This is my first time hosting a Poetry Friday. Ever. Honestly, I’m rather embarrassed about this, that I haven’t done it yet, as I’m a big fan of the whole tradition. I truly and deeply always have wanted to host. Anyway. Better late than never, and I hope you all will acquaint yourselves with Mister Linky (dude, that’s his real name; I always thought someone make it up all jokey) at the bottom of the post and let all your Poetry Friday peeps know what you’re up to.
First things first, though: This morning, I’m celebrating Jeannine Atkins’ new title, Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters, released by Henry Holt in March (and which, it was recently announced here, will be receiving a starred review in the May/June issue of the Horn Book, another starred review in a growing list of them). Now, here’s the thing: I’m still reading it. Since I’m doing my own writing myself these days, my reading rate (anything other than picture books) is fairly slow. I started Jeannine’s book and absolutely fell in love with it, but that didn’t mean my little windows of time in life in which to get things done didn’t preclude me from just devouring the book, as I was wont to do.
I have managed to finish the first part, though, all about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her spunky, independent, world-travelling daughter, Rose, who both encouraged her mother to write her life story and helped her shape the novel into what we read today. And it blew me away. It made me wonder and laugh and cry and have goosebumps and sometimes simply put the book down and think for about an hour (or two or three) and ponder my relationship with my own daughters and much more. It’s truly beautiful — masterfully-executed, never giving in to excessive sentimentality, and powerfully-felt.
Let me back up a little to tell you a wee bit more about the book as a whole. It’s, as you can tell from the title, a collection of free verse poems about the three sets of mothers and daughters in the sub-title, all the mothers born in the year 1867. Atkins writes in the book’s introduction:
I borrowed names and old stories, taking a bit here, putting another impression aside, turning history into poems. What did each daughter see in her mother’s hands? I wondered: one pair worn by swinging hoes and holding back horses, another by scrubbing laundry and hair, and another by running scientific experiments. Details gathered meaning as I lingered over them, and I came to love what was small and tangible as much as the grand or public moments.
Here is one of my favorite entries in the Laura/Rose section, used with permission of the author. Enjoy…
“Teaching Her Mother How to Write”
Rose lifts the jar of daisies,
the salt and pepper shakers,
throws off the red-and-white-checked cloth.
The table is bare. The beautiful wood glows.
She sets her typewriter near a window.
Mama’s broom swings
to the rhythm of its ca-click-clatter.
Rose gets up for a drink of water, a look at the sky.
When she comes back,
Mama trails her fingertips across
the keyboard’s letters rimmed by silver circles.
Rose offers, I’ll teach you to type.
I’m sixty. Too old to learn something new.
Then use a pencil and paper.
I’ll type your stories when you’re done.
Who would care? You’ve seen the world,
but what have I got to say?
You cut down a patch of woods,
chopped logs, sawed lumber,
and built walls.
Not everyone can turn a square of cloth into a dress.
You and Pa made something from almost nothing.
It doesn’t mean I can put that on paper.
Pretend you’re talking to me when I was little.
Remember one thing—the price of wheat,
the scent of violets or vinegar pie—
and memories jammed behind may unroll
like thread off a spool.
Rose unties her mother’s apron.
Whatever happens now
here’s the grace:
A writer can change even a burning house,
depending on where she begins or ends her story.
Mama hauls out her old writing desk—
its wood worn, the green felt faded—
and sharpens a pencil.
Thanks to Jeannine for letting me share a poem from the book’s first section. To read more about the book from folks who have finished the entire collection of poems, visit HipWriterMama, Loree Griffin Burns, Jo Knowles, and Jama Rattigan — just some of many positive reviews of the title. I can’t wait to finish it.
Here below is how you can leave your Poetry Friday link for Friday (or Thursday, if you’re an early-bird). “Mister Linky’s Magical Widgets” sounds like a whacked up funhouse or something, doesn’t it? (Again, this is all new to me, and I can’t figure out how to change the wording.) And despite what it says below, you don’t really have to leave a comment. Just link away.