My Life as One of King Charles II’s Mistresses

King Charles II's Mistresses

At the National Portrait Gallery earlier today, I was delighted to run into Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709), one of the inspirations for a Sisters & Courtesans poem. Married to Roger Palmer, she bore the king at least five children. but then the king did have fourteen children by several different women, although no legitimate heir. Above is her Peter Lely portrait. (Also on display were portraits of Nell Gwynne, perhaps the Merry Monarch’s most famous mistress and supposedly the only one who loved him for himself and not his position, and Louise de Keroualle.)

My Life as One of King Charles II’s Mistresses

There is a portrait of me—I look pretty,
perhaps a little too much skin on show,
but Peter Lely captured me, a glow
I had when twenty, mischievous and witty.
I could have had my pick of the whole city,
but then, the king was quite the man, you know.
And for the seven months he was my beau
I was content. Indeed, it was a pity
my husband found us out, and sent me down
to his estate a hundred miles from town.
But, silver linings! When the black plague struck
I wasn’t there. Nor was I, with more luck,
when our fine mansion burned down to the ground.
My husband’s corpse, alas, was never found.

Read more about writing Historical Persona & Character Poems.

Read more about the Merry Monarch and his mistresses!

Why Write Female Historical Persona Poems?

female historical persona poems
Veronica Franco (1546-1591)

“History is more or less bunk,” said Henry Ford famously, and so, quite often, did my father, a graduate in History from Bristol University. His actions typically belied his words—he would be pushing our eclectic collection of Edwardian silver napkin rings around on our Elizabethan oak dining table, attempting to explain the military tactics of a famous battle, his eyes gleaming.

What he meant was, “Don’t study History, study Physics.” This may stun readers who know me now, but I was an obedient girl back then, and so I did as I was told. I dropped History as soon as I could for the sciences, and went on to study for a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, London. And everything else, as they say, is history.

Except it isn’t. I continued to be fascinated by history and to read history texts and historical novels—the well-written kind like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. My favorite period is, indeed, the Tudors and Elizabethan England, but I am also borderline obsessed with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and with the early years of the Colonies. I married a man who loves History—his obsession is with the Founding Fathers and Political History—and our bookshelves are full of history books. Then five years ago I became involved with the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline, founded by Dr. Kim Bridgford.

About half of the fifty-plus essays about women poets currently on the Timeline concern American or British late twentieth century or contemporary poets, whose cultural context requires little explanation. But the rest span a broad swathe of historical eras from the dark ages to the second world war, and come from cultures as diverse as T’ang Dynasty China and Fourteenth Century Paris. A historical background is essential to these poets’ biographies.

I am a housewife, of sorts, and something else began to be clear to me as I co-ordinated essays on poets such as Kassia, Hildegard of Bingen, and Veronica Franco (pictured above.) Before Anne Bradstreet, housewives really didn’t write poetry. They didn’t have time. Women’s poetry up until the 17th century is almost entirely represented by women who had chosen a religious vocation, were royal or extremely wealthy, or existed on the margins of polite society—entertainers, mistresses, and women who otherwise used their bodies as currency. The idea behind Sisters & Courtesans was born.

Why Write Female Historical Persona Poems as Sonnets?

As I explain in Female Historical Persona and Character Poems, it’s not enough to decide who you are going to write about, you also have to determine how you are going to write about them. For me the super-flexible sonnet was the obvious choice, partly because sonnets are sexy, and sex plays a huge role in Sisters & Courtesans (not always just in the Courtesan corner either!) To illustrate my thought process further, here’s “My Life as an Honest Courtesan in Venice” (loosely based around Franco and her contemporary Gaspara Stampa):

I must confess that I can barely walk
in these new shoes, the platforms are so high.
Advancing regally, I pause to talk

(and rest) when an acquaintance passes by.
These split brocaded sleeves force me to hold
my arms spread out as if I mean to fly.

