It’s November and #MyEpicPoeticOdyssey continues as I memorise a poem about writing to celebrate NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, the event that sends the world into a foaming frenzy of literary creation and masterpiece making. Rather than launching a new novel project, I’m doing #NaNoReWriMo, during which I slay mutant plot bunnies and bushwhack my way to a sleek new version.
When I started my poetic quest a few months ago, it was all about making time for poetry in my life while also laying claim to a few choice poetical side effects, namely the mental exercise of memorisation and the writerly benefit of studying the economy of poetry.
Memorisation has been hugely enjoyable, but even more fun has been the monthly search for a new poem: digging through piles of poetry, reading and savouring until one calls my name. “Pick me! Pick me!”
The Author to Her Book
The poem about writing I’ve chosen for November is ‘The Author to Her Book’, by Anne Bradstreet. I’d never heard of this lady before, but it turns out she has quite a pedigree! She was the first poet published in the New World. Not America’s first woman poet —its first poet (period).
And if that’s not cool enough, it turns out Puritan Anne moonlighted as a badass feminist. The collection that was America’s first published poetry, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, contains a stinging prologue to her critics. Check out her sarcasm as she poo-poos the notion of ‘proper women’s work’:
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits.
A poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong;
For such despite they cast on female wits,
If what I do prove well, it wont advance-
They’ll say it was stolen, or else it was by chance.
Go Anne! It must have been tough back in the day for smart women. And our Anne was smart, equipped to write about history, politics, theology and medicine. She had a library of over 9,000 books that were eventually lost in a house fire, one tragedy among many in her life.
Though sickly (suffering smallpox and tuberculosis), she was the mother of eight children and appears to have enjoyed a happy marriage until her death at age 60.
So this NaNo November as I wrestle through my umpteenth rewrite of my current manuscript, I’m going to memorise Anne’s poem. It captures the writer’s angst I know all too well, of work that doesn’t measure up to the impossible inner standard. She composed this poem after her first collection was supposedly “snatcht”, spirited away and published by a (male) friend.
THE AUTHOR TO HER BOOK
THOU ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did’st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos’d to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, of so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i’th’ house I find.
In this array, ‘mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam,
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.
This will be a challenging poem to memorise with its Seventeenth Century English. Wish me luck!
To all the #WriMo-ers and especially to my fellow #ReWriMo-ers, may the Muse be with you! See you at the finish line!
Image of Anne and her Title Page, both Public Domain