Ann Neuser Lederer Jul 10, 2008 21:46:56 GMT 2
Post by moira on Jul 10, 2008 21:46:56 GMT 2
From the Back of Beyond: Women's Poetry Outside the Academy
by Ann Neuser Lederer
For as long as I can remember, I have loved poetry. Although I have no formal diploma to prove this affiliation, I remain a dedicated student. As a tot, I cherished reciting the usual rhymes and ditties. "The Owl and The Pussycat" was so beloved I took it to bed with me, even tearing the pages to tiny shreds during one long nap time, then weeping inconsolably at this unexpected destruction. My father, a recently returned veteran of World War Two, enjoyed reading aloud to a rapt audience of his youngsters from a frayed paperback collection including works of Poe, Whitman, and Longfellow. "Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, and Edith with golden hair" from "The Children's Hour" seemed like sisters to me. Frequent trips to the public library a few blocks away amplified a literary awareness. The Latin litanies and chants of parochial school contributed as well with mesmerizing rhythms.
My years of reading put me in an advanced placement English group in early High School, where an eager teacher introduced the likes of Dame Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, along with the more expected Beowulf, Frost, and Emily Dickenson. A daily journal required for one semester evolved into a many volumed forty year plus habit, often becoming a womb for budding poems. A creature of soothing ritual, I eventually established a pattern of nurturing one poem per month. Through drafts and revisions, some of these were born into the world of publication. Although my energies were officially focused on fine arts, a like minded friend and I founded a literary club at our all girls' academy. A few poems and short essays made their way into the literary journals of schools I attended, and then some local publications.
My formal education in college moved in a practical direction as I changed majors from fine art to cultural anthropology, and eventually to nursing. I am glad I managed to fit in as an elective a survey class in poetry, gaining familiarity with such writers as William Carlos Williams and Ginsberg. as well as Plath and Sexton. As an undergrad in a state college's honors program, there was some flexibility regarding electives. Going beyond my high school French into some advanced classes allowed me the joy of reading some poems by Baudelaire, Rimbaud and others in the original. A taste for language led me to sample the discipline of linguistics, and then a bit of Russian and Hindi, mainly for the fun of dabbling in unfamiliar alphabets. (Occasionally through the years I indulge in the interesting challenge of reading a book of poems in a language I am not familiar with. Although progress is very slow, the resulting experience is memorable. Paul Celan in German and Neruda in Spanish, and even Sappho in Greek have been particularly thrilling, as the bare bones of the language's syntax, structure, and even a bit of vocabulary seep into my consciousness by trying to decipher one poem at a time, then permitting myself to peek at its translation. I will never forget the stunning realization via this process that a single word in an Akhmatova passage alluding to the action of folding
down bed covers in readiness for the night's sleep, was translated as a long phrase in English, describing the motion of fog rolling in at dusk, low to the ground. Linking these two actions via metaphor remains a beautiful example of the potential of poetry to create new ways of seeing.
I have never regretted any of these side steps in my education, as seemingly random pieces somehow found ways to fit, as with the collage sculptures of Louise Nevelson, into the holism of poetry. My studies of art included such techniques as printmaking, life drawing, and the fiber arts of spinning, dyeing and weaving wool carded from actual fleece of sheep. The resulting heightened awareness of the relationships between formal elements and content carried over to enrich my concept of poetry as a framing and juxtaposition of selections, creating a new object. The exotic array of facts about human behavior revealed in anthropology, and then biology, hinted of unseen wonders not immediately evident by perception, adding to potential texture of poems.
As a busy practicing nurse, and mother of a growing boy, my love of poetry sometimes surfaced only in small doses, such as reading aloud to my own child. Luckily, he never seemed to tire of this until well launched, at which time I began to enroll in a few community workshops, most memorably with the gentle mentorship of the beloved James Baker Hall, himself a local legend. As an outgrowth of one workshop, I helped in the creation of a critique group, which I attended regularly until the stress of time constraints and the growing ease of the Internet tempted me in new directions. Through the years, I remained a faithful subscriber to American Poetry Review, looking forward not only to new and exciting poems and poets, but also to thoughtful essays on poetics, and other topics (such as Dickens' spellbinding description of his field trip to Philadelphia's eerie Eastern State Prison). I continued to write regularly, and even sometimes publish in some of the places I enjoyed reading. Exploring zines and online groups became a convenient way to indulge in poetry while continuing to work a more than full time job, now as a visiting home nurse for hospice. Very occasionally, snippets from my work experience found their way into a poem, but I consciously avoided topical narratives
By the time my son left home to begin his own journey towards a career in medicine, I had collected enough poems for two chapbooks, and then conceived of a third, helping to ease the distress of empty nesting by combining samples of his emails to home with poems exploring topics of loss and hope. To this day, I continue to read widely and daily, usually exceeding my goal of fifty books per year (not counting poetry). Besides having read all books in print by such favorites as Mary Gordon, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Louise Erdrich, and Isaac B. Singer, I enjoy the medical writings of anecdotes of such writers as Oliver Sacks and Abraham Verghese; biographies, histories, and other nonfiction. Reading poetry books, anthologies, journals, and Internet discussions are special treats, as well as necessities for well being. Grace Paley, Jean Valentine, C.D. Wright, Jane Hirshfield, Li Young Lee, Louise Gluck, and C.K. Williams are among the favorites in recent years. After long years of practice, poetry has become deeply interwoven with a life impossible to imagine without its presence.
Ann Neuser Lederer was born in Ohio, and has also lived and worked in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Kentucky. Her poems can be found in journals, anthologies, and her chapbooks Approaching Freeze (Foothills), The Undifferentiated (Pudding House), and Weaning the Babies (Pudding House). She has degrees in Anthropology and in Nursing, and is employed as an R.N..