When I first started writing, I wrote poetry. In fact, my first sale of my writing, back in 1996, was for a poem. I wrote on a manual typewriter and submitted via snail mail, (I know. I’m dating myself terribly.). My poem, “A Prayer for Guidance” was published in a small poetry magazine called Dusk & Dawn, which is no longer in publication, and I made a whole $5 from it, but boy, was I ever proud of that sale.
I put my poetry on backgrounds, like the one above for my very first writing event. It was a local event that a friend saw advertised in the paper and said, “You should see if you can get a table. I called and got a table at the event, then realized I had nothing to offer at my table. I hadn’t yet published a book or anything, so I printed up my poetry on backgrounds , which I sold at my table for $5 a piece, and made almost $100.
For that event, I had a poem called “Voices” about the different voices that speak in my head, and as I was searching for backgrounds, I came across a painting of the same title, that I knew was the perfect background for this poem. So I poked around on the internet until I found a way to contact the artist, Mitchell Barret, and sent him an email, requesting to use his painting as my background. I was more than surprised when I recieved a phone call from him all the way from England. You must understand that this was right at the beginning of the internet era, and I still had a land line with long distance charges, so a call from another contentent was a pretty big deal to me, and I absolutely adored his English accent, although I had to ask him to repeat himself a couple of times during the call. He gave me permission to use his painting for the writing fair, and we conversed for a while, sparking up a friendship that was one of my first internet networking experiences.
Poetry & Art
In a later contact, Mitch said he was working on a series of paintings and he would like to include some poetry with them. He sent me the sketches for the paintings, and I wrote a poem for him. “Intimacy and the Harliquin Dance”. To my knowledge only one of those paintings ever came to fruition, but he did use a portion of my poem in his painting, which he titled “Intimacy”. The painting was on display and was sold at the Keliedescope Gallery, in Battle Sea Park, London in 2010.
When my son died in 2009, I wrote poetry almost constantly. When I wasn’t physically putting words to page, I was putting my feelings to verse in my head. I wrote enough poetry about Michael and my loss of him to fill a chapbook. It was my way of processing my grief, I think. I don’t know if any of it was really good, but I felt it to be some of the most powerful writing I’d ever done.
Most of my poetry was rhyming, and by this point, I had taking some creative writing courses, where my poetry professor informed me ryhming poetry was no longer in vogue. Because of the rhyming, sing-song style of my poetry, it was evaluated by one critic as childish. And perhaps it is a bit childish. Rhyming poetry is fun to write. I’m a big fan of Sid Shelden and Dr. Suess, after all.
When I enrolled at Western State Colorado Unversity to earn my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, my focus shifted away from poetry and I began writing fiction, which has taken up my energies ever since, but I’ve never lost my love for poetry. I still submitted poetry here and there, even getting a few published in magazines such as Colorado Life Magazine, and anthologies such as Manifest West #5: Serenity and Severity. I just wasn’t writing anything new in the poetry realm.
A couple of years ago, I came across a book by Colleen Chesebro, WordCraft Prose & Poetry: The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry, which delves into the art of syllabic poetry. I couldn’t read this book without dabbling with the different forms myself, reviving my love for poetry all over again. (See my “Review in Practice” of WordCraft Prose & Poetry here.) And I used my newfound poetry skills to answer a creative challenge posed on the blog of Teagan Riordan Geneviene with a Shadorma poem with an image.
Now that my M.A. in publishing is completed, I find a have more time in which to ponder the words which I place on the page, and play with poetry. For that is what poetry ultimately is – play with words. I don’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but that creating with words, no matter the form it takes, should be fun and satisfying for the creator, and poetry offers a wider license for this than do other forms of writing. This is known over at Colleen M. Chesebro’s WordCraft Poetry blog, where every Tuesday brings a #TankaTuesday challenge involving syllabic poetry, introducing readers with all kinds of new poetic forms. And so, I’ve been revisiting poetry once again, playing with sllybic poetry and rhymes. (I still love rhyming poetry, even if it is out of fashion.)
