Category Archives: 18th C poetry

Too Little, Too Late

I originally wrote my book, which I now call The Minäverse, in 2013, but the book was inspired by a group of short stories I wrote in…2012? 2011? Earlier? I don’t remember. My point being, it takes me a long time to think things through and arrive at conclusions. The book has many absurd scenes, some of which are sports-related. But due to my inability to complete something in the way that clever, snappy people do, and the increasing rate at which the world is becoming more absurd around me, my book may seem stale by the time I actually publish it.

Ah, well, such is life and my own limitations. Take this sports related buffoonery, for example: Here’s the Facebook post that got Curt Schilling fired from ESPN. Curt Schilling is a former baseball pitcher turned TV sports analyst. ESPN fired him for unacceptable conduct, after he posted a meme on Facebook mocking those who think it’s right and normal for transgender men to use female restrooms/locker rooms. ESPN is inclusive, see, so a regular guy who thinks that transgender men should just use men’s restrooms, must be discluded.

Now, admittedly, I don’t or haven’t yet discussed public restrooms/locker rooms in my book, as they are places I don’t generally like to think about even when I’m inside one. That’s for a very good reason. Nasty things happen in restrooms. People say nasty things, do nasty things. At one school I know of, there is a guard outside the female restrooms to ensure that only one female enters at a time because the girls were being sexually molested by…other girls. Restrooms being what they are, designed the way they are, etc., the goal is to get in, do the necessary business, and get out. Granted, some women actually like to spend time in bathrooms putting on lipstick and fixing their hair…more on that in a minute.

And despite all the nastiness that human nature can stoop to, all the behavior that ought to be curbed, it naturally makes sense that a human who points out that men have penises and that bathrooms are all about plumbing, should be the one punished for his “conduct.” It’s surreal. Of course, if it helps us play politics with the right crowd, then, carry on, as Cruz did: “ESPN fired Curt Schilling for making the rather obvious point that we shouldn’t allow grown male adult strangers alone in a bathroom with little girls,” the Texas senator said in a 14-minute interview on the radio show of surrogate Glenn Beck, in which he discussed North Carolina’s recent ban on transgender people from using facilities other than the ones corresponding to their gender at birth. “That’s a point anyone who is rational should understand.”

Carry on…and like Cruz and Beck, completely miss the point. Bathrooms aren’t just for little girls. They’re also for adult females and teen females, who might very well abuse these same little girls. Bathrooms are also for males of various ages. And mightn’t a little boy be at risk in the same way due to the repulsive nature of human perversion? And mightn’t abuse occur outside of restrooms? The potential for abuse is not the point.*

The point is really quite simple: men and women have differences which are both mental and physical. That’s why they have separate spaces, as well as communal spaces. Or they used to have separate spaces. Now every single space that is unique to being male or female is slowly being eradicated. And it’s not making us happier or healthier or more, dare I say it, self-actualized. Self-actualization may be a modern psychological catchphrase, but it is useful because it means something akin to being a complete person — a whole person, sane and healthy and living up to potential. And part of personhood is being okay with one’s gender, despite personality foibles that might make one insecure in one’s gender. I find public bathrooms loathsome, but one cannot deny that women putting on their lipstick together is a feminine ritual. And I’m sure men have their own rituals, but I dare not comment on that, as I’ve never been invited to share them.

My book is just a meaningless fluff piece of media that will soon be buried in Amazon. Curt Schilling’s story is one he’s living. I’m not sure why I’m bemoaning the staleness of my writing. I’m not, after all, in competition with the real world. I’m just knee-deep in edits. And the world around me is making me crazy.

*Of course, there is always the potential for abuse, especially if we are talking about locker rooms. There’s a commercial that clutters my Hulu shows — Jergen’s, I think — in which a woman enters the female locker room and gives lotion to the showering nude female, and then says she’s going to the men’s locker room to help them put their lotion on. Yep. Definitely potential for abuse.

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Mary Leapor, Poem and Perspective**

Several years ago, I wrote a poem about Mary Leapor (I’ll paste it to the end of this post).  I don’t expect anyone to gasp at this news.  It isn’t a particularly stellar poem, nor is it unusual for me to attempt such literary feats.  I have written poems about other historical characters.  Recently, however, I felt inspired to dig out the Leapor poem and post it on Eratosphere.  For those unaware, Eratosphere is a site in which the modern day heavyweights of metrical poetry mingle.  I’m not a heavyweight, but that’s all right–anyone who is serious about poetry, and who has a backbone, may post a poem.  The critiques can be brutal, so I was pleasantly surprised that several people really appreciated my Leapor poem. 

One critique, however, had me wondering about the nature of feminism.  To start with, the woman claimed my poem had inspired her to read about Mary Leapor.  That’s a good thing, I think.  Then, she asked me why I hadn’t focused a little more on Leapor’s feminist views, due to the highly irregular nature of such thinking in Leapor’s time.  I scratched my head.  Were feminist views really all that uncommon prior to Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?

