30 July 2006

Jan Steckel Introduces a Poem by Debby Rosenfeld

Mary Meriam, Nicki Hastie, Julie Enszer and Merry Gangemi are my literary family, and I don’t know what I would do without them. I feel like my widely scattered Woman-Stirred colleagues are right here with me every day, especially when Mary Meriam writes a poem like "Word Beat", which will soon appear in her poetry chapbook from Modern Metrics, The Countess of Flatbroke.

Word Beat is a Berkeley, California poetry reading which Mary immortalized in her mosaic sonnet. Last week I did a featured reading there, and my talented cousin Debby Rosenfeld read three poems at the open mic that brought the house down. Host Debra Grace Khattab loved Debby’s work so much that she asked her back to be the featured reader at Word Beat at the end of January. Remarkably, Mary had also immortalized Debby Rosenfeld in a Woman-Stirred Sonnet that I commissioned for Debby’s birthday last year. (Insert X-Files music here).

Debby Rosenfeld has been the closest I ever got to having a sister, but now I get to wish a Happy Anniversary to my four Woman-Stirred sisters, too! In the Woman-Stirred tradition of recognizing emerging poets, I’d like to post one of the delightfully original poems Debby read at Word Beat on July 20, 2006.

~ Jan Steckel

There’s Nothing Electronic About a Rhino
by Debby Rosenfeld

My five-year-old and I finally unpostpone our trip to the zoo.
The rhino is visiting from out of town, in the old elephant pen.

As we approach, the lumbering rhino stands up,
and makes a circle around his pen.
He’s bigger than a hippo and rough-gray like an elephant.
His horns look piercing, and apparently super-cool.

I am relieved. It’s a game-cube culture,
and there’s nothing electronic about a rhino.
Still, my son is in a video-game trance
watching the huge mammal circle his habitat.
“He’s bleeding from his shoulder,” says my son.
We worry, but the zoo-lady says that he’s been scratching
against the fence. He’s fine.

I watch the dozens of matching-shirt-wearing groups of kids,
on one last field trip before summer break.
Some of their leaders are engaged, full of facts and fun.
Most are not. “Jenny,” I hear, “Get back here now.”
I’m glad I’m not Jenny,
and I’m even more glad that I’m not leading Jenny’s group.
I imagine the leaders having cocktails at five o’clock,
venting about mishaps, glad the field trip’s over.

I wonder what the girl in the wheelchair thinks, in her too-hot
sweater, waiting for lunch in the pavilion, head down to her chest.
I chide myself. I’m hot, but maybe she’s cold? I just don’t know.
I can’t tell from her face, but I hope she’s glad to be here.

I hope she gets to see the rhino.

© Debby Rosenfeld

Debby Rosenfeld
About Debby Rosenfeld
Debby Rosenfeld began writing poetry in her early teens. She moved into children’s literature after a brief career in sales. She lives with her husband Ken, her two boys Ryan and Zack, and assorted pets in upstate New York, where she has recently discovered a renewed interest in poetry. She volunteers teaching creative writing to elementary school students and is currently shopping her middle-grade novel My Embarrassing Life to children’s publishers.

29 July 2006

Introducing The Countess of Flatbroke

Celebrating the Release of 5 New Chapbooks by

Mark Allinson.... Blue Glass Cities
R. Nemo Hill... Prolegomena to an Essay on Satire
Quincy R. Lehr... William Montgomery
Mary Meriam.... The Countess of Flatbroke
Ray Pospisil.... Some Time Before the Bell

August 9, 2006
Downeast Arts Center
203 Avenue A
(between 12th & 13th Sts)
Manhattan, New York City

28 July 2006

Tea and Poetry - Organized by the Incomparable Mary Gangemi

The wonderful and talented Merry Gangemi, the weekly host of Woman-Stirred Radio on WGDR, is hosting Tea and Poetry, an annual Vermont gathering.

I'll be joining Merry for Tea & Poetry after a loooooong road trip with my beloved through Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Montreal, and finally to arrive in Vermont for the poetic gathering organized by Merry.

You can join us too for Tea & Poetry. Reservations are limited for the tea component so make yours early and join us for an incredible weekend of poetry including two Woman-Stirred women.

27 July 2006

Showing Off With Sapphics

Sappho by Gustav KlimtMy anniversary gift to the ladies of Woman-Stirred is an 18-year-old poet who lives in London. I met Eloise at Eratosphere, a place where I spend a lot of time lately, studying metrical poetry. Eloise's poem is in a metrical form called Sapphics. I asked Eloise if she'd like to educate us about Sapphics, and she wrote an essay for us. So without further ado, here she is, first with her poem in Sapphics, then her essay on Sapphics. Eloise selected this painting, Sappho by Gustav Klimt.

Puck's Lament

Should I waste the delicate flesh of cattle
on my heathen tongue: that most lewd of organs,
most exalted limb? I would never sully
life with that crude kiss.

Rather I shall siphon the scent from your neck,
mark out quadrants, diamonds of skin, to lick whilst
you are dozing; murmuring through your dreams. So,
stir and I’ll damp your

lids with love-in-idleness; touch lips lightly
to your vellum cheek and inhale the incense
of your breath; confess my distress then disappear
before you wake.


The Original ‘Woman-Stirred’ Poet

Some say the Muses are nine: how careless!
Look, there's Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth.


Sappho is undoubtedly a lesbian icon, the original ‘woman-stirred’ poet, but it seems to me to be doing her a great disservice to solely consider her as such. Sappho may have ensured a place for female homosexuality in the canon, but it is more remarkable that she herself should have been included as one of the nine canonical lyric poets, at a time when women were more property than people.

After two millennia of censorship all that remains of Sappho’s poetry are some fragments and one or two complete poems, but during her lifetime it is estimated that she wrote nine books of poetry. It is testament to her genius and influence that much of what we have of her writing today are extracts used in other texts to illustrate the correct use of grammar and meter.

This is where the breadth of Sappho’s accomplishments become obvious. She wasn’t merely an innovator in content (she is one of the first recorded poets to move away from the typical themes of the Gods to a more individualistic, lyric approach, focussing on human experience and emotion); she was also responsible for fine-tuning a style of lyric meter that is now — unsurprisingly — called Sapphic meter. For centuries poets attempted imitations of Greek meters, in their original sense as feet distinguished by syllable duration, but English is fundamentally a stress based tongue and therefore unsuited to this sort of prosody. The English ear struggles to hear any rhythmic quality in such lines, which is similar to the difficulty of hearing purely syllabic lines: we want to count stresses; syllable number and duration don’t register.

Due to the idiosyncrasies of our language we tend towards far simpler meters than the Greeks, who in some ways were far more advanced metrically, and I wanted to learn Sapphic meter in order to escape the all encompassing iamb. There is a view that to write anglicised Sapphic meter is an easy and inauthentic way of avoiding the true challenge of recreating Greek meter in English but, although the forms are different, I believe that they both have their own challenges and are capable of equal musicality.

For me, at least, I found that the greatest obstacle in writing this poem was to try and combine sense and meter. It was one thing to shoehorn a basically iambic piece into a predominantly trochaic rhythm and quite another to find a tone and style which suits the feel of Sapphics.

This seems to have been a problem which has faced many of those translating Sappho’s poetry, and this has led to some particularly abysmal editions, especially those that attempt to force her words into traditional English or Romantic forms such as the sonnet. There have also been those that have dispensed with form altogether, to prevent form-led distortions, and many of these translations are beautiful in their own way. Although I don’t speak Greek, I find the versions which structure her verse in anglicised Sapphics the most successful. During my research I found several versions of one of the few complete poems we have left, her ‘Hymn to Aphrodite’.


Iridescent-throned Aphrodite, deathless
Child of Zeus, wile-weaver, I now implore you,
Don't--I beg you, Lady--with pains and torments
Crush down my spirit,

But before if ever you've heard my pleadings
Then return, as once when you left your father's
Golden house; you yoked to your shining car your
Wing-whirring sparrows;

Skimming down the paths of the sky's bright ether
On they brought you over the earth's black bosom,
Swiftly--then you stood with a sudden brilliance,
Goddess, before me;

(Extract taken from http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/vandiver.shtml
© 1997, Elizabeth Vandiver)

With this:

O Venus, daughter of the mighty Jove,
Most knowing in the mystery of love,
Help me, oh help me, quickly send relief,
And suffer not my heart to break with grief.

If ever thou didst hear me when I prayed,
Come now, my goddess, to thy Sappho's aid.
Orisons used, such favour hast thou shewn,
From heaven's golden mansions called thee down.

See, see, she comes in her cerulean car,
Passing the middle regions of the air.
Mark how her nimble sparrows stretch the wing,
And with uncommon speed their Mistress bring.

(extract from Herbert’s ‘To the Goddess of Love’, 1713., taken from http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/sappho/sape01.htm)

For me at least, Vandiver’s translation is far superior in its diction and style than Herbert’s. But regardless of poetic merit, Vandiver manages to recreate the sense of ‘other’ that is present in Sapphic meter, and therefore the poem is far more effective in my opinion because it feels authentically Sapphic rather than being forced into the awkward heroic couplets which trivialise Herbert’s poem.

This is why I felt compelled to write in Sapphics, for although I am sure that she is tired of listening to reams of badly written odes to the Goddess, there is a certain type of lyric poem which needs the mix of plaintive insistence and elated meditation that comes from the Sapphic stanza.

© 2006, Eloise S


About Eloise S

EloiseI was born in London in 1988, and I have lived there all my life. I studied English, Economics and Politics for my A levels. I started writing poems six months ago after I picked up a book on versification before a family holiday and started writing blank verse as an antidote to my insane family. I am taking a gap year before uni to write and travel, and at uni I want to study English lit (I'm not sure where I'm going yet). I came out when I was 15 to my close friends but came out to everyone else by going out with another girl who was two years above me at my (all-girls boarding) school. It was the biggest scandal in 20 years, and at one point there was a petition signed by the Christian Union and some parents to have me kicked out.

