Not This Pig

A media guru I admire told me not that long ago, “Make sure all your great content is on your blog, rather than on Facebook or on some random networking site, because that way you own it and it’s always there for you.” How right he was!

That’s why, when I was contacted recently by a Philadelphia Inquirer journalist writing a story about the resurrection of the West Chester Poetry Conference, even though I was at the fields watching my younger daughter’s JV field hockey game, I was able to make some salient points and then say, “Go search my blog on West Chester. That should give you everything you need.”

I invite readers of this blog to do that exact same thing. You will find some positive posts, from Kim’s era, and then the outraged, horrified reaction to her reassignment, and then the more measured stuff I’ve been posting since Kim and I created Poetry by the Sea.

Obviously I did not conceal my alignment with Poetry by the Sea from the journalist, but she did choose not to mention it in her article, which got some tongues wagging. Hey guys, not my call!

I’ve also been getting some grief over on Eratosphere with people who are naturally big fans of Sam Gwynn and want the West Chester Conference back. I’m fine with that, too. I actually wish they would engage more. I want to discuss the issues involved whereas they just want me to shut up and stop making them feel bad about wanting to attend the WCU conference, notwithstanding how badly the administration treated Kim.

Not this girl.

Animals Are Passing From Our Lives by Philip Levine

It’s wonderful how I jog
on four honed-down ivory toes
my massive buttocks slipping
like oiled parts with each light step.

I’m to market. I can smell
the sour, grooved block, I can smell
the blade that opens the hole
and the pudgy white fingers

that shake out the intestines
like a hankie. In my dreams
the snouts drool on the marble,
suffering children, suffering flies,

suffering the consumers
who won’t meet their steady eyes
for fear they could see. The boy
who drives me along believes

that any moment I’ll fall
on my side and drum my toes
like a typewriter or squeal
and shit like a new housewife

discovering television,
or that I’ll turn like a beast
cleverly to hook his teeth
with my teeth. No. Not this pig.


Loyalty to Kim Bridgford

I have never made it a secret either that my loyalty to Kim Bridgford is 100% solid, or that this colors my motives in many of the things that I write and do. I happen to think she’s an amazing human being, and I am awed by the fact that she managed to put together the Poetry by the Sea Conference in under eight months, providing our community with a place to assemble after West Chester University abruptly moved Kim out of the Directorship, closed the Poetry Center, and cancelled the conference.

loyalty to Kim Bridgford
Community at Poetry by the Sea

West Chester University has decided it wants to run the conference again in 2016, and this vast, corrupt institution has money to throw at the problem of making it happen. It sounds as if the scholarships will be plentiful, and panelists and chairs are invited to apply. They are counting on the fact that members of our community have short memories and are naturally forgiving people, inclined to give second chances. 

Let me make something very clear: there has been NO resolution to what happened last September. The situation has not changed a whit, in fact. There is still legal action pending between Kim and WCU, which means she can still say nothing about what happened. There are still well-founded rumors of financial mismanagement at the Poetry Center, which is still the most credible reason for the sudden action. Remember: you can’t audit a body that no longer exists. Remember: Kim did nothing wrong and WCU mistreated her shamelessly. That still happened.

Make no mistake: if you allow WCU to buy back the conference with all this still hanging over its head, you are demonstrating the exact opposite of loyalty to Kim Bridgford, even if you believe you are only doing it out of loyalty to new part-time Artistic Director, Sam Gwynn. (Side note: In my opinion Sam is just a future victim of West Chester University and is not to blame for his role in this drama, but please consider the ramifications of the fact that his new part-time position has no authority to call for any kind of financial review.)

And now it’s up to you.

The Bad Drug Yasmin Nine Years On

In September 2006 I suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack. I was 38, a non-smoker, otherwise in good health and of normal weight, so my only risk factor was the use of the oral contraceptive pill, Yasmin, which I had been on for four years at that point. Because that didn’t seem like ENOUGH of a risk factor to my doctors at the time, they conducted some tests and determined that in addition, I had a large Patent Foramen Ovale (hole in my heart) and a cystic ovary. This led to a year of medical procedures (including heart surgery) and general health discomfort which you can read about here and here and here.

The Bad Drug Yasminbad drug Yasmin

Re-reading my blog entries from that period it’s clear that at some point before May 2007 I had become convinced that the main villain of the piece was the bad drug Yasmin.  I was at the forefront of women attempting to publicize their experiences and insist that the side effects of Yasmin included higher risk of a stroke-type event. Not surprisingly I was eventually contacted by lawyers who wanted to include me in a class action lawsuit against Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant responsible for Yasmin and its sister drug, Yaz.

