IS MY ANNUAL BIRTHDAY SONNET CREATED FROM THE FIRST LINES OF SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS:

#60 Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
#88 When thou shalt be disposed to set me light
#66 Tired with all these, for restful death I cry
#80 O, how I faint when I of you do write.

#139 O, call not me to justify the wrong
#150 O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
#100 Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
#28 How can I then return in happy plight

#43 When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see
#66 Tired with all these, for restful death I cry
#52 So am I as the rich, whose blessed key
#115 Those lines that I before have writ do lie

#56 Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
#71 No longer mourn for me when I am dead

© 2014 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja) and William Shakespeare

Characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Unknown artist.

INTERVIEW

JAMIE: When and how did your passion for Shakespeare start?

CLARISSA: I saw my first Shakespeare play in high school. It was a class trip to a local movie house showing Hamlet starring Richard Burton. This was a filming of a rehearsal with no scenery or costumes. There Burton was in a black sweater (my favorite clothing color) and without the distraction of a mise en scène, Hamlet suddenly became real to me:  just words and emotion. I then began reading his plays very carefully. Around that time, I bought a copy of MacBird!, the Macbeth satire centering around the theory that President Johnson was behind the JFK assassination. Once again, I saw the incredible relevance of WS. I began reading him for enjoyment, rather than to pass school tests and although not covered in class, I discovered his sonnets.  How I love the structure of a Shakespearean Sonnet! Everything WS wrote can be seen in a modern context and that was what I needed to learn in order to enjoy him.

JAMIE: What drew you to writing your own poetry?

CLARISSA: At about age 3 or 4 I had a Little Golden Book called A Bird Can Fly and So Can I.  There was about a line or two for a series of animals and my parents read it to me so many times that I memorized it and composed my own poem about a pig.  I don’t know if I had an innate sense of rhythm or if it is the autism, but although I was never a finger waver (we are all different on the Autism Spectrum) I was certainly a “counter” and loved flicking my fingers over numbers and syllables especially.  Rhyming poetry just suited me. Didn’t know the name, but when I finally learned about Iambic Pentameter (and all those other meters) I began writing my own sonnets. I mostly write open and free verse now, but I think the physical part of words has been replaced by my playing ukulele and guitar.  Something about pressing the chords and plucking them on string instruments reminds me of rhythmic, but structured, writing.

JAMIE: Who are the poets other than Shakespeare that you admire?

CLARISSA: The great Confessional Poet Sylvia Plath will always be my heroine because of the honest sharing of her mental health struggle. It is the reason why I mention my autism in many of my poems. Another is Emily Dickinson with her slashing dashes.  I tend to end my poems with ellipses because it is as if my voice is trailing off… But one day I wondered if I was unconsciously doing a passive-aggressive imitation of her. Marina Tsvetaeva who said “I know the truth” (and she did) has touched me no matter how many times I read her poems.  Allen Ginsberg’s Howl changed my whole opinion of poetry, indoctrinating me into a lifetime of so-called hippie-ism that can be interpreted as love of peace and tree-hugging. TS Eliot’s Waste Land, despite his bigotry in other works, has always remained one of my favorite poems (as you can see in my first poetry book Madame Sosostris Explains). Finally, I would add Bob Dylan. Once announcing to a Survey of American Lit class that he was the greatest contemporary poet, the class and the instructor howled with laughter, so all these years later I finally felt vindicated when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

JAMIE: What is the importance of poetry on the global scene?

I adore social media.  FaceBook and WordPress have been incredible avenues of not only reading the words of poets world-wide, but also gaining friends, virtual but real, nevertheless.  I don’t sell many poetry books on Amazon but am pleased to see that many of my books are borrowed in India and Japan.  Most of all, it is the only way to truly learn about different cultures. This is why I enjoy your associated Ezines including The BeZine and The Poet By Day, 100,000 Poets for Change, and other sites you have generously shared. Reading globally, and being able to comment on other works, are what I consider grassroots-level knowledge. These poems are not media soundbites or part of a political or monetary agenda. The poets are people like me and you who want the same thing: respect, a safe and healthy environment for family and friends, and the freedom to have fun without being hurt or harming others. I think the great WS would have loved the world-wide web…

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you!

© 2019, words and photo, Clarissa Simmens; Shakespearian characters illustration is in the public domain.

CLARISSA SIMMENS (Poeturja) is an independent poet; Romani drabarni (herbalist/advisor); ukulele and guitar player; wannabe song writer; and music addict. Favorite music genres include Classic Rock, Folk, Romani (Gypsy), and Cajun with an emphasis on guitar and violin music mainly in a Minor key. Find her on Amazon’s Author Page, on her blog, and on Facebook HERE.

Clarissa’s books include: Chording the Cards & Other Poems, Plastic Lawn Flamingos & Other Poems, and Blogetressa, Shambolic Poetry.


ABOUT

Celebrating American She-Poets (31): Tracy K. Smith, “Like a woman journeying for water …”

Tracy K. Smith (b. 1977), Pulitzer Prize winning poet and new U.S. Poet Laureate

“When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.”  Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars


On Wednesday Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the appointment of Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2017-2018. Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium.

Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a professor at Princeton University, succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate.

“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching,” Hayden said.

“Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths—all to better understand what makes us most human.”

“I am profoundly honored,” Smith said. “As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”

Smith joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

The new Poet Laureate is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; “Duende” (2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction and selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

For her poetry, Smith has received a Rona Jaffe Writers Award and a Whiting Award. In 2014, the Academy of American Poets awarded her with the Academy Fellowship, given to one poet each year to recognize distinguished poetic achievement. In 2016, she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award and was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence.

In the Pulitzer Prize citation for Life on Mars, judges lauded its “bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.” Toi Derricotte, poet and Academy of American Poets chancellor, said “the surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes.”

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1972, and raised in Fairfield, California, Tracy K. Smith earned a B.A. in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Columbia University. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.


Background of the Laureateship

The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1937, when Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry—a position which the law states “is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United States.”

During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, who opens the literary season in the fall and closes it in the spring. In recent years, Laureates have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.


The Great Hall of the U.S. Library of Congress. Public domain photo.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov, and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.


This feature courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress; photo credit slowking4 under GNU Free Documentaton License 2.0

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (28): Emily Dickinson … to find that phosphorescence, that light within

Emily Dickinson at sixteen years o age

Emily Dickinson at sixteen years, 1846

“PHOSPHORESCENCE. Now there’s a word to lift your hat to… to find that phosphorescence, that light within, that’s the genius behind poetry.” Emily Dickinson

41rt1zipr5l-_sx319_bo1204203200_Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive and wrote 1,775 poems, few of which were published during her lifetime. When her opus was finally published posthumously, it wasn’t well received. Today, however, she is considered one of the most significant of American poets. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is my favorite collection. The poems are organized chronologically, allowing us to see her development from teen years into the darker poetry of her maturity.

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

– Emily Dickinson

Apart from reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate her and her work then to see William Luce’s one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, starring Julie Harris.  It’s available to watch on YouTube and it’s a must if you are a lover of poetry and theatre and looking for some budget-wise charm this coming weekend. Order dinner in, set out the candles and wine … and Enjoy!

The play follows Emily Dickinson at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. It incorporates Dickinson’s work, diaries, and letters in a reenactment of her life with her relatives, friends and acquaintances. It’s engaging and often wry … as is the poet herself.

The original Broadway production, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Julie Harris, opened on April 28, 1976 at the Longacre Theatre. It ran for 116 performances. A Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote . . .

“With her technical ability and her emotional range, Miss Harris can convey profound inner turmoil at the same time that she displays irrepressible gaiety of spirit.”

Harris won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for a Unique Theatrical Experience, and won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. She appeared in a televised PBS production and toured the country with the play for a number of years. [sources: Wikipedia and NY Times]

Luce and Harris collaborated on other wonderful plays including Bronté.  A broadway playwright, Luce also wrote Barrymore, which with family I was fortunate enough to see on stage starring Christopher Plummer many years ago. That was a bit of heaven.  Luce wrote Lucifer’s Child based on the writing of Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Lillian about Lillian Hellman and Zelda, which became The Last Flapperabout Zelda Fitzgerald. If script writing is one of your interests, you could probably do worse than reading a few of  Luce’s plays.

51hlj5jhdkl-_sx329_bo1204203200_


The recommended read for this week is Robert Pinsky’s Singing School, Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry. No rules or recipes here just learning by studying the pros. Charming. Fun.

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