My heavy pendant heart is solid gold.
I hope it’s the epitome of class—
for that’s the point of all this, so I’m told.

I may be nouveau riche, but I can pass.
Don’t ever dare to lump me in with whores
with their thin skirts and ornaments of brass.

And as for those new sumptuary laws
I am exempted by a special clause.

Female historical persona poems need to wear their history much more lightly than the courtesan wears her ridiculous fashion in the poem above, and the sonnet forces the writer to do this. In approximately 140 syllables there simply isn’t room to explain the role of the Honest Courtesan and how she differed from a street whore. But this is where the persona becomes helpful. Because the poem is in the voice of the courtesan, and she is reflecting on her position in society and what it takes to maintain it, we can get a sense of the full historical context from her insecurity and vanity. And if you want to know more about sumptuary laws, you can always google them!

I wanted to create a Timeline of my own with Sisters & Courtesans, not of women poets—very few of the personae claim to be poets themselves—but of the history of women having control over their decisions, whether those decisions primarily affect their lives or their bodies, and of the correlation between control and happiness.

Other people can be the judge of whether or not I succeeded, but my Dad loves the book, and that means a great deal.

Female Historical Persona and Character Poems

When I decided to write the historical persona poems in women’s voices that make up Sisters & Courtesans, I resolved not to use the voices of anyone famous. The closest I came was a couple of sonnets in which the narrator is a bit part player in another famous woman’s story, such as “My Life as Joan of Arc’s Maidservant.” This choice is one of the most important ones facing the would-be writer of historical character poems, along with a consideration of the dramatic moment of the poem, and, especially for female characters, the extent to which a male partner/spouse signifies in the poem.

Most poets writing in this genre choose instead to make their subject a famous woman, perhaps because it is easier to research an individual than to research an entire historical era. The problem with this is that the usual suspects have a tendency to feature frequently. Penelope, the long-suffering wife of the wandering Ulysses, serves as a prime example, appearing in works by poets from Louise Glück to Margaret Atwood. Jehanne Dubrow even has an entire book of poems, Stateside, framed with a Penelope feel. However, my favorite of these Penelope poems is “The Wife of the Man of Many Wiles” by A.E. Stallings, because it gives the classic tale a twist and Penelope herself a bit more gumption:

Believe what you want to. That they never touched me.
Believe your own stories, as you would have me do,
How you only survived by the wise infidelities.

One could argue that the character of Penelope is more myth than history, but if we can assume Homer’s Odyssey is at least informed by Ancient Greece, then poems based on myth can nevertheless be historical. Perhaps mythical characters are also easier to write about than factual figures, because the poet is less constrained by truth. Certainly myths are a common source of character-based poems–Lucille Clifton wrote a series of poems in the voice of Leda, who was raped by Zeus disguised as a swan, H.D. wrote a celebrated book length poem called Helen in Egypt, and don’t get me started on the proliferation of Persephone poems!

Ulysses is necessarily part of Penelope’s story, but Penelope has always had her own story. Many historical character poems, on the other hand, attempt to bestow stories on the often unknown women behind famous men. U.A. Fanthorpe’s “Three Women Wordsworths” is a wry case in point, in which she attempts to reappropriate some of the words that William stole from his supportive wife Mary and sister Dorothy:

Years later William knocked it together;
Mary gave her two lines. But it was Dorothy
Did the fieldwork, across the daffodilled years,

Perhaps the best-known recent example of poems from this perspective is The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, a collection in which all the poems are persona poems in the voices of the women–sometimes real, sometimes imaginary–married to famous men. We meet Mrs. Tiresias, Mrs. Faust, Mrs. Quasimodo and many more. The poems can be funny and caustic, but often have a core of poignancy. Here’s Mrs Midas:

Separate beds. In fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art. 

The most popular male historical persona poem, “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, is possibly based on a little-known Italian duke, but much of the poem is fictional, which begs the question of whether there are any similar historical character/persona poems in which the female subject is neither famous herself nor associated with a famous man. This leads us to Margaret Atwood’s gruesome “Half-Hanged Mary,” written in the voice of her ancestor Mary Webster who survived the title treatment during the Salem Witch Hunts.

