Tuesday, September 16, 2014

OctPoWriMo's (and Your) Poetic Family Tree

For those who have been around my blog for a while, you know I have a passion for “literary grannies” – the women writers who went before us who may or may not have gotten noticed for the words they have written. I try to get the word out about them so women who write today may have a sense of literary lineage.

Then along came a prompt from BlogHer.
Leaf from a Family Tree via Flickr
This leaf of one family tree is courtesy of Happy Via on Flickr  via Creative Commons License

It wanted to know about my family tree!

Naturally this makes me want to make a literary family tree.

Perhaps now, I will. 

Who would I count in my direct line?

I would certainly memoirists, poets, activists and letter writers.

I would count Charlotte Perkins Gilman, writer of the paradigm shifting The Yellow Wallpaper among other poems, essays, speeches and other things. She was also mother to a Katharine.

I would count Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Diarist, Novelist, early Aviator, Poet and Mother who lived through a lot of her very public life in a very veiled fashion. Her words are absolutely beautiful and she was perpetually standing up for women having the space to write, not unlike another in my direct line: Virginia Woolf.

Somewhere out there is Laura Ingalls Wilder, a childhood favorite and well known Granny, and also Margaret Fuller, whose home I visited not long ago. A couple other Massachusetts literary Aunties: Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson come to mind.

I absolutely must have Edna St. Vincent Millay in my lineage. Yesterday a friend of mine quoted her to me - without even knowing she was quoting her - and it was as if Vincent herself was speaking with me.

There was a time when I wasn't familiar at all with many past poets. I was not an English major and I wrote poetry but didn't spend much time reading poetry anthologies or collections.

What I will tell you is this: going to my local bookstore (and later, the library) and thumbing through unknown to me anthologies and then purchasing them and reading them changed my life as a poet and as a person.

My poetry improved, my life improved, and I felt forever connected to a world I
Writing on the steps of poet Gertrude Stein
didn't even know existed until then. If you don't have the resources to get to a bookstore or library, a visit to Poetry Magazine's website will suffice quite nicely.

Poetry Magazine is over 100 years old and was founded by Literary Granny Harriet Monroe, a woman who singlehandedly made the career of many once-unknown poets. She put her own taste aside to be present to the "happenings" in the world of poetry within that particular generation.

On the Poetry Foundation website is the entire archive of Poetry Magazine. Go there, now, even if you can get to a bookstore or a library. Read at least one poem a day there before OctPoWriMo. Read the poem several times a day and allow its language and style to sink into you. This WILL change your poetry and your life for the better.

Who is in your poetic family tree?

-- Julie Jordan Scott 


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