VTEs vs ATEs

Bayer has now settled (without admitting any liability) many of the cases involving VTE (Venous Thromboembolism) after the FDA concluded that for the bad drug Yasmin the “risk [of VTE] is reported to be up to 2 to 3 times greater than the risk of VTE associated with using levonorgestrel-containing pills.”

They are now supposedly willing to settle some money (again without admitting liability) on some women who suffered ATEs (Arterial Thromboembolism). (Hint: a TIA is usually the result of ATE, not VTE.) So it’s perhaps not surprising that after 9 years last week my lawyers got in touch wanting me to sign some papers and such.

Effect of My PFO

Here’s the thing though, (and I apologize if this is too much medical science) the presence of a PFO permits a VTE to become an ATE. In other words the hole in my heart may well have permitted a blood clot which would naturally have been in the venous system to pass across to the chamber of the heart that pumped it up in an artery to my brain, causing the TIA. Yes, the lawyers know this. I have given them all the paperwork.

I don’t really care about the money. I just want justice and publicity, so that women don’t continue to take the bad drug Yasmin, which, incredibly, is still on the market.

The Challenges of Working with Alzheimers

Today I did my mchallenges of working with Alzheimersonthly stint at Care One, Moorestown, working with poetry and Alzheimer’s. When these sessions go well I find a deep satisfaction in seeing the residents stimulated and involved—I have recorded such experiences in poems like “Welcome Visitors,” the last poem in The Stolen From.

Unfortunately, there are days like today when the sessions do not go so well, and I thought it might be helpful to others working with this population for me to record some thoughts about the challenges of working with Alzheimers.

My four years experience has made it very clear to me that the disease progresses at startlingly different rates in different individuals. I do my Creative Writing workshops in the community that houses the least severely impaired residents, and a couple of the participants have been with me since the beginning, without any noticeable further deterioration in their faculties. I have a great relationship with these people and I know they enjoy the sessions.

However, sometimes, new residents arrive and it becomes clear after only a couple of months that they need to be moved to one of the communities which offers more support (and less stimulation.) As John Zeisel explains in his highly recommended book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care, before one can start to communicate in a meaningful and therapeutic way with an Alzheimer’s patient, they need to be soothed and calm. Therefore the circumstances in which the patient is housed need to be adjusted so that they are as soothing and calming as possible. Unfortunately, one upset individual creates an atmosphere of unrest that rapidly transmits itself to all present. Behaviors include generalized cries for help, verbal assaults which may be directed at everyone or at specific residents, “escape-seeking,” and invasion of personal space.

None of this is conducive to reading and discussing poetry, or using it to stimulate recollections and creativity.

Unfortunately, as was explained to me today (a session during which at least 3 community residents showed one of the above behaviors, leading to disruptive exchanges between them, staff, and other residents) the staff encounter resistance from relatives when they propose moving an individual to a more support-driven community—a form of denial which is completely at odds with that individual’s needs, not to mention those of others in the community.

As an outsider, I can’t do anything about that. I have developed my own acronym to ensure MY behavior is as consistent as possible with the outcomes we are all trying to achieve.

Challenges of Working with Alzheimers: PARSE

  • Persevere: the participating residents feel that their experience is being disrupted and they are losing out if I pause because the noise level from non-participating residents, for example, makes it difficult to continue. So I simply adjust my own volume so I can be heard.
  • Accept: if I myself start to become upset at the interruptions, that only adds to the general level of upset in the room. I try to look completely unfazed.
  • Redirect: I say things like “Let’s get back to the poem now!” or to an individual “John, why don’t you sit down so we can keep talking about the ideas.”
  • Smile: the smile is universal body language for “everything’s okay.” Regardless of how I’m feeling about what’s happening, I try to keep a reassuring smile in place at all times.
  • Encourage: I encourage positive behaviors by always rewarding contributions: “Yes, that’s a great thought, Sarah! Let me write that down.” “Wow! You’re so good at coming up with rhymes, Josie! That will be a great one to use!”

Then I go home, write a blog entry, and pour a large glass of wine.


The Raintown Review Anthology Coming Soon!

Raintown Review AnthologyThe Raintown Review Anthology has, believe it or not, been underway since 2009, yes, since the earliest days of the new editorial team consisting of myself and Associate Editor Quincy R. Lehr. (We’ve since welcomed on board Assistant Editor Jeff Holt, of course, as well.)

