Page 2 of 4

SECOND LIGHT NETWORK … showcasing the ambitious poetry of ambitious women

Roman marble Bust of Artemis after Kephisodotos (Musei Capitolini), Rome.
Roman marble Bust of Artemis after Kephisodotos (Musei Capitolini), Rome.

“Women, of course, write good and bad poetry – ‘ambitious’ implies more enterprising subject-matters and approaches, as well as a unique voice for each poet.” Kate Foley and Dilys Wood, Editorial Page, ARTEMISpoetry, November 2015

Here it is April – Poetry Month! – and the month in which I know that Dilys Wood, Anne Stewart and other poets in London at Second Light Network of Women Poets (SLN) are hard at work putting a wrap on the May 2016 issue of ARTEMISpoetry. This biannual literary magazine specializes in the work of women bent on honest self-expression, subjects of substance, and well-crafted poetry.

The last issue was published in November 2015 and the focus was on ecology with an interesting feature article by Jemma Borg, scientist and poet. I touched on it in a short piece, Poets and Poetry, In the Shadow Land of Technology and Social Networking.

The issue included poems by Anne Stewart, the featured poet and the author of Janus Hour and Only Here till Friday.

Myra Schneider was the judge for the 2015 poetry contest. The winning poems are featured as well as the commended and we get a bit of the behind-the-scenes look at the hard work of judging.

“I went through over a thousand poems looking for poems that traveled, paid attention to form and made words work. Eventually I reduced a long list of 101 poems to 26 … I was very excited because the winning poems were telling me loud and clear which they were!”

No doubt it is an honor to be selected to judge – and clearly there are  rewards – but what a job as well. Certainly a labor of love. The winners for 2015 were: Carolyn King, Margaret Wilmot, Judith Taylor and Kathy Miles.

I was also pleased to read Myra’s feature on one of my own favorites, American poet Louise Glück.

In line with the issue’s theme, politics and eco-politics were explored by Kay Syrad, a regular contributor.  She discussed Priscila Uppal’s Sabotage (explores private and public acts of destruction, disruption, and vandalism in the 21st century) and Helen Moore’s Ecozoa (response to the destruction caused by industrial civilization).

Fiona Owen gifted us a thoughtful piece – both homage and exploration – on Anne Cluysenaar‘s eco-poetry.

“… Anne ponders ‘the tenuous job of the poet’ and sees the arts as having an intrinsic evolutionary role …”

In addition to poetry, ARTEMISpoetry always offers book reviews and announcements of publications, events and classes of interest … and lately continues some discussion and promotions of SLN’s last two anthologies Her Wings of Glass and Fanfare.

🙂 I recommend both. 🙂

Below is a sampling (three poems) from Fanfare with thanks to the poets and their publishers, to SLN and especially to Anne Stewart for doing the work of acquiring the permissions for me to share these poems with you here today.

January

Going into the sun
over mud flats skimmed with water

people are walking on ice or glass
their reflections perfect

and you know it’s a new year

walking into the sun
beach and sky cast in light

sheer

gone when you turn

and wave rippled mud
takes your footsteps, softly.

– Caroline Natzler

Caroline Natzler: January and Life’s Work, from Fold (Hearing Eye, 2014)

Untouchable

She shines like Lakshmi through the fields –
a gentle stride, arms at her sides.
By the houses, stooping her beauty
to the earth, she raises the brimming bucket,
its stench sealing her nostrils. Slurry clings
to hair and skin, but nothing changes
on her face, only a puckering of lips
in silent thanks to Kali
for twenty years of women’s work,
this dawn till dusk that’s nurtured seven sons;
thanks that she’s never known the blessing of –
nor visited this curse upon –
a daughter.

– Jill Sharp

Jill Sharp: Untouchable, from Ye gods (Indigo Dreams, 2015)

A Miracle at Iskitim

In Siberia, a symbol –
this is what the locals believe,
a magical birth of water:

a fresh water spring, a spurt
close to the ground, a low white
eternal flame.
We dip our cups
(plastic, from the hotel) and say,
“It tastes pure. The water is pure.”

Some people here heard the last trucks
grind out of sight, after they shut
the ‘lagpunkt’,
the slow-killing place,
left the scar for people like us
in a half circle, dark barrels

in our padded coats, gloves, hats, scarves …
With our white breaths, we breathe out lives
as we raise up transparent cups,

“The future came too late.”

– Dilys Wood

In her Gulag, A History (Penguin, 2004)Anne Applebawm refers to a new fresh-water spring near a former camp at Iskatim.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SLN, through community, classes, magazines and books, regularly serves up thought-provoking, often heart stirring and always engaging poetry by women as well as informative explorations and analyses of poems, collections, news and views. Whether you are an experienced professional or an amateur poet, there’s plenty to enjoy here, plenty to learn and think about. I venture to say though that if you are an older woman poet working to find your voice, you’ll discover special inspiration and encouragement through Second Light.

