Tag Archives: inspiration

The Common Women Poems 

These are vivid and inspiring portraits of women, gritty and short. I wondered how well the poet knew these women and/or if they were largely brief observations. I think they are a unique window in how to present characters in poetry or prose form. And then, who is the common woman? (There are more poems than these three and yes, I pulled them from different internet sources.)

 

The Common Women Poems              Judy Grahn

I. Ella, in a square apron, along highway 80                             

She’s a copperheaded waitress,
tired and sharp-worded, she hides
her bad brown tooth behind a wicked
smile, and flicks her ass
out of habit, to fend off the pass
that passes for affection.
She keeps her mind the way men
keep a knife—keen to strip the game
down to her size. She has a thin spine,
swallows her eggs cold, and tells lies.
She slaps a wet rag at the truck drivers
if they should complain. She understands
the necessity for pain, turns away
the smaller tips, out of pride, and
keeps a flask under the counter. Once,
she shot a lover who misused her child.
Before she got out of jail, the courts had pounced
and given the child away. Like some isolated lake,
her flat blue eyes take care of their own stark
bottoms. Her hands are nervous, curled, ready to scrape.
The common woman is as common
as a rattlesnake.

III. Nadine, resting on her neighbor’s stoop                     

She holds things together, collects bail,

makes the landlord patch the largest holes.

At the Sunday social she would spike

every drink, and offer you half of what she knows,

which is plenty. She pokes at the ruins of the city

like an armored tank; but she thinks

of herself as a ripsaw cutting through

knots in wood. Her sentences come out

like thick pine shanks

and her big hands fill the air like smoke.

She’s a mud-chinked cabin in the slums,

sitting on the doorstep counting

rats and raising 15 children,

half of them her own. The neighborhood

would burn itself out without her;

one of these days she’ll strike the spark herself.

She’s made of grease

and metal, with a hard head

that makes the men around her seem frail.

The common woman is as common as

a nail.

IV: CAROL, IN THE PARK, CHEWING ON STRAWS    

She has taken a woman lover
whatever shall we do
she has taken a woman lover
how lucky it wasn’t you
And all the day through she smiles and lies
and grits her teeth and pretends to be shy,
or weak, or busy. Then she goes home
and pounds her own nails, makes her own
bets, and fixes her own car, with her friend.
She goes as far
as women can go without protection
from men.
On weekends, she dreams of becoming a tree;
a tree that dreams it is ground up
and sent to the paper factory, where it
lies helpless in sheets, until it dreams
of becoming a paper airplane, and rises
on its own current; where it turns into a
bird, a great coasting bird that dreams of becoming
more free, even, than that — a feather, finally, or
a piece of air with lightning in it.
she has taken a woman lover
whatever can we say
She walks around all day
quietly, but underneath it
she’s electric;
angry energy inside a passive form.
The common woman is as common
as a thunderstorm.

Judy Rae Grahn was born in 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. Her father was a cook and her mother was a photographer’s assistant. Grahn described her childhood as taking place in “an economically poor and spiritually depressed late 1950s New Mexico desert town near the hellish border of West Texas.” When she was eighteen, she eloped with a student named Yvonne at a nearby college. Grahn credits Yvonne with opening her eyes to gay culture. Soon thereafter she would join the United States Air Force. At twenty-one she was discharged (in a “less than honorable,” manner, she stated) for being a lesbian.

At the age of 25, Grahn suffered from Inoculation lymphoreticulosis, or Cat Scratch Fever, which led to her being in a coma. After overcoming her illness, she realized that she wanted to become a poet. This realization was partially due to the abuse and mistreatment Grahn faced for being an open lesbian. Of the incident, Grahn stated “I realized that if I was going to do what I had set out to do in my life, I would have to go all the way with it and take every single risk you could take…. I decided I would not do anything I didn’t want to do that would keep me from my art.”

Advertisements

Prayer

Here are two poems by Ginger Andrews. Andrews is a born again Christian who owns a cleaning business and works with and lives near extended family members. There is often a bit of humor in her pieces as well as an acknowledgement of the grace imbedded in everyday life.

 

Prayer                                                             Ginger Andrews

God bless the chick in Alaska
who took in my sister’s ex,
an abusive alcoholic hunk.
Bless all borderline brainless ex-cheerleaders
with long blonde hair, boobs,
and waists no bigger around than a coke bottle
who’ve broken up somebody else’s home.
Forgive my thrill
should they put on seventy-five pounds,
develop stretch marks, spider veins,
and suffer through endless days of deep depression.