It was Quincy who volunteered to keep an ongoing file of our pick of the poems from each issue—the poems that surprised us, revitalized us, or brought tears to our eyes (Okay, that was mostly me.) All I did was agree to the plan, say yeah or nay to a few poems, and confirm that when we felt ready, Barefoot Muse Press would publish and administer it.

We felt ready early this year. We got the manuscript planned, Jeff invited the poets whose poems we wanted to publish (most of whom responded with an eager yes), and we even arranged to have the launch reading at Poetry by the Sea 2015.

And then, in March, my mum got sick and passed away a month later. Needless to say, the plans for the Raintown Review anthology went on hold. It was hard enough for me to be in England for 5 weeks looking after my Dad and coping with my mum’s hospitalization, while trying to distance teach my Poetry & Math class at Stockton, and continuing to manage the website and the registration for the Poetry by the Sea conference. Everyone was naturally very understanding, and the reading for the anthology at the conference went ahead with no physical book in sight!

But now at last the physical book of the Raintown Review anthology IS in sight! I’ve been working on the layout and the cover design today, as you can see, and the preliminary pre-order page is now up on the Barefoot Muse website. (Pre-order for $12 or $10 for additional contributor copies.) And, ladies and gentlemen, I am psyched, because the one thing you already know about the Raintown Review anthology—just look at that contributor list!—is that the poems are shockingly good.

West Chester Poetry Conference 2016 or Poetry by the Sea

The West Chester Poetry Conference 2016 will take place from June 8 to June 11, 2016, or so we were told in an email which seemed stunningly oblivious to any possible sense of ill-feeling among its recipients. Meanwhile the Poetry by the Sea Conference is confirmed for May 24 to May 28, 2016. If you have the time, the money, and the inclination, you can go to both. Unfortunately, most of us are constrained by at least one of those factors. My own inclination is NOT to darken the doors of the West Chester Poetry Conference 2016, 2017 or any other year; nevertheless,  I’ll try to compare what you can expect from the two conferences.

West Chester Poetry Conference 2016

West Chester Poetry Conference 2016The West Chester University Poetry Center website simply says, “More details coming soon.” The email tells us that “Ann Mascherino…was appointed in March 2015 as the College of Arts & Sciences Outreach Business Manager” and that they “hope to soon appoint an Artistic Director” of the West Chester Poetry Conference 2016 — here’s the job advertisement for the position posted on July 15, 2015. Apart from that, all we know for sure is that Pat Valdata and Jeff Hardin, the deserving winners of the Donald Justice Prize “will be honored publicly” at the West Chester Poetry Conference 2016. What else can we extrapolate from previous conferences and the events of last fall? We know what the accommodation and the food are like, but it’s difficult to get a sense for the direction in which this conference will go. There isn’t a single named poet currently associated with the 2016 conference, not even the keynote, and nothing has been said about poetry at all. I think it’s also fair to say not only that a number of previous attendees and faculty will boycott the conference on principle because of how Kim was treated, but also that the demographic of these boycotters will be skewed younger, more female, and more non-white when compared to the non-boycotters. In other words the conference faculty and participants will likely return to its 1994 base of older, white men.

Poetry by the Sea 2016

Poetry by the Sea 2016If you attended Poetry by the Sea 2015 you already have a very good idea what next year’s conference will be like, although you can rest assured that there will also be changes reflecting feedback that the Board have received.

If you weren’t able to attend then you can get a fair idea by reading my own blog post or that by Marsha Bryant, or by perusing the Poetry by the Sea website. Plus you can page through the photo album to get a sense of the glorious beach setting.

Some confirmed speakers for Poetry by the Sea 2016 include our second keynote speaker, Kimiko Hahn, and X. J. Kennedy who will give a spotlight reading as well as participate in a panel on Humorous Song. Alex Pepple will be on a book publishing panel; Julie Kane will chair a panel on Poetry & Cognition, and Marilyn Nelson, a Young Adult panel. New books featured include The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar by Quincy R. Lehr. Some confirmed returning faculty include Steven Schneider, Jehanne Dubrow, A.E. Stallings, Dick Davis, Tom Cable, Rafael Campo, and Patricia Smith.

You know me, and you know the role I played in defending Kim last fall, and in putting the conference together. Of course I’m biased! But you also know I’m passionate about poetry and committed to diversity and equality, like Kim Bridgford, and like Poetry by the Sea. The West Chester Poetry Conference 2016, on the other hand, is likely to be committed to regaining the out-dated status quo that Kim unsettled.

Online registration for Poetry by the Sea 2016 will begin mid-December.



Working with Poetry and Alzheimers

working with poetry and alzheimers
Poetry at CareOne

When people pick up a copy of my chapbook, The Stolen From, or of the anthology I edited, Forgetting Home, their natural assumption is that I have first hand experience of the nightmare that is losing a loved one to this hateful condition. But that is not how these two books came about.

The truth is that in May 2011 I received a call from an association called Arts Horizons of New Jersey, asking me if I would be interested in running poetry workshops in a group home for older adults living with Dementia and Alzheimers. Although I didn’t have the first clue what this would entail, I agreed to give it a try. Over four years later I have visited the home, CareOne in Moorestown, almost every month and while I wouldn’t call what I do there poetry workshops exactly, I’m certainly working with poetry and Alzheimers.

The Power of Poetry to Engage Memory

Organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project have long recognized that poetry is an exceedingly useful way of connecting to the memories of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The fact is that the memories we lay down in our childhood and teenage years are among the most resilient, and for many of us that is when we are having poetry read to us in elementary school, or studying poetry in high school.working with poetry and alzheimers

The poems that work the best in this way are the most oft-quoted Shakespeare sonnets, the most memorable Emily Dickinson poems, and “popular” classics like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” or, most notably, “A Visit from St Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore. (I recorded a true story of a resident’s reaction to this piece in my poem “Welcome Visitors,” the last poem in The Stolen From.)

The act of being able to remember such well-known poems makes residents feel empowered and gives them some semblance of normality.

The Power of Poetry to Prompt Storytelling

But poems don’t have to be famous to help these older adults connect with their memories. What I typically do at the beginning of each session is read 4-6 poems written around a similar theme. Then I use that theme to attempt to draw out recollections and stories from the older adults listening to the poems. At a training session given by the National Center for Creative Aging I learned how photographs could be used in this way, and it seemed to me that poetry could be equally as powerful. Themes I have used include the various Holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day etc.), seasons, places, food, schooldays, careers, and so on. Sometimes, the theme successfully generates quite long recollections which I honor by writing down. Sometimes I have to prompt recollections by asking open-ended questions e.g. “How did your family celebrate Halloween?”, “What career or jobs did you enjoy doing most?” “What did you like best about the New Jersey shore?” Again, I honor the memories by writing them down.

Sharing their own stories bolsters the residents’ sense of identity and self-esteem. Being involved in the discussions makes them feel less isolated and generates a sense of well being.

The Power of Poetry to Encourage Creativity

Finally, we write a poem together. I would be lying if I said that the residents actively write the poem, but the poem uses their valuable input and takes shape on the easel in front of them. There are several types of poem that I have found most effective in this setting:

  1. The Acrostic — For example, if our discussion has generated a list of careers/jobs the residents enjoyed (Secretary, Teacher, Realtor etc.) I write the word vertically down the page and encourage them to call out words or phrases for each letter that describe someone who might have that career.
  2. Haiku — I don’t insist these be 5-7-5 syllables, just that they make a short-long-short pattern on the page. These can often be constructed directly using the memories written down earlier.
  3. Monorhymes — The capacity to generate rhymes for a given word is unrelated to memory. I give them a word and collect suggestions for rhymes, then we write the poem and try to use as many of the suggestions as possible.

Participating in a creative/intellectual exercise gives the residents a sense of accomplishment plus they have fun!

So, the workshops inspired me to write poems about my observations, and I decided to self-publish these as the chapbook, The Stolen From, plus the experience gave me a connection to Alzheimer’s, and I decided to do what I could to help alleviate the suffering by publishing the anthology Forgetting Home. Meanwhile, I still go along to CareOne every month, where some of the residents have been there since I started. They may not be able to tell you my name, but they do know that they enjoy what we do.

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.

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Translation of Verlaine

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Translation of VerlaineIt’s been just over a year since I published Selected Poems of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, and it’s actually not been a bad little seller. Of course, it doesn’t sell as many copies as Quincy Lehr’s Heimat or Heidi Czerwiec’s Self-Portrait as Bettie Page, but every now and then, someone randomly buys it, which is probably because, as far as I know, it is the only book-length publication containing English verse translations of 18 of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore poems.

I probably haven’t done enough to support or publicize this brave and scholarly little book, partly out of modesty and partly out of an ineptitude with social media which was somewhat rectified by Don Lafferty’s workshop at the recent Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop.

To promote the book, of course, is also to promote awareness of the poet herself outside of her native France, where she has long been revered, and it is for that additional reason that I thought I would publish here on my blog the essay on Desbordes-Valmore included as part of my introduction to the poems (in my own translation) which was originally written by Paul Verlaine and included in his landmark book Les Poètes Maudits (French Edition).