A New Poetry Collection on the Horizon
As I look through the poetry I’ve done in the past, I’m finding a plethora of poetry that needs to be shared. So, in addition to the two novels, and two anthologies which I had planned to publish through WordCrafter Press in 2023, I’m going to publish my first collection of poetry, some old, some new; some rhyming, some syllibic, and maybe even some freestyle to be included. It will take me down an old road to go through the poetry already written, and over a new road to experiment with forms of poetry both new and old, and the process of compiling the collection will be fun. Heck, it may even get me an invitation to be a guest on “Treasuring Poetry” with Robbie Cheadle.
To me, poetry is word play at its finest. What does poetry mean to you?
April is National Poetry Month here in the U.S., so it is fitting that the release of the annual Poetry Treasures anthology, from WordCrafter Press comes sometime in April each year. This year’s volume will be Poetry Treasures 3: Passions. It will be released on April 18, 2023, and is available now for preorder.
For Kaye Lynne Booth, writing is a passion. Kaye Lynne is an author with published short fiction and poetry, both online and in print, including her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction; and her paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets. Kaye holds a dual M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing with emphasis in genre fiction and screenwriting, and an M.A. in publishing. Kaye Lynne is the founder of WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services and WordCrafter Press. She also maintains an authors’ blog and website, Writing to be Read, where she publishes content of interest in the literary world.
Want exclusive content? Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. She won’t flood your inbox, she NEVER will sells her list, and you might get a freebie occasionally. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, just for joining.
Today, I am very excited to welcome Yvette Prior from Priorhouse blog as my September Treasuring Poetry guest. Yvette is among the first bloggers I met when I started Robbie’s Inspiration and she was always encouraging and supportive of my artwork and writing. Thank you, Yvette.
Today, Yvette, a talented poet and author herself and a huge supporter of other writers and bloggers, is going to share some of her thoughts about poetry and some readings from her lovely poetry book, Avian Friends.
What is your favourite poem and why?
Stood and listened
to birds tweet and whistle
had breakfast to make
day to begin
stuff to do
in winter chill
at the back door
hope flew in
melodious infusing during a winter chill
trees still bare
yet birds were there
momentary loss of care
soon to part ways
winter hard is exiting
spring soon erupting
green grass, pleasant breeze
flowers, butterflies, bees
shivering, I shut the door
musical deliverance once more
Behind the poem
Winter Chillwas written about a brief experience I had when I opened the backdoor one winter’s day. I was stopped in my tracks. It was the first time I had heard the birds in a long time and their “harmony stopped me” as “hope flew in.” I am not what people would refer to as a “birder.” I do not put out seeds and we don’t have any feeders on our property (although I might add some later). The birds have just found a nice little habitat on their own and I am grateful. In this poem, I described the scene exactly as it unfolded -opened the door, heard the birds, and I was reminded that a better season was on its way. This idea could apply to more than just a cold weather season ending – it could also apply to the trials and heavy times in life. Challenging times do not last forever and sometimes we might just need to pause – in the midst of a difficult season – and find small (healthy) ways to enjoy “momentary loss of care.” Hope can mean so much too – and so anytime we have Hope fly in – let’s embrace it.
Please share a poem you enjoy and why you enjoy it
This is just to say by William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
saving for breakfast
they were delicious
and so cold
Williams’ poem whispers so much to me and one takeaway is the freedom someone felt to indulge in the plum. There are times we sacrifice times we do outreach and hold back – but this depicts the opposite – it shows us someone so comfortable with the other person where they ate the plum (while knowing the person was saving it). The poem makes me smile because I can imagine how juicy and tasty it was. And the title and tone of the poem lets us know that the consumer here is not apologizing for eating it either. That’s my take.
What are your plans for your poetry going forward?