Bless those who remarry on the rebound.
Bless me and all my sisters;
the ball and chain baggage we carried into our second marriages.
Bless my broken brother and his live-in.
Grant him SSI. Consider
how the deeper the wounds in my family,
the funnier we’ve become.
Bless those who’ve learned to laugh at what’s longed for.
Keep us from becoming hilarious.
Bless our children.
Bless all our ex’s,
and bless the fat chick in Alaska.

 

Down on my knees                                        Ginger Andrews

Down on my knees
cleaning out my refrigerator
and thinking about writing a religious poem
that somehow combines feeling sorry for myself
with ordinary praise, when my nephew stumbles in for coffee
to wash down what looks like a hangover
and get rid of what he calls hot dog water breath.
I wasn’t going to bake the cake

now cooling on the counter, but I found a dozen eggs tipped
sideways in their carton behind a leftover Thanksgiving Jell-O dish.
There’s something therapeutic about baking a devil’s food cake,
whipping up that buttercream frosting,
knowing your sisters will drop by and say Lord yes
they’d love just a little piece.

Everybody suffers, wants to run away,
is broke after Christmas, stayed up too late
to make it to church Sunday morning. Everybody should

drink coffee with their nephews,
eat chocolate cake with their sisters, be thankful
and happy enough under a warm and unexpected January sun.

Arabic Coffee

Rituals can seem simple in themselves, but as acts carried out over a period of time they become imbued with complexity and meaning. The sacredness of ordinary things lies within those layers. You don’t have to understand all of this poem to appreciate it’s beauty or appreciate some of it’s remarkable lines.

Arabic Coffee                                     Naomi Shihab Nye

 

It was never too strong for us:

make it blacker, Papa,

thick in the bottom,

tell again how the years will gather

in small white cups,

how luck lives in a spot of grounds.

 

Leaning over the stove, he let it

boil to the top, and down again.

Two times. No sugar in his pot.

And the place where men and women

break off from one another

was not present in that room.

The hundred disappointments,

fire swallowing olive-wood beads

at the warehouse, and the dreams

tucked like pocket handkerchiefs

into each day, took their places

on the table, near the half-empty

dish of corn. And none was

more important than the others,

and all were guests. When

he carried the tray into the room,

high and balanced in his hands,

it was an offering to all of them,

stay, be seated, follow the talk

wherever it goes. The coffee was

the center of the flower.

Like clothes on a line saying

You will live long enough to wear me,

a motion of faith. There is this,

and there is more.

Testimonial

A quiz determined that Rita Dove is my inner poet.  Who’s yours?

http://www.playbuzz.com/columbusstatelibrary10/who-is-your-inner-poet

Testimonial                                                                                                   Rita Dove

Back when the earth was new

and heaven just a whisper,

back when the names of things

hadn’t had time to stick;

back when the smallest breezes

melted summer into autumn,

when all the poplars quivered

sweetly in rank and file . . .

the world called, and I answered.

Each glance ignited to a gaze.

I caught my breath and called that life,

swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.

I was pirouette and flourish,

I was filigree and flame.

How could I count my blessings

when I didn’t know their names?

Back when everything was still to come,

luck leaked out everywhere.

I gave my promise to the world,

and the world followed me here.

Noah and Joan

Its hard to imagine having more fun than this poem does. It reminds me of a friend who’d say “In my world….”  We knew that meant if she was in charge everything would be different!

Noah and Joan                                                                      Denise Duhamel

It’s not that I’m proud of the fact

that twenty percent of Americans believe

that Noah (of Noah’s Ark) was married

to Joan of Arc. It’s true. I’ll admit it—

Americans are pretty dumb and forgetful

when it comes to history. And they’re notorious

for interpreting the Bible to suit themselves.

You don’t have to tell me we can’t spell anymore—

Ark or Arc, it’s all the same to us.

 

But think about it, just a second, time line aside,

it’s not such an awful mistake. The real Noah’s Missus

was never even given a name. She was sort of milquetoasty,

a shadowy figure lugging sacks of oats up a plank.

I mean, Joan could have helped Noah build that ark

in her sensible slacks and hiking boots. She was good with swords

and, presumably, power tools. I think Noah and Joan

might have been a good match, visionaries

once mistaken for flood-obsessed and heretic.