My throat is taut against the rope
choking off words and air;
I’m reduced to knotted muscle.
Blood bulges in my skull,
my clenched teeth hold it in;
I bite down on despair

Also of note in this poem is what I am calling the dramatic moment that Atwood has chosen. The piece is written in present tense vignettes occurring at intervals throughout the night of the hanging, with a final section labeled “Later.” This gives Atwood the opportunity for her speaker to address different audiences in different sections–including the women of Salem, the townsfolk generally, and God–or to simply meditate upon her fate.

Michael OnElizabeth1daatje employs a different dramatic device in his persona poem about the Virgin Queen, “Elizabeth.” The poem tells her life story in a few past tense stanzas, using language age-appropriate to her life stage. The effect is similar to the dream-like state induced by hypnotic regression, and gives a sense of the evolution of her character from innocent princess to bitter spinster:

I would speak of Tom, soft laughing,
who danced in the mornings round the sundial
teaching me the steps of France, turning
with the rhythm of the sun on the warped branches,
who’d hold my breast and watch it move like a snail
leaving his quick urgent love in my palm.
And I kept his love in my palm till it blistered.

Kevin Young, in his poem “Reward,” elects to write the poem in the detached language of a newspaper advertisement submitted by their owner, Elizabeth Young, offering a reward for the information of the capture of two escaped slaves:

RUN AWAY from this sub-
scriber for the second time
are TWO NEGROES, viz. SMART,
an outlandish dark fellow

with his country marks
on his temples and bearing
the remarkable brand of my
name on his left breast,

As Rebecca Hazelton argues in her essay “Teaching the Persona Poem,” “by choosing to use the advertisement language, rather than Elizabeth’s speaking voice, Kevin Young discourages intimacy with this speaker.”

By contrast, John Berryman, in his long poem “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet” fosters a deep intimacy with the world’s first housewife/poet, couching many of his stanzas in language that feels as though it was lifted from her most personal diaries:

The winters close, Springs open, no child stirs
under my withering heart, O seasoned heart
God grudged his aid.
All things else soil like a shirt.
Simon is much away. My executive stales.
The town came through for the cartway by the pales,
but my patience is short.
I revolt from, I am like, these savage foresters

Ironically, this poem was part of my inspiration for Sisters & Courtesans. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was the first housewife/poet. Before her, most of the female poets were either semi-royalty, cloistered nuns, or women of easy virtue–everyone else was too busy having children and raising chickens! I thought it would be interesting to explore women’s lives throughout history using that lens and the sonnet as a form, and to attempt to see what else such women might have in common. Being sonnets, most of my persona poems are lyric meditations that attempt to encompass a life–you could perhaps call them character statements–although the odd one is addressing a specific individual, such as “My Life as a Hollywood Madam,” in which the speaker is attempting to pick someone up at a bar!

Be that as it may, I hope this blog piece inspires more female historical persona and character poems, especially if you avoid the obvious. Penelope & Persephone, we are so over you!

Further reading: “Why We Wear Masks” by Jeannine Hall Gailey. “The Sisters & Courtesans Self-Interview.”

NB: All Amazon links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links.

 

 

Sexy Sonnets

As a writer who is somewhat known for writing sexy sonnets, I thought it might be fun to look at some older sonnets that may have inspired my own work. So here are a few in chronological order.