I try to write every day, in a paper notebook, and most of this year I have been busy working on non-poetry projects so I only wrote a handful of poems this year. My goal is to get back to my musings with poetry. Even if all of the poems do not make it into a future book, I enjoy writing them.
I started writing in middle school but really got into poetry while in college. In between classes, I created free verse poems. I moved words around andenjoyed simple rhyming schemes.
I know that folks sometimes put down the easy rhymes, but I like them. It is not about creating difficult poetry for me – it really is a type of solitude with words and ideas.
Thank you, Yvette, for your lovely answers and for being my guest today.
Yvette has shared a lovely YouTube video recital of some of her poems from Avian Friends.
My review of Avian Friends by Yvette Prior
What Amazon says
In Avian Friends, you will find more than forty poems that offer encouragement and uplifting stories. The poems are free rhyme and connect to different life scenarios. Each poem also includes a “behind the poem” section, which provides personal reflections, teaching tidbits, and ideas for wellness. Backyard birds inspired the poems and the topic of faith has been gently woven in (not in a religious way) with the hope that diverse readers can enjoy the content.
The poems in this book are not complicated poems; instead, they are light and can lift the reader’s mood. The poems are for those who do not always read poetry – as well as for the poetry lover.
Avian Friends is a delightful book of poetry that centres around the author’s interactions with birds in her personal life. In the reactions and interactions of her avian friends, the author finds threads of similarity to human reactions to circumstances and experiences and in relationships. She weaves these thoughts into the observations expressed in her poems.
One of the most interesting section of poems for me where the ones written following the death of a young and close relative. The author’s grief is palpable and her understanding of nature and the role of all creatures in the cycle of life help her come to terms with her sorrow and emotions.
An verse from Part III Life and Death: “The nest was found on the ground after the storm nestlings didn’t make it we mourned fuzzy little creatures oversized eyes chests without air buried with care patting down soil reminded me that we, too, will die …”
I have referred to the poet as the author because there is a lot of reflective prose in this book. Each poem is followed by a discussion which provides the poet’s inspiration for the poem, and includes quotes and information about birds and other aspects of life that contribute to the meaning behind the poem. I really enjoyed these explanatory sections and gleaned a lot of insight into the poet’s emotions and thought process from it.
Enjoyment of this book is certainly not limited to people who love birds as, in many instances, the birds are a metaphor for human life. This book will be enjoyed by all lovers of poetry.
Yvette Prior lives on the East Coast of the United States with her spouse, Chris, and together they have three adult children, two grandchildren, and no pets (after having many dogs over the years).
Yvette enjoys working with people and her varied work background includes education, social work, hospitality management, and lots of outreach. Her passion area is studying about health and wellness and after earning a Ph.D. in I-O Psychology, she poured into waiting book projects and she has not stopped writing since.
Her goal as a writer is to educate, edify, and encourage readers. Her personal blog can be found at priorhouse.wordpress.com
About Robbie Cheadle
Robbie Cheadle is a South African children’s author and poet with eleven children’s books and two poetry books.
The eight Sir Chocolate children’s picture books, co-authored by Robbie and Michael Cheadle, are written in sweet, short rhymes which are easy for young children to follow and are illustrated with pictures of delicious cakes and cake decorations. Each book also includes simple recipes or biscuit art directions which children can make under adult supervision.
Robbie and Michael have also written Haunted Halloween Holiday, a delightful fantasy story for children aged 5 to 9 about Count Sugular and his family who hire a caravan to attend a Halloween party at the Haunted House in Ghost Valley. This story is beautifully illustrated with Robbie’s fondant and cake art creations.
Robbie has published two books for older children which incorporate recipes that are relevant to the storylines.
Robbie has two adult novels in the paranormal historical and supernatural fantasy genres published under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle. She also has short stories, in the horror and paranormal genre, and poems included in several anthologies.
Robbie Cheadle contributes two monthly posts to https://writingtoberead.com, namely, Growing Bookworms, a series providing advice to caregivers on how to encourage children to read and write, and Treasuring Poetry, a series aimed at introducing poetry lovers to new poets and poetry books.
In addition, Roberta Eaton Cheadle contributes one monthly post to https://writingtoberead.com called Dark Origins: African Myths and Legends which shares information about the cultures, myths and legends of the indigenous people of southern Africa.
Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Treasuring Poetry” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.
Stories I Stole from Lord Byron’s Bastard is a collection inspired by Venetian history. The fictional character, Alexis Lynn, wrote these stories in the novel Will Write for Wine by Sara W. McBride, but they are fun stand-alone adventures to be enjoyed with an excellent glass of Italian wine.
Today’s tour stop comes with a fun interview with author Sara W. McBride in addition to her guest post. So kick back a while and enjoy the tidbits offered here as you learn more about Sara and her wonderful books.
Sara W. McBride, like many modern-day biological researchers, invents new swear words to sling at million-dollar machines while locked in a dark hole of a decaying academic hall. This has caused her to witness ghosts and create a romantic fantasy life within her head, which she now puts down on very non-technological paper with her favorite Jane Austen style quill pen.
Her first novel in the Alexis Lynn series, Will Write for Wine, and the companion short story collection, Stories I Stole from Lord Byron’s Bastard, both set in Venice, Italy, were recently released by Puck Publishing. She’s hard at work on the second Alexis Lynn novel, a Regency mystery series, and a haunted play. She strongly feels the world needs more haunted plays.
Sara: To be immortal! Just kidding. It’s my fabulous mental escape into worlds and lives that I wish I could live.
Please tell us a bit about your publishing journey?
Sara: In 2014, I organized, edited, and published the first two NaNoWriMo Los Angeles anthologies. Then I helped with the next three. The group is still producing an annual anthology. It was a great way to learn the logistics of self-publishing and how to shape short stories. This year, my husband and I launched Puck Publishing, and we’re hoping to publish something every month.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve written fourteen bad novels that I’m glad I never published. LOL!
What made you decide to self-publish?
Sara: In the late 1990s, I was an assistant to a Hollywood book agent and I learned the ins and outs of traditional publishing and movie book deals. The agents and publishers were so parasitic on the author, it gave me the willies. In those days, traditional publishing paid high advances, but the treatment of the authors still put a bad taste in my mouth.
Today, they rarely pay above a $10,000 advance to a new author, they expect the author to do all the marketing, and then the publisher keeps the copyright and sells it off whenever they like, to whomever they like, and the book goes out of print.
I’ve seen too many friends get screwed by traditional publishing.
Will Write for Wine takes place in the artistic and romantic setting of Venice. Have you explored the physical locations for your books in the flesh, in order to get the details right when writing about these locations? Have you been there? Have you lived there? Why did you choose this setting?
Sara: I’ve had five research trips to Venice, totaling about five weeks. I’ve been in almost every church and museum of Venice, and a few places I probably wasn’t supposed to enter. I apparently don’t understand the meaning of yellow caution tape or closed doors.
Most of the Venice locations in the book are real places, but Manu’s osteria is fictional. However, I stole menu items from many of my favorite osterias in Venice.
I think Venice is one of the most magical and haunted cities in the world. Many people describe it as a floating museum; the entire city is trapped in the Renaissance. But if you simply sit still, sip a glass of wine in a campo or piazza, listen to the opera singers, and watch the people and pigeons, there’s a vibe that sinks into you. Every part of the city is simultaneously dead and alive. It is that barrier, that thin line between life and death that pervades every stone, stench, and serenade of Venice. Delicious!
Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard involves Venetian history. What is the fasciation of this area for you?
Sara: I’m a history nerd! Venice is one of those cities that drips with history, but not just through architecture and museums, through the people, the food, the many generations that still live in the same house, the ghosts that are accepted as common place, and the street signs. Ponte del Diavolo, the Devil’s Bridge is bound to inspire a story in anyone. Gheto Novo, or the New Ghetto, caused me to question the history of the Jewish community within Venice.