26 July 2006

My Woman-Stirred begins with Woolf

I joined Woman-Stirred after it had launched. A profile came first and some conversations with Mary Meriam over email. What really convinced me that Woman-Stirred was an important project was the quotation from Virginia Woolf.

I've always loved Virginia Woolf. One year in college, I took a course on just her work. I read everything in a semester. It was one of the happiest four months of my life.

Being a part of Woman-Stirred has been a happy part of my life since I joined. It's been a delight to watch the chapbooks of Jan and Mary be born; I love listening to Merry each Thursday on the radio; I love conversations and thoughts that Nicki brings to our lives from over the pond.

This is my anniversary tribute: Virginia Woolf looking over us (our names run along the left edge there - tiny against the towering presence of Woolf), reminding us that women alone stir our imagination.

25 July 2006

I Want To Show Off

Show OffWoman-Stirred has its first anniversary this week. Yes, go and check out our archives and origins. A lot has happened in that time, and there's a lot more to come. Every day I feel thrilled to be a part of this group with Jan, Julie, Mary and Merry. We've never met (not yet); I'm even across the pond in the UK. But I couldn't feel closer to these women.

In celebration, I decided to interpret Virginia Woolf's words. When don't I want to show off to women? It is true that women stir my imagination.

  • I want to show off my respect for my four friends and colleagues

  • I want to show off my energy as a woman who is stirred by women

  • I want to show that being woman-stirred involves a commitment of body and mind.

I invite you to view Show Off.

Show Off requires you to have Flash player installed. It is a Woman-Stirred visual poetry celebration. It is a rhythmic poem, using images and music more than words. It is a self-portrait and an exploration of connection with women - with Woman-Stirred - through the computer. Because that is how I connect with Jan, Julie, Mary and Merry.

In one afternoon, I used the computer resources that are available to me in my living room to look beyond walls and borders, as I do every day when I'm Woman-Stirred, unleashing the power of imagination. It is a story of relationship - with myself and others - and a celebration of our creative inheritance. It is also whatever story you want it to be.

17 July 2006

Barbara A. Taylor is Woman-Stirred

Barbara A. TaylorJoin Merry Gangemi this Thursday, July 20th at 4:30 pm (EST) on Woman-Stirred Radio for a live interview with Australian poet and activist, Barbara A. Taylor (BAT).

Barbara A. Taylor lives and works on five organic acres in the Rainbow Country, Mountain Top, in northern NSW, east coast of Australia, over 1000kms north of Sydney, known as the tropical north coast but it is actually sub-tropical.

Barbara's work has been published in Visibilities, Sinister Wisdom, No. 63, and is forthcoming in Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly. A 15-line sonnet has been recently published at Red Morning Press, Washington DC.

Here is a sweet Haiku she wrote:

autumn mists
the mountain

Barbara has done some radio herself; back in 1977 she was part of a radio collective called Stand Up and Be Counted, a women's music program, which played a lot of the old songs and jazz music by Kay Gardiner, Willie Tyson, Trish Nugent, and Linda Tillery.

Visit Barbara's web site to read more about her and her work.

So please join Merry Gangemi and all Stirred Women on Woman-Stirred Radio, this Thursday, July 20th at 4:30 pm (EST) for what is sure to be a fascinating dialogue with Australian poet Barbara A. Taylor. Live from NSW Australia.

Tune in at 4pm for some great music! Interview begins at 4:30. Woman-Stirred Radio WGDR 91.1 fm (Goddard College, Vermont), and streaming online by clicking "Listen Live" at www.wgdr.org.

Woman-Stirred Radio is generously supported by The Samara Foundation of Vermont.

3 July 2006

Renate Stendhal on Woman-Stirred Radio

Renate StendhalTune into Woman-Stirred Radio this Thursday, July 6th for an interview with Renate Stendhal, PhD.

Dr. Stendhal is a Lambda award-winning writer, translator, writing coach, and counselor. Born in Germany, she lived in Paris for 20 years as a cultural correspondent for German radio and press. She moved to California, where she earned a degree in clinical psychology and is currently in private practice.

Her books include:

True Secrets of Lesbian Desire
Die Farben der Lust: Sex in lesbischen Liebesziehunger
The Grasshopper's Secret
Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures
Love's Learning Place: Truth as Aphrodisiac
Cecilia Bartoli: The passion of song
Sex and Other Secrets are co-authored with Kim Chernin.

Stendhal is the first German translator of feminist authors Audre Lorde, Susan Griffin, and Adrienne Rich. She has also translated Gertrude Stein's only mystery novel, Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, into German.

Join Merry Gangemi and Renate Stendhal, this Thursday July 6th 4pm to 6pm EST on Woman-Stirred Radio WGDR 91.1 fm (Goddard College), and streaming online by clicking "Listen Live" at www.wgdr.org. Music from 4 to 4:30. Interview begins at 4:30.

If you have questions or comments for Dr. Stendhal during the broadcast, call the air studio at 802.454.7762. Or email your questions and comments to Merry Gangemi at mgangemi@sover.net and they will be forwarded.

Woman-Stirred Radio is generously supported by The Samara Foundation of Vermont.