  1. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20
    This is believed to be one of the ‘fair youth’ sonnets–in other words, it is written not to the ‘dark lady’ of sonnets such as 127 (“Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black”), but to a younger male, who is the “master mistress of [Shakespeare’s] passion. While not overtly sexual, the sonnet does employ a perfect example of sexual humor and wordplay in its final couplet:
    But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
    Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.
  2. Monna Innominata Sonnet 2 by Christina Rossetti
    Rossetti’s most famous poem, “Goblin Market” has often been touted as a hotbed of repressed Victorian female sexuality, so it’s not surprising that this sonnet’s metaphors verge on the coy: “…the budding of my tree/ that would not blossom yet for many a May.” But the poem’s redemption (and a stride into carnality) arise in the final line: “First touch of hand on hand–Did one but know!”
  3. A Church Romance by Thomas Hardy
    This is a love at first sight poem, but there’s something so visceral about the first few lines that I’m tempted to call it ‘lust at first sight’ with the love arriving later in the poem:
    She turned in the high pew, until her sight
    Swept the west gallery, and caught its row
    Of music-men with viol, book, and bow
    Against the sinking sad tower-window light.
  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnet XLI
    No list of sexy sonnets would be complete without the eponymous Millay, whose scandalous (for the time) liaisons and disdain for monogamy are believed to have inspired much of her work. This poem gives us the ‘zipless fuck’ way before Erica Jong was capable of articulating the ABC let alone that famous phrase:
    …let me make it plain:
    I find this frenzy insufficient reason
    For conversation when we meet again.
  5. Sonnenizio on a Line from Drayton by Kim Addonizio
    These days, of course, we can get away with a whole lot more blatant sexuality in our poems, and Kim Addonizio frequently does. The original Drayton sonnet is pretty hot too, but Kim takes us to a whole new level in her invented form. (You need to pick a word from the first line of an existing sonnet and use it in some form in each of your own lines.)
    …Hold me
    like that again, unbutton my shirt, part of you
    wants to I can tell, I’m touching that part and it says
    yes…Finally it would be remiss of me not to mention the recent anthology, Hot Sonnets, edited by Moira Egan, where you will find a ton of sexy sonnet gems by writers like Marilyn Hacker, Molly Peacock and Julie Kane. Enjoy!

Virtual Tour of Other Writers’ Blogs

This should be a cool way to introduce my readers to other Writers’ Blogs. I was invited to participate by Bruce Niedt in this virtual blog tour. Basically, I tell you a bit about him, answer 4 questions, and then introduce 3 other people you may or may not have heard of. So here goes!

writers' blogs
Bruce Niedt

Bruce W. Niedt is a “beneficent bureaucrat” from southern NJ whose poetry has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Writers Digest, Writers Journal, The Lyric, Lucid Rhythms, US 1 Worksheets, Spitball, Chantarelle’s Notebook, and Edison Literary Review.  His awards include the ByLine Short Fiction and Poetry Prize, first prize for poetry at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and two nominations each for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He has workshopped with Jane Hirshfield, Marge Piercy, Molly Peacock, and Stephen Dunn, and is looking forward to working with Billy Collins in January 2015. His latest chapbook is Twenty-four by Fourteen, a collection of sonnets and other short poems, published by Maverick Duck Press.

I met Bruce on the SJ poetry scene, and for a long time we were both members of the Quick & Dirty Poets, a co-operative founded by myself and Rachel Bunting, and now run by Kendall Bell. Something you may not know about Bruce is that for the last few years he has been a generous host to international exchange students. Bruce blogs at bniedt.blogspot.com.

1.What am I currently working on?

My book, Sisters & Courtesans, came out in June, and I have been busy promoting it rather than writing. However I do want at some stage to do a follow up of male persona poems, maybe not sonnets this time, called something like Scholars & Scoundrels.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmm…well…many formal poets are on the conservative side not only of the political arena but also in terms of their subject matter. I’m way liberal and write sonnets with a noticeably sexual content. 🙂

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

Can’t help it. I leak sonnets. Cut me, and I bleed them too.

4. How does your writing/creating process work?

I do like the routine at Artists Residencies. Sisters & Courtesans was drafted almost entirely at the wonderful Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I was able to be at my desk writing by 8 a.m., and typically wrote three sonnets before breaking for yoga and/or lake-swimming at 5 p.m. Here at home it’s a bit more haphazard!

***

writers' blogs
April Lindner

First to respond to my own invitation was April Lindner. April and I read together at a well-attended poetry reading in Pennsylvania in 2010 and have bumped into each other a few times since then. April has my deep admiration because she is a novelist AND a poet AND a mom! You can find April’s blog at aprillindnerwrites.blogspot.com.

April Lindner is the author of two poetry collections, This Bed Our Bodies Shaped from Able Muse Press and Skin from Texas Tech University Press.  She also has written three young adult novels—Jane, Catherine, and the forthcoming Love, Lucy, all published by Poppy. With R. S. Gwynn, she co-edited Contemporary American Poetry, in Longman’s  Penguin Academics series.  A professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University, she lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania with her husband and sons.

Back when I was running The Barefoot Muse print journal, I bravely emailed Annie Finch and asked if she would be our featured poet. Since then we have become friends, particularly at the most recent West Chester poetry conference. Annie’s blog is anniefinch.com.

writers' blogs
Annie Finch

Annie Finch is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, plays, translation, literary essays, textbooks and anthologies, most recently Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2013). Her work has been reprinted in anthologies such as The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, and The Norton Anthology of World Poetry. Annie is known for her mesmerizing performances and has read and performed her work across the U.S. and in Canada, Europe, and Africa.  Author of numerous books on poetic form and craft, most recently A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide toMaking and Sharing Your Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2012), she teaches poetic craft at Poetcraftcircles.com.

writers' blogsIn January 2010 I spent a magical two weeks at the MacDowell artists colony along with Young Adult author Nova Ren Suma, who has since published two Young Adult novels which I keep planning to read! Her blog is at distraction99.com.

 is the author of the YA novels Imaginary Girls (Penguin/ Dutton, 2011) and 17 & Gone (Penguin/ Dutton, 2013), which were both named as 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound by YALSA. Her new novel, The Walls Around Us, is forthcoming in Spring 2015 from Algonquin YR. She will have a short story in the YA horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, coming from Dial/Penguin in Fall 2015.

Well, as Jon Stewart says, that’s our show! Please do check out these wonderful writers’ blogs and their works!

Book Launch at West Chester

book launch
No, I’m not naked

I would be remiss if I didn’t post a link to the guest blog entry I wrote this morning for Books, Inq., which summarizes my Day 1 of the conference.

However, since then time has moved on apace, and this afternoon as a book launch I gave my own featured reading from Sisters & Courtesansimmediately prior to the participant readings. We had a blast!

If in Doubt, Show Some Skin?

Allison Joseph introduced me, and I was touched and honored that she had actually written a sonnet in response to the book, which she read. Then I dived in. I had decided to organize the reading a little differently from usual, in that I normally read the poems chronologically (as the book is sequenced) but today I began with four “sisters” poems (“Anglo-Saxon Novitiate,” “Polish Nun During World War II,” “Russian Orthodox Nun,” and “French Carmelite Nun”–always fun in my flighty French accent!)

Next I said, “Excuse me while I change,” turned my back on the audience, removed the black duster cardigan I had on to reveal a flirty strapless dress, and shook my hair out of its pony tail. Then I read four “courtesans” poems (“Serving Wench,” “May Queen of Beltane,” “Victorian Streetwalker,” and “Gangster’s Moll.”

I think everyone enjoyed that, but the loveliest thing was that so many of the participants who had signed up for the subsequent Open Mic were friends of mine who took some time to reference me in their chat. Heidi Czerwiec chided me for stealing the “sexy-selfie” as cover photo, Rick Mullin shook out his own pony tail (although he wouldn’t remove his shirt!) and David Katz read his “Haikoum for James Dean”—-a form I invented one bored National Poetry Month—-to name a few.

By the way, as of last time I checked I had sold 18 copies in the West Chester Book Store! Better get yours soon—they’re going fast!

Read the Sisters & Courtesans self-interview.