(The footnotes are included, but some of them refer to my own complete verse translations which appear in the book. If you’re curious, well, you will just have to buy it, won’t you?)

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Translation of Verlaine

In spite of the effect of a few articles, one very detailed by the marvelous Sainte-Beuve[i], the other perhaps, dare we say it? a little too short by Baudelaire, even in spite of a kind of good public opinion which does not compare her totally with the distant Louise Collet, Amable Tastu, Anais Segalas and other unimportant blue stockings, (we are forgetting Loisa Puget, in addition, it would seem she can be amusing, for those who like that sort of thing), Marceline Desbordes-Valmore has deserved, through her seeming yet absolute obscurity, to be placed among our Accursed Poets, and from henceforth it seems to us to be essential to speak of her in as much length and detail as possible.

In the past, M. Barbey d’Aurevilly[ii] has brought her out of the ranks and pointed out, with that strange skill he possesses, her own strangeness, and the genuine, if feminine, ability that she had.

As for us, notwithstanding our interest in good or beautiful poetry, we were ignorant of her, contenting ourselves with the word of the masters, when Arthur Rimbaud, to be precise, got to know us and practically forced us to read everything that we believed to be a jumble with some beauty within.

Our vast astonishment needs some time to explain.

First of all Marceline Desbordes-Valmore was actually from the North and not from the South of France, a distinction one was not aware of. What is believed to be from the North is usually thought well of (The sunny South of France is even better, but this kind of better can above all be the enemy of the genuine,)—and this pleases us because we are believed to be from the North too, in the end!

Next, she is no pedant and has a good enough use of language, along with expending enough effort so that she does not show herself up as a mere businesswoman. Quotations will provide evidence of this self-asserted wisdom.

While we are waiting for them, can we revisit this total absence of the South of France in this relatively large body of work? And besides that, understand as passionately as possible her Spanish North, (but doesn’t Spain have a composure, an arrogance, even colder than Britain’s?) Her North

Où vinrent s’asseoir les ferventes Espagnes.[iii]

Yes, none of that grandiloquence, none of that fakeness, none of that bad faith which one must disparage among the most obvious work from across the Loire. And nevertheless it’s all so warm—these romances of her youth, these memories of womanhood, these maternal fears! And gentle, and sincere, and everything! What landscapes, what love of landscapes!! And though this love is chaste and discreet, it is nevertheless fierce and moving!

We have said that Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s language was good enough, it has to be said that it is very much good enough; only we ourselves are such purists, such pedants, that we must add, before someone calls us decadent, (an insult to take on the chin, between parentheses, during a picturesque sunset in fall) that a certain naïveté without any stylistic ingenuity could occasionally awaken our literary prejudices which aim at perfection. The truth of our reassessment will be brought to light in the course of the quotations we are going to produce.

Still the chaste yet fierce passion that we have pointed out, the almost excessive emotion that we have praised, mean it needs to be said, without overstatement, no! after a somber reading of our first paragraphs from the necessity of being conscientious, that we support their opinion of her.

And here is the proof:

Une Lettre de Femme[iv]


Les femmes, je le sais, ne doivent pas écrire ;

J’écris pourtant,

Afin que dans mon coeur au loin tu puisses lire

Comme en partant.


Je ne tracerai rien qui ne soit dans toi-même

Beaucoup plus beau :

Mais le mot cent fois dit, venant de ce qu’on aime,

Semble nouveau.


Qu’il te porte au bonheur ! Moi, je reste à l’attendre,

Bien que, là-bas,

Je sens que je m’en vais, pour voir et pour entendre

Errer tes pas.


Ne te détourne point s’il passe une hirondelle

Par le chemin,

Car je crois que c’est moi qui passerai, fidèle,

Toucher ta main.


Tu t’en vas, tout s’en va ! Tout se met en voyage,

Lumière et fleurs,

Le bel été te suit, me laissant à l’orage,

Lourde de pleurs.


Mais si l’on ne vit plus que d’espoir et d’alarmes,

Cessant de voir,

Partageons pour le mieux : moi, je retiens les larmes,

Garde l’espoir.


Non, je ne voudrais pas, tant je te suis unie,

Te voir souffrir :

Souhaiter la douleur à sa moitié bénie,

C’est se haïr.


Isn’t this divine? But wait!

Jour d’Orient [v]


Ce fut un jour pareil à ce beau jour

Que, pour tout perdre, incendiait l’amour !


C’était un jour de charité divine

Où dans l’air bleu l’éternité chemine ;

Où dérobée à son poids étouffant

La terre joue et redevient enfant ;

C’était partout comme un baiser de mère,

Long rêve errant dans une heure éphémère ;

Heure d’oiseaux, de parfums, de soleil,

D’oubli de tout… hors du bien sans pareil.

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Ce fut un jour pareil à ce beau jour

Que, pour tout perdre, incendiait l’amour !


We must restrain ourselves, and keep our quotations for a different purpose.

And, before moving onto to the strictest test of sublimity, if it is allowed to speak thus of a part of the work of this adorable sweet woman, let us, literally with tears in our eyes, recite this from her pen:

Renoncement [vi]

Pardonnez-moi, Seigneur, mon visage attristé,

Vous qui l’aviez formé de sourire et de charmes ;

Mais sous le front joyeux vous aviez mis les larmes,

Et de vos dons, Seigneur, ce don seul m’est resté.


C’est le mois envié, c’est le meilleur peut-être :

Je n’ai plus à mourir à mes liens de fleurs ;

Ils vous sont tous rendus, cher auteur de mon être,

Et je n’ai plus à moi que le sel de mes pleurs.


Les fleurs sont pour l’enfant ; le sel est pour la femme ;

Faites-en l’innocence et trempez-y mes jours.

Seigneur ! quand tout ce sel aura lavé mon âme,

Vous me rendrez un coeur pour vous aimer toujours !


Tous mes étonnements sont finis sur la terre,

Tous mes adieux sont faits, l’âme est prête à jaillir,

Pour atteindre à ses fruits protégés de mystère

Que la pudique mort a seule osé cueillir,


O Sauveur ! soyez tendre au moins à d’autres mères,

Par amour pour la vôtre et par pitié pour nous !

Baptisez leurs enfants de nos larmes amères,

Et relevez les miens tombés à vos genoux !


How this sadness transcends that of Olympio[vii] and “To Olympio,”[viii] however beautiful (especially the last) these two overly proud poems may be! But, dear readers, forgive us, on the threshold of other sanctuaries within this church of a hundred chapels, for chanting with you after us:

Que mon nom ne soit rien qu’une ombre douce et vaine,

Qu’il ne cause jamais ni l’effroi ni la peine !

Qu’un indigent l’emporte après m’avoir parlé

Et le garde longtemps dans son coeur consolé !


Have you forgiven us?


And now, let us turn to the mother, the daughter, the young daughter, and the troubled but deeply devout Christian that was the poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore.



We have said that we shall try to speak of the poet in all her aspects.

Let us proceed in order, and, we are sure you will be pleased with this, using as many examples as possible. Therefore here to begin with are some abusively long specimens by the young romantic girl from 1820, like a better Parny[ix], in a form scarcely different, yet nevertheless developing in an entirely different manner.


Qu’est-ce donc qui me trouble, et qu’est-ce que j’attends ?

Je suis triste à la ville, et m’ennuie au village ;

Les plaisirs de mon âge

Ne peuvent me sauver de la longueur du temps.


Autrefois l’amitié, les charmes de l’étude

Remplissaient sans effort mes paisibles loisirs.

Oh ! quel est donc l’objet de mes vagues désirs ?

Je l’ignore, et le cherche avec inquiétude.

Si pour moi le bonheur n’était pas la gaîté,

Je ne le trouve plus dans ma mélancolie ;

Mais, si je crains les pleurs autant que la folie,

Où trouver la félicité ?

.           .           .           .           .           .           .


Next she addresses her “Reason”, commanding and renouncing it at the same time, very gently! Above the rest, we admire for our part this monologue in the manner of Corneille[xi] which seems more tender than Racine but dignified and proud in the style of both great poets though with a whole other angle.

Among a thousand sweetnesses occasionally soppy, but never dull and always astonishing, we beg you during this rapid examination to look at several isolated lines with the aim of tempting you to read the entire thing.

.           .           .           .           .           .           .

Cache-moi ton regard plein d’âme et de tristesse[xii]

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

On ressemble au plaisir sous un chapeau de fleurs[xiii]

.           .           .           .           .           .           .

Inexplicable cœur, énigme pour toi-même[xiv]

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Dans ma sécurité tu ne vois qu’un delire[xv]

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

.                 .                 . Trop faible esclave, écoute,

Ecoute et ma raison te pardonne et t’absout.

Rends-lui du moins les pleurs! Tu vas céder sans doute?