It’s difficult for me to walk from one piazza to another in Venice without my mind percolating a story based purely on the sights, sounds, and smells. And I love the smells of Venice. Both the good and the bad. Only Venice can induce an entire story purely through its smells. I’ve learned to navigate the labyrinth of Venice by sniffing the air. How is that not a story!
Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Sara: I don’t know the end until I get there. I just write into a dark void and somehow it all works out. It keeps the process magical and fun. I used to outline, but I always got bored with the book before I finished it. Outlining turned writing into work. Ick! Writing needs to be fun for both the writer and the reader.
Is your writing process plot driven or character driven?
Sara: Character driven! Definitely.
Do you write with music, or do you prefer quiet?
Sara: Quiet! Or the hubbub of a coffee house crowd, hotel lobby, airplane terminal.
Atmosphere is important. What do you do to get into the writing zone?
Sara: There’s a zone? How do I find that? I want a writing zone. I just go about my day and jot down paragraphs, dialogue, and then type them in when I’m next at my computer.
How much of the story do you know before the actual writing begins?
Sara: NONE! Okay, maybe the opening scene. But usually not even that. Just a character in a place, who is feeling something.
Wine plays a big role in your character, Alexis Lynn’s life. What is the attraction?
Sara: I love wine! I also love beer, whisky (Scottish spelling), Compari cocktails, and most dishes cooked with truffles. However, to preserve my liver, I typically only drink once-a-week, so it’s a big event for me. I cherish my weekly glass of wine and how it complements my meal. Alexis drinks way more than I do. Fictional wine can’t damage a fictional liver.
Are you a wine connoisseur? What is your favorite wine?
Sara: I love wine! I once dreamed of becoming a wine sommelier. Isn’t my favorite wine obvious? Soave! Like Alexis Lynn, I also discovered Soave on my first trip to Venice. It’s been a favorite ever since, but difficult to find in America. Hence, more motivation to travel!
What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Sara: My husband and I got engaged four days after we met. Unlike Alexis Lynn and her marital troubles, my husband and I have had a relatively easy, adventurous, crazy, happy and supportive marriage. This summer, we’re celebrating out twenty-five year anniversary. But I don’t know how we’re celebrating. Any suggestions?
You’ve got a scientific background, like your character. How much of Alexis Lynn is you?
Sara: Um … She’s totally me! Are authors allowed to confess that?
What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Sara: Morning, if given a choice. But it happens all day.
What’s the hardest part of the story for you to write: beginning, middle or end?
Sara: I write chapters as if they are short stories, and then I arrange them into a book when I think I’ve developed something that has a beginning, middle or end. Is that weird? I don’t write chronologically. And I have chapters/stories that didn’t make it into this book that will be in the next one.
Alexis Lynn has a conversation and wine tasting with Casanova. Would you like to talk a bit about the inspiration for that scene?
Sara: I was enjoying my weekly glass of wine while reading the memoirs of Casanova and thought, “Man, this guy would give horrible marriage advice!” Then I grabbed my computer.
Besides Casanova, which author, poet or artist, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Sara: Lord Byron, or course! He’s bloomin’ brilliant, but people only remember him as a seducer. Sure, he seduced a few women, usually married ones, and has some famous bastards; the famous mathematician, Lady Lovelace, is one of his illegitimate children. But he also wrote the first English-Armenian dictionary, and was a very, charming, intelligent debater. His letters are filled with wisdom and humor. In an incredibly elegant manner, almost complimentary, he was able to inform someone of their idiocy. I would love to have lunch with Lord Byron, even if he spent an hour politely insulting me.
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Sara: Travel! I also love hiking, playing board games, reading every genre, watching cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies in the middle of summer, and learning Italian so I can one day move to Venice.