Sisters & Courtesans – the One with the Dog

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Tasha

Today the last two of the Sisters & Courtesans sonnets that were accepted for publication before the manuscript found its home with White Violet Press appear in Mezzo Cammin.

“My Life as Ghengis Khan’s Morganatic Wife” is a fine sonnet, but this blog entry is about “My Life as an Anglo-Saxon Novitiate,” which has a special place in my affections, especially given the death of my beloved Golden Retriever, Tasha, last week.

Some readers may know that the first draft of Sisters & Courtesans was prepared during a frenzied two week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, but fewer will be aware that my time there was almost curtailed because Tasha fell sick. My poor husband and daughters were at their wits’ end trying to deal with their own schedules and the needs and messes of our venerable ‘Queen of Parry Drive.’ Anguished phone calls went back and forth between New Jersey and Virginia, and I offered several times to return.

My husband, who knows how precious my writing time is, stoically said he would continue to deal with it. He took Tasha to the vet and after a battery of tests they diagnosed an ordinary stomach virus, gave her some meds, and she came home back to normal. This was one of several ‘nine’ lives she used up during her almost seventeen year lifespan!

Anyway, dog poems are hard. But while my family was going through this, and I was apart from them, I wanted to write a poem that commemorated Tasha’s specialness. After some thought (and a little research on the practicality of a nun owning a dog) I wrote “My Life as an Anglo-Saxon Novitiate.” Hilda, the dog in the poem “has bright eyes/ that take in everything. I swear she’s deeper/ than most people I meet,” and that’s exactly how Tasha was.

Read the Sisters & Courtesans Self-Interview.

Sisters & Courtesans — the Self-Interview

Sisters & CourtesansBehind Every Good Woman There’s a Bad Woman?

This may be an obvious place to start, but where did you get the idea to write a persona sonnet sequence about nuns and prostitutes?

It’s an easy one to answer! I’m the essay co-ordinator for the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, which is an online database of essays about women poets., and so I read all the essays as they come in. It occurred to me that, until Anne Bradstreet, the only women writing poetry were outside of society in some way—some royals, but mainly cloistered women and women of easy virtue. Everyone else was busy having babies and raising chickens. I felt it would be interesting to explore women’s lives throughout history using that lens, and to attempt to see what else such women might have in common.

You don’t need to get very far through Sisters & Courtesans before you realize that the women’s calling has very little to do with their actual level of morality, which in turn has almost nothing to do with their happiness. How do you explain that?

Firstly I get very frustrated, especially in this country, with the way that goodness is so often correlated with religiosity and chastity, both of which, it seems to me, tend to produce more hypocrites than saints. On the other hand, I didn’t want to glorify prostitution, so, yes, my “Crack Whore” is miserable, although not evil, while my “Gangster’s Moll” is definitely a criminal, but in her words, “Jeez, it’s fun!” I wanted a balance of those elements throughout my sisters and my courtesans. (I talk a little more about this earlier in this blog.)

But why sonnets?

There are so many reasons for that! I love sonnets, and can write them blindfold standing on my head? The sonnet is the perfect length for this particular kind of poem? A long tradition of book-length sonnet sequences? I almost feel they couldn’t be anything other than sonnets.

Which of the Sisters & Courtesans sonnets were most interesting to write, and which ones are most fun to read for an audience?

Good question! Typically the ones which were fun to write either came out of interesting research, like “Sworn Virgin of Albania,” or play with the sonnet form a little, like “Norse Spae-Wife,” which uses the alliteration common to the verse of the time. By contrast the ones which I really get a kick out of reading in public are the ones where I can get into character—I used to be an actress in my youth—and do voices: “Victorian Streetwalker” has to be my favorite, but “French Carmelite Nun” is also fun. Oh, and the really raunchy ones like “Serving Wench of the Round Table” and “Canadian Dominatrix,” but I don’t dare read those many places.


Yes, some of them are quite R-rated, and others pretty controversial, like the one where you vilify Mother Teresa! Aren’t you worried the formal poetry establishment will disown you? I’ve heard those people can be stuffy.

I don’t vilify Mother Teresa! Her name isn’t even mentioned, and that’s a true story, reportedly, but I know what you mean. I don’t think the formal poetry establishment is quite as stuffy as it used to be, and anyway, I’ve never been its darling—I’m way too liberal. But seriously, if you’re going to write a book like this, you can’t do it half-heartedly or in a politically correct fashion. It would be dull!

Actually I think the most genuinely controversial sonnets are the ones where I write from an ethnicity other than my own—“Jim Crow South,” ‘Apache Scout” and “Geisha” come to mind—but my defense of that is that in attempting to build a picture of women’s lives throughout history, it would be more offensive to write only from the perspective of white women and omit all those other voices.

So what’s the reaction been to Sisters & Courtesans, especially from said establishment?

Audiences and readers love them. That’s the main point. But reaction from the establishment has been more mixed, shall we say? None of the sonnets was picked up by any of the formal-friendly print journals, and even some e-zines were dismissive, although Angle, Light, The Rotary Dial, E-Verse Radio, and Mezzo Cammin all got on board. I think the problem is not that they are offensive, but that some male editors just don’t see the point? I also feel, not to detract from the individual poems, but the concept does work best as a book.

I love what one of my Amazon reviews says: “The poems catch the moment, and which is what I mean about building up a picture of women’s history – one recognizes commonalities and themes which play off each other. The individual poems are memorable, but the collection as a whole is something more.”

It’s almost as if the ‘Sisters’ of Sisters & Courtesans doesn’t refer solely to nuns, but is intended to include the whole sisterhood of women. Is that right?

Wow! You’re so clever! I wish I had thought of that…

Nice! Now, we can’t end this without talking about the cover photo. Is it you?

Does it look like me? Seriously, the cover has produced some good stories. When my fourteen-year-old daughter saw it she asked me the same question and got the same answer, whereupon she said, “You should have got Kate Upton to do it!”

You didn’t answer the question?

I know.

***

Sisters and Courtesans is available from Amazon, White Violet Press and annamevans.com

My Studio at VCCA

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My Studio

It’s my eighth night here and I decided to sleep in my studio at VCCA. Not for any burning artistic reason, you understand. I’m not someone who writes poetry into the wee small hours; in fact mornings are my most productive time. But my studio is a lovely space, while my bedroom is just a room with a bed in it, and no Wifi. Plus, the Fellows residence runs cold, whereas in my studio I’m in charge of the A/C.

Hey! I actually don’t need a reason! The wonderful thing about VCCA is that this is my time, and my space(s) and I can do with them what I will.

And I’ve been productive. Oh yes! I’m writing a sonnet sequence of persona poems titled “Sisters and Courtesans,” which (not surprisingly) allows me to take on the personae of representative (unnamed) female figures in history. The point of the title is that most of the poems we have that survive by women pre-Anne Bradstreet were either written by nuns or women of easy virtue. Everyone else was busy having kids and raising chickens.

I’ve written 24 of these sonnets in a week. (People, that’s 3 sonnets a day. OMG I love this place so much!) Titles range from “My Life as a Vestal Virgin” to “My Life as a Crack Whore.” My favorite is probably “My Life as an Aztec Sacrifice,” which I will be performing tomorrow night with musical accompaniment by E. Shawn Qaissaunee when we do our joint Fellows Presentation, although “My Life as a Canadian Dominatrix,” which I wrote today, probably runs a close second.

I’ve also taken great strides forward in the production of my Alzheimer’s anthology, Forgetting Home, read the material for my upcoming Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline essay on Jahan Khatun, and swum in the lake. A lot. I like the lake.

I guess the point is that I’m happy, and grateful. Thanks to VCCA (of course) but also to my long-suffering husband and kids for sparing me for two weeks. It’s magical and there’s nothing like it. I feel restored. I feel like a poet.