Sometimes, my brain rolls along like an unfolding scroll with snippets of things read, but this scroll is like the Dead Sea texts–old and damaged (the scroll is, not me!).  I don’t want to do any name-dropping, so please believe me when I insist that there are many literary and intellectual women from the 17th and 18th centuries who preceded Wollstonecraft.  Mary Leapor is but one who dropped into the world for twenty-four short years and managed, in that time, to leave a wealth of verse that includes these: “Yet, with ten thousand Follies to her Charge, / Unhappy Woman’s but a Slave at large (This, I believe, is from her poem, An Essay on Woman).”

Am I to believe that feminist women of the ilk of Leapor sprung on the scene suddenly, as if they emerged from the great deep in response to God’s voice: Let there be light, and there was?  Surely, that can’t be the truth.  People–of both sexes–have been known to rise against their oppressors throughout all epochs of history.  The fact is, though, that we want to cram the idea of feminisism into one definition–a modern one.  In the past, European women of a feminist slant attempted to reconcile their Christian beliefs with their desire for autonomy and independence.  It could be a quandary, but not necessarily.  Living under various authority figures doesn’t negate the passion of the individual.

Mary Leapor was a servant.  Some would say she wasn’t a good servant, but she was one, none the less.  Within the confines of her life, she still managed to read copiously and scribble out heroic couplets.  For my poem, I focused on her servitude because it’s the basic position that all people find themselves in: male or female, slave or free.

Here’s my blank verse poem, with its lines of trochaic pentameter:

The Short, Sad Life of Mary Leapor

Mary is a watcher without windows,
and I hear that under her disguises
hides a maid that stirs pea soup for servants
in the kitchen with the melted candles.
Who is like you, little Mira-Mary?
Turn the meat; don’t scribble in the shadows,
waiting for Cordia’s greasy clutches.
Stir the pot and stop your constant dreaming!
Out the door with nothing but your verses,
run from her, and leave behind her curses!

Mary runs to Brackley, hiding rashes
where her cap strings meet her woolen layers.
In her broken hands she clutches volumes,
wilted papers streaked with new pastorals.
Who has taught the serving girl her letters?
Better—who has led her to the pastures?
Pope and Swift together could not couple
thoughtful lines like you, my Mira-Mary.
When it’s morning, tend your father’s garden;
in the night, accept his wine and pardon.

Mary faints.  She falls by sparking embers;
spots are blazing on her pearly brow bone,
as adornment for her plain complexion,
beauty without gold, nor paint for blushes.
Mary, blind now, where are all your letters?
From your drowsy fever-words, drop riches
never heard from spinster serving ladies
sick at twenty-four with Peter waiting
at the gate–his ear to your oration,
kneeling down with words of your salvation.


**I originally wrote this post for The Female Quixote in the summer of 2009. I haven’t written poetry in years and, consequently, haven’t been over to Eratosphere for several years, either. If you’re interested in checking out a thriving poetry site, this is it: http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/.

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My Frail Attempt at Understanding Amazing Grace

Most of the words that come out of my mouth are meant to annoy others. When I hear yet another rendition of John Newton’s Amazing Grace on the radio or at a church gathering, my cynical response is generally, “Yeah, I know, 21st C Americans couldn’t begin to write poetry as well as 18th C Brits, so why bother?” But that isn’t it, is it? That’s not why this legendary song is so popular, despite that I really, really desire to annoy people. Our ineptness to pen powerful words in corresponding lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter is not the point.

The point is what the song represents. It’s no secret that I’m passionate about the Enlightenment, specifically the British Enlightenment. But what seems to have been lost to many of my fellow countrymen is that the values that inspired the American revolution sprang from British Enlightenment thinking. These values are not necessarily Christian in nature. However, consider for a moment some of these values: reason as a method to reform society and disseminate knowledge, the acceptance of intellectual debate, and the focus on the individual. All of these values fit neatly into the Christian ones of propagating the gospel, reforming problems and injustice in society, and bringing individuals to Christ. Furthermore, Enlightenment values inspired the necessary debates that ended slavery and began the feminist movement, because, according to the value system, all people are equal, not simply regarding the justice system, but in God’s eyes as well. God sent his son to save black and white, male and female, slave and free.

When politically minded Christians such as William Wilberforce fought to end slavery, he used Enlightenment values to do so–values not elucidated by philosophers, but by Jesus Christ, himself. For those in the dark, Jesus called his people to a higher standard than the law. Jesus wanted the hearts of men, and not simply the willingness to follow a set of regulations. Oh, didn’t you know? Slavery was regulated in the Old Testament law. It was regulated in order that corrupt men couldn’t take advantage of the system that kept the market system afloat with cheap labor. Slavery was regulated because God hates injustice. And for that reason, men such as William Wilberforce used Enlightenment values to altogether abolish slavery in the justice system.

That intangible freedom of the individual–that is the heart of the poem Amazing Grace. Mankind is corrupt and doesn’t deserve it, but that doesn’t change mankind’s need for it. We need freedom from slavery in so many ways, and when I hear that yet another singer has redone these words to yet another tune, has sung Newton’s words one more time, I realize that all is not lost in this country. The Enlightenment values we began with are not lost to us.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton (1725-1807)

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A Collier Defense For Women, Such As Myself, Who Are Scullery Maids Deigning to Be Poets

“IT is thought proper to assure the Reader, that the following Verses are the real Productions of the Person to whom the Title Page ascribes them.

THO She pretends not to the Genius of Mr. DUCK, nor hopes to be taken Notice of by the Great, yet her Friends are of Opinion that the Novelty of a Washer Woman’s turning Poetess, will procure her some Readers.

IF all that follow the same Employment would amuse themselves, and one another, during the tedious Hours of their Labour, in this, or some other Way as innocent, instead of tossing Scandal to and fro, many Reputations would remain unwounded, and the Peace of Families be less disturb’d.

I THINK it no Reproach to the Author, whose Life is toilsome, and her Wages inconsiderable, to confess honestly, that the View of her putting a small Sum of Money in her Pocket, as well as the Reader’s Entertainment, had its Share of Influence upon this Publication. And she humbly hopes she shall not be absolutely disappointed  ; since, tho’ she is ready to own that her performance could be no Means stand a critical Examination, yet she flatters herself that, with all its Faults and Imperfections, the candid Reader will judge it to be Something considerably beyond the common Capacity of those of her own Rank and Occupation.”

This is Mary Collier’s introduction to her poem The Woman’s Labour: An Epistle to Mr. Stephen Duck (1739). Mary Collier was an English working-class poet of the 18th C, most famous for the aforementioned poem. I’ve spoken about her before on this blog, and if you haven’t noticed, I have a habit of returning repeatedly to my favorite subjects. I appreciate Mary Collier, not simply because she was a poet and washer-woman, but also owing to her ability to debate in verse. I love this 18th C practice. One poet would publish a poem making bold and often offensive statements, another would publish a response, and so on and so forth. As you can see from the title, hers was in response to Stephen Duck, author of The Thresher’s Labour. Duck implies, in his verses, that women are lazy gossips, while men carry the brunt of the work. Both Duck and Collier were working-class poets–Duck should have known from experience that the women surrounding him worked just as hard or harder then the menfolk, then went home for a second shift to wait on their children and husbands.

I ran across Collier’s entire poem and intro in one of my files labeled “Mary Collier”. I don’t know where I ripped the poem from and can, therefore, give no back-links to its online version. I posted it today because I might start posting more of my own poetry on my blog. I’m not sure, yet. I’m still in a kind of Lenten Limbo, in which I’m praying and attempting to be as quiet as possible on the internet and elsewhere.

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Battle of the Sexes: Lady Mary’s Piquant Reply

I’m in a mood for humor, after a late night and an early morning.  Last night we went to see Enter the Haggis, a Celtic rock band from Canada.  As I’ve mentioned before, much of my life revolves around Irish dancing, and last night was no different.  The band had invited the local Irish dancers to perform on stage during the concert, so that’s where my daughters were: on stage dancing a few numbers with a great band.  It was fun, but we are all exhausted this morning.  This whole lack of sleep thing doesn’t really suit me.  It’s how I live my life, though.  And all of this has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of my post.

If you recall, last week I posted part of Jonathan Swift’s The Lady’s Dressing Room.  It is a gross, yet funny poem mocking lovers’ illusions and pastorals and vain women.  Swift is known for penning gross poetry that deals with subjects such as excrement.  Many of his political essays are not only gross, but shocking.  For example, his Modest Proposal suggests that the Irish solve their problems of poverty and hunger by selling their own children for food.

What you may not realize when you think about the author of Gulliver’s Travels is his career as a clergyman.  When Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote her poem, The Reasons That Induced Dr. Swift to Write a Poem Called the Lady’s Dressing Room*, she held his position firmly in mind.  She might as well have titled her poem Why Would a Clergyman Write Such Filth?  For that, she has the Doctor (Swift) visiting a prostitute, and then demanding his money back from her because he can’t . . . well, you know, finish the dirty deed.  I will post the last stanza, which is a conversation between Dr. Swift and the prostitute, because it is not only funny, but biting in its tone.

The nymph grown furious roared, “By God!
The blame lies all in sixty odd,”
And scornful pointing the door
Cried, “Fumbler, see my face no more.”
“With all my heart I’ll go away,
But nothing done, I’ll nothing pay.
Give back the money.”–“How,” cried she,
“Would you palm such a cheat on me!
For poor four pound to roar and bellow,
Why sure you want some new Prunella?”
“I’ll be revenged, you saucy quean”
(Replies the disappointed Dean),
“I’ll so describe your dressing room
The very Irish shall not come.”
She answered short, “I’m glad you’ll write,
You’ll furnish paper when I shite.” (ll 74-89)

My guess is that Lady Mary didn’t like Dr. Swift all that much, nor did she appreciate his satire.

*Taken from pgs. 2588-2590 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century (2000)      

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