What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?
Sara: Pulling together a bunch of short stories into a cohesive novel and then figuring out what scenes are missing.
It was funny with Will Write for Wine, my husband included a little gondola and gondolier on the cover, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any gondola scenes in the book. Both the gondola scenes were the last scenes I wrote.
If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
Sara: Move to Venice and write more!
What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or short story/screenplay? What’s the least fun part?
Sara: Most fun? Dialogue! I’m originally a playwright, so I love dialogue.
Least fun? Killing a character I like. Killing a nasty character is delightful, but killing a kind character, or a character I’ve spent years with, is heart-wrenching.
How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Sara: I do everything myself, but my husband does the cover art and most of the website maintenance. We have fun working together.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play Alexis Lynn?
Sara: Oh! Juicy question. Reese Witherspoon. Yep, definitely Reese Witherspoon. Mid-40s, cute, and like Alexis, she exudes positivity even when her world is falling apart.
What goals do you set for yourself in your writing?
Sara: Don’t plan ahead. If I don’t know what’s going to happen, neither does the reader. This is really funny because I’m writing a murder-mystery right now and halfway through the book, my murderer, who I didn’t know was the murderer, just totally confessed to the murder. So, um, geez, I guess that book is going to be a different style of murder mystery. LOL! So, I guess my goal in writing is to always be surprised.
As you can see, Sara is an author who loves what she does ad is pretty comfortable in her own skin. Now, let’s hear about her inspiration for the fourth story in Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard, “Lazzaretto Vecchio: A Dowry for Saffron”.
Guest Postby Author Sara W. McBride
Inspiration for “A Dowry for Saffron”
What inspired the story, “Lazzaretto Veccchio: A Dowry for Saffron?”
“Sia laudato il signor Iddio non ci sono stati morti.”
Bless the Lord, there have been no deaths [today].
December 24, 1630, in Sant’Eufemia, Venice.
* * *
This quote is from the opening of a Nature paper, “A digital reconstruction of the 1630-1631 large plague outbreak in Venice,” by Gianrocco Lazzari, et al. Published Oct. 20, 2020.
* * *
I’ve always been fascinated by the European plagues, but when I read the above Nature paper, the effects of the 1630-31 plague on Venice consumed my mornings for several weeks. This especially seemed relevant while living through a new global pandemic, thankfully with much lower mortality rates.
In 1348-49, bubonic plague killed one-third of the European population, up to 25 million people, and Venice, as a crossroads for international trade, lost half its residents. Imagine living in a bustling city of 100,000 people, and half of them die within 18 months. It would be horrifying and haunting.
In response to the devastating plague of 1348-49, Lazzaretto Vecchio was established in 1423 as the first quarantine island in the Mediterranean region, and was used to separate the healthy from the sick during Venetian plagues. Lazzaretto Nuovo was established shortly afterward as a place where ships suspected to carry sickness among their passengers or crew were anchored for 40 days. English acquired the word “quarantine” from the Italian term for 40 days, quaranta giorni. The lagoon island of Poveglia also became a quarantine outpost sometime in the 15th century. It’s rumored that half the soil of Poveglia is human ash from burned plague corpses. Then it became a mental hospital from 1922-1968. No wonder the place is one of the most haunted locations in Europe.
Considering the 15th century world had no idea how disease was spread, the idea of quarantining the sick or foreigners arriving from plague stricken areas was very innovative.
The story, “Lazzeretto Vecchio: A Dowry for Saffron,” takes place during Venice’s plague of 1630-31, which killed a third of the city’s population. Both plague islands were used to isolate and treat the sick, however, caregivers were needed to work at the island hospitals, mostly because, I assume, workers kept dying of plague.
The Italian city of Ferrara had a long history of successfully avoiding plagues that ravaged other parts of Italy. They closed their city gates and screened all arrivals for any signs of disease. They insisted that Fedi, proofs, identification papers from a plague-free zone must be presented. Ferrara, starting as early as medieval times, engaged in public sanitation campaigns, sweeping away garbage and liberally spreading lime powder on any surface that had come into contact with an infected person.
