Poetry and History

Monday Morning Musings

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With Susan Weidener at my poetry workshop for her Women’s Writing Circle

 

“Prose is words in their best order; poetry is the best words in their best order.”

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Herodotus says, “Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.

–Mark Twain, A Horse’s Tale (1907)

“I dream a dream that dreams back at me”

–Toni Morrison, A Mercy

 

It was a weekend of poetry and history,

ancient arts,

poetry, the word

derived from the ancient Greek, “I create,”

the forms,

honed over centuries,

the sea metric cadences of Homer,

the structure of Shakespeare’s sonnets,

the beauty of its language and rhymes,

discussing love and mortality,

the spare words of Emily Dickinson

magic with dashes

varied styles,

reflections on nature and life

best words in best order,

words in place and time.

 

I teach a workshop

with these ideas in mind—

to provide some guidance

to give my knowledge

(such as it is)

to women who want to

write their lives, their history, in verse

to help them find the best words

to capture the magic

to help them release it

in the right order.

 

We sit in a hotel conference room

large windows covered partly by pleated white shades,

in the lobby desk clerks laugh and flirt,

but in this room

we sit round the table

with a candle burning,

enlightening light,

coffee and water at hand

(nourish the body

as well as the soul).

I give the women prompts

and they create magic,

the right words come

in the right order.

 

“How did it go?”

my husband asks me,

he offered to drive me,

drive me

to the workshop

and home again.

Though I would have done it,

I was grateful for his gesture.

“It went well,” I reply

I feel good.

As we travel home,

I gaze at the traffic and cornfields

bright white clouds

fat, puffy sheep

frolicking across a field of blue,

Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Are they more real because I’ve recorded them?

I wonder.

We journey home to New Jersey

and I think of how these women have inspired me

and given me confidence in myself

my abilities to create,

to share the right words

the best words

in the best order

 

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The next day,

My husband and I go to the movies,

Anthropoid,

a film about an historical event,

the plot to kill Reinhard Heydrich,

Architect of the Final Solution,

“Butcher of Prague.”

It is a true story of bravery and courage,

though fictionalized,

the men are humanized here,

they are not stone figures, no,

not larger than life,

their hands shake on triggers,

they love,

they feel regret.

And was their sacrifice worth it

in the end

when thousands were killed in reprisal,

the town of Lidice razed?

Something to ponder,

the costs of war

morality and immorality,

how to fight evil.

Still, no one can discount the bravery

of these seven men,

ordinary men

who did the extraordinary.

I think of Herodotus

(In my head,

his name pronounced

in Ralph Fiennes’s The English Patient voice)

telling history as an entertaining narrative.

There is a line,

but sometimes a story is richer

and somehow more true

for being told as fiction

by using the best words

in the best order.

History is not simply the lives of the great

or of defining moments,

floods and plagues,

wars and assassinations.

There are ordinary men and women

who lived through each of these moments

who survived

or died in cataclysmic events

that change the world

or fail to change it.

It is important to tell their stories, too.

And what of me?

And what of you?

What about our lives?

How do we tell our own histories?

I ponder this,

searching still to find

the best words

and the best order.

 

Susan G. Weidener, Women’s Writing Circle

Where you can find information about the groups and her books.

Also, find Women’s Writing Circle on Facebook

And Susan Weidener on Twitter

 

Here’s the official trailer for Anthropoid (be advised that the movie gets violent).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For My Mom: As Time Goes By

“You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.”

“As Time Goes By,” Herman Hupfeld

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The song “As Time Goes By” was written in 1931, but most people know it from the movie Casablanca (1942). The song is heard and played throughout the movie by the character, Sam (Dooley Wilson). It is a sort of theme song for the lovers, Ilsa and Rick (Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman) who are parted by war and circumstances, and by the decisions they make. As Rick says, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

The song “As Time Goes By” is about lovers. It seemed particularly apt for wartime lovers. (The British television series by the same name with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer is about a couple who were separated during the Korean War and meet thirty-eight years later.) My mom was a young woman when the movie Casablanca came out; she and my father married during World War II. It was an era when many people lived as though each moment could be their last, and yet, for many people it was it filled with every day routines and rituals. People still married, had children; they went to school or work (even though it might have been war work). Time went on, and so did people’s lives.

I thought of the song when I was thinking about my mom this morning. We see our parents differently—our children, too—as time goes by. When I was a child, I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was wise and all knowing. She knew when I was sick or upset about something, even if I didn’t talk about it (which was generally the case). I remember when I was in seventh grade in a new school. We had moved to Havertown, PA from Dallas, TX in March. For some reason, after a few weeks, the teachers in the cafeteria where my class ate lunch decided that I could not add an extra chair to the table because it was too crowded. They told me I had to eat in the other cafeteria. When I got to the other cafeteria and asked where I should sit, a mean or thoughtless teacher told me to sit with a table of boys. I think the were “the bad kids.” It was done to humiliate me. I was a shy and quiet child, and I sat there. Even though I don’t remember telling my mom how upset I was, I must have mentioned something to her. After a couple of days, some girls told me I was sitting at their table now. The girls were not in my regular classes, but they were in my “specials,” gym and home ec. My mom had called the guidance counselor and told her what had happened. It was all arranged quietly and efficiently.

Recently my mom moved into an assisted living apartment house. My sisters, brother, and I helped with packing and arrangements. We were the ones sending emails and making calls–without her knowledge sometimes–to make certain that everything was done smoothly and efficiently—so she wouldn’t be left humiliated. Or homeless.

With the years, my tireless mother has become tired, but she still has a great sense of humor—and she can still put my siblings and me in our place. She has seen births and deaths, and amazing technological inventions. When she was child, her family did not have a telephone for several years. She could not have envisioned cell phones and computers, but she has used them. She has lived to see my daughters, her granddaughters grow up to become beautiful and accomplished young women.

Time goes by, and it brings changes, but my mom is still beautiful to me, and I love her.

Oh—and if you’ve never seen Casablanca, round up the usual suspects and watch it. Maybe with your mother.