On Poetry and Miniature Books

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"A poem begins as a lump in the throat,
a sense of wrong, a homesickness,
a lovesickness."
–Robert Frost

One of the great joys of writing The Four Ms. Bradwells was the excuse to read poetry in the afternoon and call it “work.” Although the first piece I ever submitted for publication – at the encouragement of my eight-grade English teacher – was a poem, it’s rejection by Seventeen Magazine marked the sad end of my poetry career. But I continue to read and love poetry.

My fascination with miniature books began much later, on a tour of the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan’s Hatcher Graduate Library arranged by for me by Margie McKinley and Paul Courant. I had no idea how moving an experience it would be to wander among such beautiful books, much less to have the benefit of Peggy Daub’s and Kathleen Dow’s expertise as we did. The particular miniature book of poetry that plays a role in the novel, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portugese, is a based on one I found through bookseller Joe McKernan of Frederiksberg, Denmark.

Two texts on poetry I turned to while writing The Four Ms. Bradwells were Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook and The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland. Many of the poems quoted from are by Anne Sexton, thanks to poet Phyllis Koestenbaum who introduced me to her work. The one poem I included in its entirety is one of my favorites, Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come”—a poem that quite literally made me weep the first time I heard it, in a crowded room at a reading by John Felstiner from his lovely Can Poetry Save the Earth?

Below is a complete list of poems quoted from in The Four Ms. Bradwells; I’ve included links to information on the poets – primarily to their pages on the Academy of American Poets’ Poets.org, one of the few internet sites I know which respects poets’ copyrights in their work. I’ve also included links to the specific poems on Poets.org when available, often including audio of the poets reading their work. I hope readers of The Four Ms. Bradwells will be inspired by the lines included in the novel to read and buy more poetry.

Elizabeth Bishop, from Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters:
Questions of Travel
The Moose
North Haven

Anne Sexton, from The Complete Poems:  
The Room of My Life
The Ambition Bird
Consorting with Angels
February 20th
The Break
Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)
The Exorcists
Her Kind
The Truth the Dead Know
The Sea Corpse

Marianne Moore, from Complete Poems:

A.R. Ammons, from Selected Poems:

Lucille Clifton, from Good Times:
miss rosie

Mark Doty, from Fire to Fire:
Fire to Fire

Muriel Rukeyser, from Out of Silence:
Kathe Kollwitz

George Barker, from Collected Poems:  
To My Mother

Adrienne Rich, from Diving into the Wreck:

Thomas Kinsella, from Nightwalker, and other poems
Mirror in February

Carol Ann Duffy, from Selling Manhattan
Warming Her Pearls

Mark Strand, from Selected Poems
Eating Poetry

Miguel Hernández, from I Have Lots of Heart
Bloody Fate

Emily Dickinson, from The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
Tell all the Truth / but tell it slant

Margaret Atwood, from Selected Poems II
Georgia Beach

Beth Ann Fennely, from Tender Hooks
Having Words with Claire

Alice Walker, from Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth:
My Friend Arrived

Edna St. Vincent Millay, from in The Harp-Weaver and other poems, in Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree
Sonnet XLIII (What my lips have kissed, and where, and why...)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from In This Our World, and Other Poems
A Common Inference

Anna Hempstead Branch, from Shoes that Danced and Other Poems
Songs for My Mother

And last but certainly not least:
Dr. Seuss, I Wish That I had Duck Feet

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