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My husband recently bought this book for me at a wonderful second-hand book store in downtown Los Angeles:
I Hear My Sisters Saying: Poems by Twentieth Century Women, edited by Carol Konek and Dorothy Walters
It was published in 1976, and is a time capsule of feminist poetry from the heady days of the 1960s and 70s, when the “Second Wave” of Feminism was knocking down a lot of the barriers that women still faced, decades after we got the vote. Most of the leaders of the first big surge of women’s rights activism in the 19th century came out of the abolitionist movement, and this wave was ignited in the midst of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.
A favorite poem by Muriel Rukeyser (though not in this book), is so expressive of the positive energy of that time for me:
we will make
we will go planting
feed a child growing
build a house
Whatever we stand against
We will stand feeding and seeding
I will make
– from Out of Silence
I have paged through I Hear My Sisters Saying with a mixture of nostalgia and pain – remembering the triumphs – and failures – of that memorable part of my life, and feeling the betrayal and loss of these terrible present days.
Gena Ford is new to me – sadly, her poem is just as timely now as it was then, and I could find very little biographical information on her.
Lines for a Hard Time
by Gena Ford
Evil does not go always
by dark ways. On any hot
summer day, cleanshaven
it may stride across
a public place and head
purposefully for high
hisses in the inner ear
take cover? Ah, and then
the boy is dead, other dead
or dying, and the evil
laps out from bits of hot
lead across the nervepools
of the nation.
We are sick
in our littered streets
and high places. Worms twist
in our labyrinthine skulls.
We are frightened by bland
The losses are always
personal. A phone rings;
a father becomes less than
the sum of his grief. Could we
say better than his own words,
And we will die as well . . .
Spiral upward into All Love?
Good Man, good grieving man,
all men have lived in evil
times, though few know it
absolutely. We persist.
We love ourselves as often
as we can. And send our sons
to walk out in open day.
“Lines for a Hard Time” from This Time, That Space: Poems 1964-67, © 1968 by Gena Ford – The Elizabeth Press
Gena Ford, Portland Oregon poet; has been an advisory editor to The Elizabeth Press, which also published her books, Tall Tales for Far Courses, A Planting of Chives, Homesickness for Big Men, and This Time, That Space: Poems 1964-67.
by Muriel Rukeyser
Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the
roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was
the Sphinx. Oedipus said, “I want to ask one question.
Why didn’t I recognize my mother?” “You gave the
wrong answer,” said the Sphinx. “But that was what
made everything possible,” said Oedipus. “No,” she said.
“When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning,
two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered,
Man. You didn’t say anything about woman.”
“When you say Man,” said Oedipus, “you include women
too. Everyone knows that.” She said, “That’s what
“Myth” from Breaking Open: New Poems, © 1973 by Muriel Rukeyser – Random House
Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), American poet, playwright, biographer, children’s book author, social justice and women’s rights activist; best known for her poems with feminist, social justice, and Judaic themes. She was an icon of Second Wave feminist literature, and mentored Anne Sexton, Alice Walker, and Adrienne Rich, among many others. In 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. She died at age 66, in February, 1980, from a stroke. Her many poetry collections include Theory of Flight, The Book of the Dead, Out of Silence, The Gates, Elegies, and The Speed of Darkness.
by Anita Skeen
tomorrow morning, some poet will wake up
to find himself famous
for writing a novel, for posing
nude in the centerfold of a magazine, for
leading a political movement,
for killing his wife.
it will not be for having
written a poem.
or perhaps he will not wake up at all.
think of Hart Crane who,
sailing north on a steamer from Mexico,
drank his way over the side
of the S.S. Orizaba
and Sylvia, trying to deal with
what most of us cannot accept, sticking
her head in the oven
one English morning
or even Frank O’Hara
killed by a dune buggy on Fire Island
it is these fine details of departure
or the eccentricities of existence
which catch in the public memory,
bright fringe from the hem of the fabric
snagged by the rough edges
not the risks, the bravery
of this murderous art,
the challenge of the line, not even the title
of a single poem.
“modern poetry” © 1976 by Anita Skeen, from I Hear My Sisters Saying: Poems by Twentieth Century Women, edited by Carol Konek and Dorothy Walters – Thomas Y. Crowell Company
Anita Skeen became the coordinator and director of the Center for Poetry at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, after joining the Michigan State University’s faculty in 1990. She is now Professor Emerita in her department. Skeen has an MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green University, where she also began her teaching career. Her poetry collections include: Each Hand A Map; Portraits; Outside the Fold, Outside the Frame; The Resurrection of the Animals; and Never the Whole Story. She has also published short fiction and essays.
The Dictionary is an Historian
A Found Political Poem
by Judith McCombs
1. An adult female person, as distinguished from a
man or child; sometimes, any female person, often as
disting. from lady (sense 7)
Women are soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible. Shak.
And the rib, which the Lord God had taken
from man, made he a woman.
Gen. ii, 22.
2. The typical member of the female sex; used as a
generic singular without an article; the female part of
the human race; womankind.
Man is destined to be prey to woman. Thackeray.
3. With the. Distinctively feminine nature, qualities,
characteristics, or disposition; womanhood; womanliness;
as, subduing the woman in her; sometimes in the phrase
the woman of it, the characteristically feminine factor,
action, response, or the like.
4. A female attendant or servant.
5. a A paramour; mistress. bpl. Females as partners
in sexual intercourse or irregularities; as, to refrain
6. A wife. Familiar.
7. A female person of a position, calling, or standing,
specified in a phrase with of (sense 15); as, a woman of
breeding, of color, of title; a woman of all work, of letters;
the woman of the house; often in contemptuous epithets
connoting easy virtue; as, a woman of pleasure, of the town,
of the streets.
8. The reverse of a coin, originally as bearing figure of
9. Bringer of woe; by whimsical etymological derivation
from woe + man. Obs.
“The Dictionary is an Historian” © 1971 by Judith McCombs, appeared in Moving Out magazine, Vol. 2, No. 1
Judith McCombs grew up in a nomadic family, the daughter of a geodetic surveyor. She is the author of several books of poetry, including Against Nature: Wilderness Poems; Territories; Here & Elsewhere; and The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New. She has also written two books and several articles on Margaret Atwood. McCombs was the founding editor in 1971 of Moving Out, a feminist literary magazine that survived for three decades. She has also taught poetry and creative writing at Wayne State University and Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies College of Art and Design. As of 2011, she was living in Maryland.