 

Never mind France wasn’t France yet—

all the continents probably blended together,

one big mush. Those Bible days would have been

good for Joan, those early times when premonitions

were common, when animals popped up

out of nowhere, when people were getting cured

left and right. Instead of battles and prisons

and iron cages, Joan could have cruised

the Mediterranean, wherever the flood waters took that ark.

 

And Noah would have felt more like Dr. Doolittle,

a supportive Joan saying, “Let’s not waste any time!

Hand over those boat blueprints, honey!”

All that sawing and hammering would have helped

calm her nightmares of mean kings and crowns,

a nasty futuristic place called England.

She’d convince Noah to become vegetarian.

She’d live to be much older than nineteen, those parakeets

and antelope leaping about her like children.

 

definition of milquetoast: a timid, unassertive, spineless person, one who is easily dominated or intimidated. (After Caspar Milquetoast, a character in a comic strip, 1924 first use.) Frenchified milk toast!

Trouble with the Soul at Morning Calisthenics

The soul is hard to pin down and now I know why.  “Soul” is a very rich writing prompt.  Set a timer for 7 minutes and try it.

Troubles with the Soul at Morning Calisthenics                                     Anna Swir

 

Lying down I left my legs,

my soul by mistake jumps into my legs.

This is not convenient for her,

besides, she must branch,

for the legs are two.

 

When I stand on my head

my soul sinks down to my head.

She is then in her place.

 

But how long can you stand on your head,

especially if you do not know

how to stand on your head.

Catherine Parrill’s Memoir

photo

Everyone has a different process when they are writing.  Cathy has been working on a memoir about her connection to Haiti and some of the important relationships & life changing experiences. Her "scroll" otherwise known as a  huge roll  of brown paper holds a visual map and some of the paper or resources that document the story as well.  In class we've been privileged to be part of story -seeing it develop and to meet some of people in it.
Everyone has a different process when they are writing. Cathy has been working on a memoir about  Haiti and her time there, and some of the important relationships she developed, and life changing experiences she lived, and is living. Her “scroll” otherwise known as a huge roll of brown paper holds a visual map of  the story and some of the papers or resources that document the story as well. In class we’ve been privileged and delighted to become part of the  story -seeing it come together and to meet some of people in it.

Trying by Nancy Pagh

This is the poem and quote I’ve been using this week in writing circles.  This lovely poem has been  responsible for great discussions on taking risks, fathers, and more.  Wonderful writing in response as well to the quote below from Sheryl Sandberg and how it is to be a woman in the world.

If you ask men why they did a good job, they’ll say, ‘I’m awesome. Obviously. Why are you even asking?’ If you ask women why they did a good job, what they’ll say is someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard.                        Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

Trying                                                                                                 Nancy Pagh

The people I love best are the ones who try: the aged

who rise early each morning and part the clump of coffee filters

with arthritic fingers—and the others who stay up

late after working all day in retail, hot pink curl of ear

pressing the receiver, listening to the friend who is selfish

but in agony now. I love the men who are fathers

to children, not buddies not video-game rivals not boys

themselves but clumsy men who ache over the fragility of sons,

but preserve the fragility of sons despite what everyone says.

I love those who feel no skill has come to them innate,

who will hold their small inland dogs again and again

above the sea on vacation, to watch in amazement

the knowing animal body that paddles through air. I love

the B+ student. The thick-chinned girl always picked

fourth when choosing sides for the softball team.

The lover who says it first. The lover who says it second

after a long, long pause. The lover who says it knowing

the answer is no, no, I am too broken. People who knit

things together. People willing to take things apart

and roll all the strands of yarn into new balls for the next time.

The woman who loaded her backseat full of blankets and drove

for three days to the hurricane site.  Even the loafer who tries

his mother’s patience, who quietly speculates and eventually

decodes the universe for us all. Believe me, I have tried

to love others, the meager personalities who charm and butter,

the jaded the cynics the players and floaters all safe

in their cages, this life no responsibility they can own.

They see it too—how trying is always a risk,

a kind of vulnerability some choose for ourselves because

our fathers taught us well, our fathers taught us to try

to remain as fragile and full as this world that loves us.

The author of the poem wrote “Trying” as a response to the poem, “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy.  I found the poem in The Pen and the Bell, Mindful Writing in a Busy World by Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes. Nancy Pagh wrote her poem as a response to “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy