“I wanted to write a perfect poem . . .” Rita Mae Brown

Out of print but available second hand

Recommended.

“Time had not teased me. I thought eternity was mine in which to live and in which to write. Thinking myself amazingly intelligent, I saw no reason to hide my light under a bushel basket.  My youthful poetry paraded my stuff. I imitated Horace shamelessly; he still remains one of my favorite poets in the original Latin but I have grown up enough not to imitate him. Who could?

“Perhaps there will only be one Rita Mae.  I’m not sure I could stand another one.  Anyway, as I learned more and more about language and literature I also learned more and more about my own limitations.  I wanted to write a perfect poem.  I was soon humbled and wanted to write a great poem.  I eventually became realistic: I wanted to write a good poem.”

. . . so says American novelist, screenwriter, poet and activist, Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) in the intro to Poems, poetry from her two published collections combined into one book. Who among us can’t sympathize with that ambition? Or perhaps you want to write the perfect short story, paint the perfect picture, or compose the perfect piece of music. It’s all in the same spirit.

Spare and elegant, Rita Mae Brown’s poems deal with war, human rights and feminist and lesbian themes. She’s always confident and often contemptuous.

A Short Note for Liberals

I’ve seen your kind before
Forty-plus and secure
Settling for a kiss from feeble winds
And calling it a storm

Many of the poems were written when she was eighteen and the introduction is written from the perspective of middle-age. She’s fierce and her imagery often took my breath away.

For Those of Us Working For a New World

The dead are the only people
to have permanent dwellings.
We, nomads of Revolution
Wander over the desolation of many generations
And are reborn on each other’s lips
To ride wild mares over unfathomable canyons
Heralding dawns, dreams and sweet desire.

Thumbs-up on this collection.  It’s out of print, but used copies are available through Amazon and other book vendors.

9780553346305Rita Mae Brown is also a New York Times bestselling author of the Mrs. Murphy mystery series, which is cowritten with her cat, Sneaky Pie. Other novels include In Her Day, The Sand Castle and Six of One. She’s written two memoirs and was nominated for an Emmy for her screenwriting. Writers might enjoy Starting From Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual. It’s savvy and full of sass, an enjoyable read.

© poems, Rita Mae Brown

Happy Saturday all. Next week look forward to reviews of collections by two from our own community, Charles W. Martin and Victoria C. Slotto.

Roses, Homilies, and the Poetic Inspiration of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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sometimes roses speak to us in homilies

with a nod to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

her story and her poem are below my poem

January is on the wane
leaving behind early dark and champagne hopes
for the genus Rosa. Wild or tame, they’re lovely.

Garden roses need pruning, solicitous cultivation ~
Layer shorter under taller, drape on trellises
and over pergolas, the promise of color and fragrance,
climbers retelling their stories in ballet up stone walls,
an heirloom lace of tea roses, a voluptuous panorama
rhymed with shrubs and rock roses in poetic repetition.
Feminine pulchritude: their majesties in royal reds
or sometimes subdued in pink or purple gentility,
a cadmium-yellow civil sensibility, their haute couture.

Is it the thorned rose we love or the way it mirrors us
in our own beauty and flaw and our flow into decrepitude?
They remind of our mortality with blooms, ebbs, and bows
to fate, a noble death to rise again in season, after Lazarus.
Divinely fulsome, the genus Rosa, sun-lighted reflexed ~
And January? January is ever on the wane.

– Jamie Dedes

© 2013, poem and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
I’ve posted this poem before but not with its backstory.

Portrait by Fray Miguel de Herrera (1700-1789)

Portrait by Fray Miguel de Herrera (1700-1789)

The work that was the jumping off point for my poem is one by the Mexican nun, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1551-1695), who lived during the time when Mexico was a part of the Spanish empire. She belonged to the Order of St. Jerome.

Sor Juana was a writer, playwright and a Baroque poet. She was hungry for learning and was self-educated. From childhood, she set her own demanding educational goals. These three famous quotes of hers are telling:

“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.”

“One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper.”

“…for there seemed to be no cause for a head to be adorned with hair and naked of learning…”

I am enamored of Sor Juana’s work and find her life interesting. She was brilliant, independent and nonconforming.

Here is her poem Rosa in Spanish and in English.

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura
eres, con tu fragrante sutileza,
magisterio purpureo en la belleza,
enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.
Amago de la humana arquitectura,
ejemplo de la vana gentileza,
en cuyo ser unió naturaleza
la cuna alegre y triste sepultura.
¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,
soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,
y luego desmayada y encogida
de tu caduco ser das mustias señas,
con que con docta muerte y necia vida,
viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!

Rose, heaven’s flower versed in grace,
from your subtle censers you dispense
on beauty, scarlet homilies,
snowy lessons in loveliness.
Frail emblem of our human framing,
prophetess of cultivation’s ruin,
in whose chambers nature beds
the cradle’s joys in sepulchral gloom.
So haughty in your youth, presumptuous bloom,
so archly death’s approaches you disdained.
Yet even as blossoms soon fade and fray
to the tattered copes of our noon’s collapse –
so through life’s low masquerades and death’s high craft,
your living veils all your dying unmasks.

– Juana Inés de la Cruz

Illustration and poem in the public domain. Source of translation unknown.