Hélas non! toujours non! O mon cœur, prends donc tout![xvi]


As for “The Lost Prayer,” the poem from which these last few lines are taken, we are making honorable amends for just a moment on account of the word “sweet” which we have over-used. With Marceline Desbordes-Valmore one hardly knows what one should say or not say, this genius troubles you so deliciously, enchanting even the sorcerer himself!

If anything about passion has been as well-expressed as by the best elegies, it’s indeed this, or we don’t want to know anything more about it.

And of the pure friendships and at the same time chaste loves of this tender and haughty woman, how can one describe them well enough except to offer the advice to read her complete work? Listen once again to these two short excerpts:

Les Deux Amours[xvii]


C’était l’amour plus folâtre que tender;

D’un trait sans force il effleura mon cœur;

Il fut léger comme un riant mensonge.

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Il offrit le plaisir sans parler de Bonheur.[xviii]

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

C’est dans tes yeux que je vis l’autre amour[xix]

.           .           .           .           .           .           .

Cet entier oubli de soi-même,

Ce besoin d’aimer pour aimer

Et que le mot aimer semble a peine exprimer

Ton cœur seul le renferme et le mien le devine.

Je sens à tes transports, à ma fidélité,

Qu’il veut dire a la fois Bonheur, éternité,

Et que sa puissance est divine.[xx]
Les deux amitiés[xxi]


Il est deux Amitiés comme il est deux Amours.

L’une ressemble à l’imprudence ;

C’est une enfant qui rit toujours.
And in charming manner it describes divinely the friendship of two little girls. Then,

L’autre Amitié, plus grave, plus austère,

Se donne avec lenteur, choisit avec mystère ;[xxii]

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Elle écarte les fleurs, de peur de s’y blesser.[xxiii]

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Elle voit par ses yeux et marche sur ses pas :

Elle attend, et ne prévient pas.[xxiv]


Here is the serious note.




Alas, how discontented we will be, once we have finished this study. What pleasant and local marvels! What scenery of Arras and Douai![xxv] What banks of the Scarpe! How sweet and somewhat odd (we hear ourselves and you understand us) these young Albertines, these Ines, these Ondines, this Laly Galine,[xxvi] these exquisite “my beautiful country, my fresh birthplace, pure air of my green homeland, be well, sweet center of the universe.”

However we must keep our poor examination of a truly great poet within the fair (or unfair) limits that cold logic imposes on the desired size of our little book. But—but! What a shame to confine ourselves to only quoting fragments like these, written well before Lamartine[xxvii] burst forth and which are, we insist on it, like a chaste and peaceful Parny!

Dieu! qu’il est tard! quelle surprise!

Le temps a fui comme un éclair;

Douze fois l’heure a frappé l’air.

Et près de toi je suis encore assise ;

Et, loin de pressentir le moment du sommeil.

Je croyais voir encore un rayon de soleil !


Se peut-il que déjà l’oiseau dorme au bocage?

Ah ! pour dormir il fait si beau !

.               .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Garde-toi d’éveiller notre chien endormi ;

Il méconnaîtrait son ami,

Et de mon imprudence il instruirait ma mère.

.                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .                 .

Écoute la raison, va-t’en. Laisse ma main !

Il est minuit…[xxviii]


Is it pure, this “let go of my hand,” is it romantic, this “it is midnight,” after this ray of light that she thinks she still sees!


Let us, even as we sigh, leave the young girl. We saw the woman at the start of this, what a woman! Such a friend! The poem on the death of Madame de Girardin![xxix]


La mort vient de fermer les plus beaux yeux du monde.[xxx]


The mother!


Quand j’ai gronde mon fils je me cache et je pleure.[xxxi]


And when this son goes to college, it requires an agonized scream, doesn’t it?

Candeur de mon enfant, comme on va vous detruire[xxxii]

The least ignored works by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore are her adorable fables, unluckily for her, which are after the manner of bitter old La Fontaine[xxxiii] and the nicer Florian[xxxiv]:

Un tout petit enfant s’en allait a l’école;

On avait dit: allez! Il tachait d’obéir.[xxxv]


And “The Little Fraidy Cat” and “The Little Liar!”


Oh we beg you, stop with these dull and affected niceties!


Si mon enfant m’aime,[xxxvi]


sings “The Sleeper,” which we want to call here “The Lullaby,” since this would be a much better title.


Dieu dira lui-même:

J’aime cet enfant qui dort.

Qu’on lui porte un rêve d’or.[xxxvii]


But, noting that Marceline Desbordes-Valmore—the first poet of her age to do so—used to great effect uncommon rhythms such as eleven syllable lines, among others, and that she was a great artist without being too self-conscious and so much the better for that, let us resume our admiration with this fantastic poem.