Membership (demographic restrictions), ARTEMISpoetry and the anthologies and other books can be purchased through Second Light Network of Women Poets or p f poetry

©the poets own the copyrights to their poems and they are featured here with permission; the photograph of the Artemis statue is courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen and generously released by her into the Public Domain.

POET, TEACHER, INSPIRATION: Dilys Wood & the Latter-day Sapphos

Sappho (/ˈsæfoʊ/; Attic Greek Σαπφώ [sapːʰɔ̌ː], Aeolic Greek Ψάπφω, Psappho [psápːʰɔː]) was a Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. The Alexandrians included her in the list of nine lyric poets. She was born sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, and it is said that she died around 570 BCE, but little is known for certain about her life. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, has been lost; however, her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.
“Sappho (/ˈsæfoʊ/; Attic Greek Σαπφώ [sapːʰɔ̌ː], Aeolic Greek Ψάπφω, Psappho [psápːʰɔː]) was a Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. The Alexandrians included her in the list of nine lyric poets. She was born sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, and it is said that she died around 570 BCE, but little is known for certain about her life. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, has been lost; however, her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.” [Wikipedia]
Sunday: I began my dive into Dilys Wood’s Antarctica* (Greendale Press, 2008), spending my discretionary time engaged by this collection, which includes The South Pole Inn, a novella in verse.

“I dreamt I gave you the white continent
I wrapped it in white wedding wrap, embossed
with silver penguins and skiis …”
from Her Birthday Present in the section Love in a Freezing Climate: Four Poems

*****

“Wherever I look, the bacillus of melt
weakens the floes.”
from Future

DILYS WOOD is a poet, an editor and the founder (“convenor” as she might say) of the London-based Second Light Network of Women Poets (SLN), which produces the biannual ARTEMISpoetry and includes a publishing arm, Second Light Publishing.  I first encountered Dilys thanks to Myra Schneider. That award-winning poet with eleven published collections is a consultant to SLN.

While Internet and email have a way of helping to cross borders and make affinity-based connections, closing the gaps in culture and miles – in this case some 5,500 miles as the crow flies – the tools are imperfect. It’s not the same as meeting, talking and observing in person. However, when you read what people write, when they risk themselves by putting their very souls on paper, you do get to know something about their values and passions. My strongest sense of Dilys was as the quiet persistent energy behind a women’s poetry collective and an apparently indefatigable advocate for women’s right – including women over 40 – to poetic voice. 

At the point in which I first encountered Myra, Dilys and SLN, Dilys had collaborated on (mainly with Myra) four anthologies of women’s poetry. She had two collections of her own poetry published, Women Come to a Death (Databases, 1999) and Antarctica. That was, I think around 2010. Since that time, we are gifted through Dilys and Myra, Anne Stewart (poetry p fand others on the SLN team with so many fine anthologies and magazines of women’s poetry, that I can hardly keep track. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dilys is modest in presenting herself. Her Poet’s Page on SLN’s website says simply –

Dilys started writing poetry again after retiring from the Civil Service, where her jobs included being secretary of the Women’s National Commission. She shortly after founded Second Light, focussed on the needs of women reconnecting with writing after forty. Second Light Network developed into a support group and, on a small scale (though reviews suggest significant), publisher of women’s poetry. Together with her own writing (Antarctica, 2008; Women Come to a Death, Katabasis, 1997), Dilys has been the joint editor (mainly with Myra Schneider) of 4 womens poetry anthologies.

If The Poet by Day was a poem, its title would have to have the tagline after Dilys Wood. This site is not the product of collaboration and membership. Nonetheless, its commitment to sharing information on poets and poetry, including gifted if lesser-known poets, and promoting and encouraging poets who are marginalized by their gender, ethnicity, disability or age – is very definitely inspired by Dilys work and commitment to mature women and the work and commitment of Myra Schneider and the other SLN women as well as by my own love of poets and poetry and the whole of poesy history and culture.

This is Dilys in her own words as she “spoke” in a guest blog post here several years ago:

NEW SAPPHOS, CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN POETS

I run a network for women poets and naturally I want our members to be treated equitably, with recognition of any woman’s potential to be in the top flight of creative artists.

Some poets feel that ‘male and female he made them’ should not be an issue. I disagree because I want to celebrate and gain personal inspiration from the last fifty years. There has been a vastly increased involvement of women as students of poetry, published poets, book purchasers and consumers of ‘products’ such as poetry festivals. I also want it debated why this has not meant equality of treatment by journals.

Why do some leading journals publish fewer poems by women and use fewer women reviewers? What part is played by prejudice and what by our diffidence? Do we submit enough work and persist when submissions are rejected? Are there subtle shades of prejudice? Are we taken seriously on ‘women’s topics’ but not when writing about spiritual experience or politics?

A first step is to convince ourselves that there is no ceiling. Emily Dickinson surely lives up to the epithet ‘unique genius’? Her work is incredibly economical, dense, universal and deeply moving. She is totally original in style and thought. Her work alone ought to kill the slur that biology-based inferiority explains historical under-achievement.

So many more women have found now their voice. Let’s celebrate poets who excite us, from Emily Bronte (say) to Jorie Graham (say). We can also start thinking seriously about differences and about inflated reputations. Let’s be wary about ‘celebrity status’. This tends to narrows true appreciation. Read voraciously. Include lesser known poets and dead poets. You will be impressed by how much exciting writing is on offer.

– Dilys Wood

* “Antarctica,” Greendale Press, 2008 (all proceeds to Second Light Network funds). �5.95 through poetry p f (scroll down on the page to which this is linked)

© The New Sapphos, Dilys portrait, book cover art, Dilys Wood; © introduction, Jamie Dedes; Sapho embrassant sa lyre Jules Elie Delaunay (1828-1891), public domain

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

511kK247BML._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_

“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.

Unknown

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

Celebrating American She-Poets (2): Ruth Stone, 1915-2011

What-Love-Comes-To-by-Rut-001-1I first published this piece on Ruth Stone in 2013, but I love her poetry so much I had to include her early in this Thursday series of mine inspired by the work of poet Dilys Wood and the London-based Second Light Network of Women Poets (SLN), which Dilys founded. SLN encourages and supports the poetry of women, including those women with voices emerging in their third act. 

Poems clutter the landscape of my mind with bite-sized portions easily committed to memory, ready to be pulled out in a moment of need or want. I like to think of poetry as literary dim sum, which means “touch the heart.” And poems do spring themselves on me and touch the tender places. Depending on the poem and the poet, they may also tickle my funny bone, stimulate my intellect, or affirm some insight. In the art of living hugely, poetry is warp and weft.

Whether I am writing poetry or reading it, poetry gifts to me those blessed eureka moments, the moments when I understand myself or another, can put a name to the demons, or simply realize that I am not alone in my joy or sorrow. Think of W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and the simple line, “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”  I am getting older, approaching elderly, and though I am always making new friends, I’m of an age where I lose a friend or two each year. Bereft at the loss of someone precious and shocked that the earth hasn’t stood still, I think of this line and know that in this circumstance, everyone feels what I do . . .

. . . and all it takes is one disappointment in love to relate to Mad Girl’s Love Song by Silvia Plath, “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed/And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane./(I think I made you up inside my head.)

Of the many poets I dearly love, I particularly appreciate Ruth Stone for her quality of giving things their true names and for the practicalities embedded in her poems. “Dear children,/You must try to say/Something when you are in need./Don’t confuse hunger with greed;/And don’t wait until you are dead.”

Ruth Stone was an American poet and poetry teacher born into an impoverished family at Roanoke, Virginia in 1915. She lived most of her life in rural Vermont, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won many awards for her poetry and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her last collection, What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (2008). She was wry, bold, conversational, edgy, philosophical and used the language and imagery of the natural sciences to good effect.  Her second husband, the poet Walter Stone, committed suicide leaving her with three young children and an experience that indelibly etched itself on her life, heart and poetry. She once remarked that she spent the rest of her life writing to him.

Not Expecting an Answer

This tedious letter to you,
what is one Life to another?
We walk around inside our bags,
sucking it in, spewing it out.
Then the insects, swarms heavier
than all the animals of the world.
Then the flycatchers on the clothesline,
like seiners leaning from Flemish boats
when the seas were roiled with herring.
This long letter in my mind,
calligraphy, feathery asparagus.

When Ruth Stone won the Whiting Writers’ Award, she got plumbing for her house. When she received the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts at the National Book Awards, she said “I’ve been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn’t stop, I never could stop. I don’t know why I did it.… It was like a stream that went along beside me, you know, my life went along here . . . and all along the time this stream was going along. And I really didn’t know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can’t even take much credit for it.”

Ruth Stone died in 2011 leaving behind thirteen collections of literary dim sum. This poem, which gave its name to a collection that I just purchased, is a new favorite.

In the Next Galaxy

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.

In the scant two-minute video that follows, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) shares the revealing story of her meeting with Ruth Stone.

Resources:
Ruth Stone, Amazon Page
Poems of Ruth Stone, World Poetry Database
Ruth Stone Obituary, New York Times
On Ruth Stone by Sharon Olds

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserve – This piece originally published in October 2013 on Plum Tree Books website