When an Italian physician, Girolamo Fracastoro, published a text in 1546 describing the “seeds of disease” as something that could stick to clothes and objects, Ferrara increased their sanitation practices during plagues and burned the clothes of any infected people. Removing garbage, spreading lime powder and burning infected clothing probably reduced the flea pestilence that actually carried Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.
Many natural remedies were prescribed for protection against the plague, but a medicinal oil designed by a Spanish physician, Pedro Castagno, was written into Ferrara’s, “Reggimento contra la peste,” regimen against the plague. The oil, called Composito, was recommended to be applied to the body.
“Before getting up in the morning, after lighting a fire of scented woods (juniper, laurel and vine shoots), warm the clothes and above all the shirt, rub first the heart region, near the fire to ease balm absorption, then the throat. [Afterwards], wash hands and face with acqua chiara (clean water) mixed with wine or vinegar of roses, with which sometimes all the body should be cleaned, using a sponge.”
Ferrara city’s regimen against the plague
The contents of Composito was never fully disclosed, but researchers examined the records of materials ordered by Castagno and determined that the oil contained venom from scorpions and vipers, and myrrh and Crocus sativus, which is a saffron flower from which the filaments produce the golden spice saffron. Both myrrh and saffron are known to have antibacterial properties, as does scorpion venom with the bonus that it’s also a pain reliever. So basically, Composito was an early antibiotic and pain reliever combo. Pretty nifty!
According to census records, Venice’s population was around 140,000 in 1624. By 1633, that number had fallen to 102,000. More than 43,000 deaths were recorded over just three years, with nearly half of them taking place between September and December 1630. The city of Venice began several public works projects, like the grand Baroque church, Santa Maria della Salute, greeting guests at the entrance to the Grand Canal. The church’s construction began in November 1630 with the goal of keeping citizens employed and maintaining art and labor skills.
The city of Venice also purchased food for the quarantined, both in the city and on the plague islands. It is logical to speculate that in the early months of 1631, Venice might have asked Ferrara, a city with success at conquering the plague, if their convents could be paid in order to encourage volunteers to work at the plague islands. My story is fictitious, but the stage was set for the events I describe in the story. I also talked about pirates in the story. Yes, there were pirates at this time: mercenary pirates and government deployed pirates (particularly from England).
My story focuses on a group of nuns who have been “volunteered” by their convents, and how they sacrifice one nun into a marriage in order to secure their much needed ingredient of saffron for Composito, their only hope for survival on the plague islands. The politics and finances of Venice in 1631 created a world where this story could have happened. There’s a lot of history not recorded in text books, and this is a story that no one would want recorded.
Something fun for readers:
In my research of the plague islands, I was surprised by the lack of ghost ship stories haunting the Venetian lagoon. If you know of any, please write me at email@example.com. If you’ve ever visited the eerie lagoon island, Poveglia, the plague island, turned insane asylum, turned old-folks home, which now stands empty—less the chilling screams on foggy nights—I want to hear about it.
There seem to be fewer female poets than male poets but that’s probably a sexist phenomenon. There are fewer PUBLISHED, FAMOUS lady poets, that’s all. Doing a search there are names that come to the top of the list: Mary Oliver, Jane Hirschfield, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I like to contrast the moderns with the Victorians because they make a little study in how much the world has changed. In 1850, assuming you had spectacular talent, “making it” as a poet was a matter of family connections, money and social place. The Victorians valued depth in education. Dickinson and Browning were well read in Greek Classics (in the original Greek), Milton, Shakespeare, et al. Today, attaining prominence as a poet is a matter of marketing and luck. Podcasts, platforms and persistence. Talent trails behind.