[Verlaine here quotes the entire French text of “Les Sanglots” (“The Tears”), which can be found in full and with translation starting on page 55.]


Here we let our pen fall and delightful tears dampen our spidery scrawl. We find ourselves powerless to dissect such an angel any longer!


And, pedantically, because it is our pitiful role, we announce in a loud and clear voice that Marceline Desbordes-Valmore is, quite simply—along with George Sand[xxxviii], so different, long-lasting, though not without charming self-indulgencies, of serious common sense, of pride, and one might as well add attractive to men—the only woman of genius and talent from this century and from all the centuries in the company perhaps of Sappho, and of Saint Therese.

[i] Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) who wrote the introduction to the 1860 posthumous Poésies

[ii] Jules Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808-1889), French novelist, short story writer and critic

[iii] “Where fervent Spaniards came to settle themselves.” This line is from “Rêve intermittent d’une nuit triste” (“Intermittent Dream During a Sad Night”).

[iv] See translation on page 25. (Also available on my website)

[v] See translation on page 17 (Also published online at Kin Journal)

[vi] See translation on page 53

[vii] “Tristesse d’Olympio” by Victor Hugo

[viii] “To Olympio” by Victor Hugo

[ix] Evariste de Parny (1753-1814)

[x] Translation on page 23 (Also published online by String Poet)

[xi] Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)

[xii] “Hide from me your soulful saddened look” from “Le Regard” (“The Look”).

[xiii] “We look like we’re happy beneath a flowered hat” from “Le Chien D’Olivier” (“Oliver’s Dog”).

[xiv] The next few quotations are all from “La prière perdue” (The Lost Prayer”). “Unexplainable heart, an enigma even to yourself”

[xv] ” When I am safe you’re just looking for thrills”

[xvi] “Listen, too weak slave, Listen! And my reason will forgive and absolve you: At least give it tears! There’s no doubt you’ll give in? Alas no! Always no! O my heart, take it all!”

[xvii] “The Two Loves.” It was a love more playful than tender; With a soft stroke it brushed my heart; It was light as a false laugh.”

[xviii] “It offered pleasure without speaking of luck.”

[xix] “It was in your eyes that I saw the other love.”

[xx] “This complete loss of self, this need to love for love’s sake, and that the word love scarcely seems adequate, your heart alone confirms and my heart guesses. I feel from your delights and from my faithfulness that it needs to say at the same time good luck, eternity and that its power is divine.”

[xxi] Verlaine has omitted line 3 without signaling the omission: “Faite pour l’âge heureux dont elle a l’ignorance.” The entire excerpt can be translated: “Two Friendships. There are two friendships like there are two loves. One looks like imprudence; made for the age of innocence, it’s a child that’s always laughing.”

[xxii] “The other friendship, more serious and severe, gives itself slowly, chooses mysteriously.”

[xxiii] “It moves flowers aside out of fear of hurting them.”

[xxiv] Verlaine has omitted the penultimate line of the poem without signaling the omission: ” Son abord est craintif, son regard est timide ;” The final 3 lines of the poem can be translated “It sees with [reason’s] eyes and walks in his footsteps; its aspect is fearful, its look timid. It waits, and does not anticipate.”

[xxv] Marceline was born in Douai, which is located on the River Scarpe about 25 km from the town of Arras, close to France’s Northern border

[xxvi] Names of Marceline’s childhood friends and sister

[xxvii] Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), French writer, poet and politician.

[xxviii] This excerpt comes from “L’Adieu du soir” (“Farewell to Evening.”) See translation on page 19

[xxix] Delphine de Girardin (1804-1855), French author. The poem is “Madame Emile de Girardin”

[xxx] “Death has just closed the most beautiful eyes in the world.”

[xxxi] ” When I’ve rebuked my son, I hide and cry.” From “Hippolyte,” full translation on page 47

[xxxii] “Innocence of my child, how you will be destroyed.” The poem is “A mon fils,” (“To My Son.”)

[xxxiii] Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), French poet and fabulist

[xxxiv] Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755-1794), French Poet and romance writer

[xxxv] “A very small child set off toward school; They had told him to go, and he tried to obey.” From “L’ecolier”, (“The Schoolboy.”)

[xxxvi] “If my child loves me.”

[xxxvii] “God will say to himself: I love this sleeping child. Let him be send a golden dream.”

[xxxviii] George Sand, pseudonym of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876), French novelist and memoirist.