Mary Oliver And Friend
Mary Oliver is regarded as the English speaking world’s most beloved poet. I always think of flying geese when Oliver is mentioned. There’s a reason for that. This was the first poem I heard by Mary Oliver: Wild Geese. It’s a good example of her accessibility. Oliver celebrated nature, including human nature. She had a great eye/ear for the natural world’s subtle beauties.
Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Now let’s turn our attention to Emily Dickinson. She was such an interesting person that I feel saddened by the brevity with which I must treat her in this essay. She was the daughter of a prominent lawyer, politician and man of civic affairs. This was Edward Dickinson. He provided a liberal and wealthy environment in which Emily could do pretty much as she pleased. She obtained a first class education at Amherst Academy and Mt. Holyoke, and cultivated friendships with the likes of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emily is famous for her reclusive ways. When she was finished with her education she retired into a world that consisted of her bedroom and the extensive family garden. She maintained vast correspondence with the best minds of the era. She also wrote nearly 1800 poems. A year after her death the first collection of her poems was published and became a huge hit. I find her poems cryptic and timeless. Many of them are just a few lines, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t really understand some of them. I plan to read them again, and perhaps yet again. It seems that she was writing for her own pleasure. There was no thought of an audience. In this way her poems attain a great purity.
I Like to see it lap the Miles, by Emily Dickenson
I like to see it lap the Miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop—docile and omnipotent—
At its own stable door.
It’s important to know that Jane Hirschfield is a student of Zen Buddhism. She was ordained in 2011 at The San Francisco Zen Center. Hirschfield gets irritated, however, when people try to identify her poetry as “Zen” or anything else. It’s just poetry. Winner of so many awards it gets ridiculous, Jane Hirschfield is a kind of poetry goddess of our times. She’s 65 as of today. She may be around for yet a while. Her poetry has a kind of practicality. It deals with familiar things in unfamiliar ways. Her poems are full of dogs and horses, images of man’s interaction with nature. There are musings on the dilemma of living within one’s own mind. I find such questions easy to understand. I, too, am some kind of Buddhist.
Rebus, by Jane Hirschfield
You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.
Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.
This rebus – slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life –
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.
As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.
The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.
How can I enter this question the clay has asked?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born into an aristocratic English family and received a classical education. Getting such schooling was not a given for women of that age. Usually it depended on the father’s disposition. In Elizabeth’s case, dad was a poet and the family luxuriated in artistic pursuits. Elizabeth was educated alongside her younger brother. No feminist outrages here. The Barretts were extremely wealthy and lived within the intellectual mainstream of the Victorian era.
It all seemed so wonderful until I came to the tragic stories of the Barrett family.
Elizabeth’s brother drowned. Elizabeth came down with tuberculosis and had an accident that permanently damaged her spine. In its way this is typical of upper class Victorian suffering. They suffered extravagantly: people died young, children were scythed down by fevers, chronic brain afflictions abounded. Elizabeth spent the rest of her life on morphine, opium and other such medications. Still, she had the stubborn persistence of all artists and produced a huge body of work. This first poem, below, “How Do I Love Thee” is one of the most famous poems in the world. It is also called “Sonnet 13”. I follow it with “Sonnet 14”.
How do I love thee? or Sonnet 13, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Sonnet 14, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
‘I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’—
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,—
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.
Thus we have a painfully brief glimpse into the worlds of some famous lady poets. It’s a rich universe and I feel ridiculous popping these classics out on the page so casually. These women were/are great poets! Profoundly human, they deal with universal themes, the glorious quiz of life on earth. Is there a difference between the male and female poets? Are men better than women? Hell no. Somewhere there’s a planet with six genders, each with distinctive characteristics and functions. They quarrel endlessly about whether a frem is superior to a bloot and why forgles make the best musicians. It’s always the same stuff. Art. That useless but essential stuff: Art. P.S. I think the it’s the werkish who make the best Jerk n’ Jell paddle players.
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s The Many Faces of Poetry segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.