for women’s history month: “What They Did by Lamplight” by Kimberly Blaeser

“For most of history Anonymous was a woman.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“Woman Ironing” by Edgar Degas (1887)

And for most of history, Anonymous was doing all the housework.

Can you think of any unpaid activity as tedious, thankless or relentless? You know how the saying goes — nobody notices when you clean your house, they only notice when you don’t. There are so many things I’d rather do than dust, scrub, wash or vacuum.

And yet, I see how the routine of doing household chores is reassuring and makes me feel secure (at least I have a house to take care of!!). With so much in this life out of my control, polishing my favorite tea table, putting books away on their shelves, cleaning out the fridge — these are ways of making order out of chaos. These are things I can control.

Tasks like ironing can even be meditative, giving my brain a chance to rest, my mind the freedom to wander, reflect, imagine. And I have to admit that unloading the dishwasher can be pleasurable, because I love my dishes — I handpicked each plate, cup, bowl and platter. I love seeing the beauty in practical objects.:)

When I first read Kimberly Blaeser’s poem, I was reminded of the debt we owe to those women who came before us, who steadfastly kept the home fires burning while their spouses went out to be SOMEBODY. For those women who didn’t — or couldn’t aspire to careers outside the home, or whose lives were measured by how many towels were folded on any given day, or how many mouths they had to feed and feed and feed — I have renewed respect and admiration.

For in the midst of seeming drudgery, these women found ways to be creative while being productive. Blaeser’s cool concrete poem is also a list poem — a list of ways these women practiced patience and forbearance, displayed ingenuity, resourcefulness and versatility, and embraced the domestic sphere over which they alone reigned supreme. Even though they remain Anonymous to us, for the ones they took care of, the ones who loved them, they were truly SOMEBODY.

“Three Women at the Table by the Lamp” by August Macke (1912)

 

WHAT THEY DID BY LAMPLIGHT
by Kimberly Blaeser

Clean rice, handstitch
make pies, roll jingles
patch jeans, shake dice
clean fish, roll cigarettes
read from The Farmer
Braid rugs, mend nets, tell stories
write letters, bead, cut quilt squares
boil swamp tea, deliver their babies.
Darn socks, peel potatoes, drink coffee
shuffle cards, cut hair, can tomatoes
sift flour, bead, sing church songs.
Scrub socks, gossip.
sing country songs
make tobacco ties
braid sweet grass
prepare their dead.
Beat frosting
laugh
embroider
crack nuts
depill sweaters
wipe their tears.
Search penny jar for old coins
shell peas, cut birchbark patterns
thread matching buttons together.
Build fire, make soap, join their hands
knead bread, read seed catalogues, smoke
slice apples, squeeze color into margarine.
Change diapers, shuck corn, soak beans
rock their children, boil water, crochet doilies
clean sunflower seeds, can dill pickles.
Sharpen knives, eat, iron
dance together
nurse their babies
remember their dead.

~ from Sweeping Beauty: Contemporary Women Poets Do Housework, edited by Pamela Gemin (University of Iowa Press, 2005).

*

The lovely and talented Catherine Flynn is hosting the Roundup at Reading to the Core. Tap dance on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.

Note: I’m collecting links for a Kidlitosphere Poetry Month Roundup again, so if you’re doing something special on your blog, please submit your information by the end of next week via a comment on this blog or by sending me an email: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Appreciate your helping to spread the word, too. Thanks!

*

“There is, I suppose, no occupation in the world which has an influence on the efficiency and happiness of the members of nearly all other occupations so continuous and so permeating as that of the working housewife and mother.” ~ Eleanor Rathbone


Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

Save

Save

Save

43 thoughts on “for women’s history month: “What They Did by Lamplight” by Kimberly Blaeser

  1. So true. And we can add to that list with our modern tasks, scheduling playdates, arranging parties, giving rides to after school events, being the home violin teacher, attending concerts, providing concert dress, tuning violins, fixing strings, cleaning the microwave. So lovely that we don’t have to do it by candlelight most days. Thanks for this trip to the past, Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the art you selected for this post, Jama! And the line “Sharpen knives, eat, iron” really jumps out at me. I’m so grateful to the women who came before, and to all the amazing women I’m privileged to know now — including YOU. xo

    Like

  3. What an utterly wonderful blog post Jama and particularly appropriate for us in the UK as we celebrate Mothering Sunday this weekend. The line which spoke to me and made me smile was “depill sweaters” Only a mother could care enough about her family to do such a thankless task. Thank you for this tribute to women world wide.

    Like

    1. That line stood out for me too, Ann. It’s a task that the more meticulous undertake :). Happy Mothering Sunday and thanks for visiting today!

      Like

  4. I have many good memories of the women in my life, grandmothers and aunts especially. Because of my life as a grandmother now, I look back at my own time and wonder how each of my own grandmothers managed all the work listed in this poem did get done because they also did so much with me. I probably wasn’t even aware, except I did help with the gardening and the cooking! I will share that one great grandmother had 10 boys and two girls and the boys took turns helping with household chores too because there was so much to do. My grandmother told me that. Love that Mona Lisa, haven’t seen that before! Thanks for your wonderful tribute, Jama.

    Like

    1. Love hearing about your great grandmother, Linda — my own maternal grandmother had twelve children — 7 boys and 5 girls. Yes, the older ones did help take care of the younger ones, but still — to be the parent in charge of making sure everything gets done must have been quite a challenge. Also love hearing that you have fond memories of things your grandmother did with you, despite all the work she had to do. That’s pure love right there — something you’re obviously extending to your own grandchildren. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing Kimberly Blaeser’s poem. What a list! It’s amazing all that they did. Truely amazing! My grandmother did a big part of what’s on the list, plus ran the resort she and my grandpa owned. I rarely clean my house without thinking of her because my three sisters and I cleaned the cabins on the resort per Grandma’s strict guidelines. She even insisted the utensil drawer be arranged in a certain order.
    I love your header! Is it from a picture book? It ought to be if it’s not. It tells a story 😀

    Like

    1. Sounds like you and your sisters got some valuable training thanks to your grandmother. They say the busiest ones are the most organized and get the most done — your grandmother sounds like one of those people. 🙂

      I’m not sure if the Molly Brett image is from a book or not; it looks like it probably was. I’m trying to learn more about her work, as her fondness for animals and nature reminds me of Beatrix Potter and Tasha Tudor.

      Like

  6. We need a comparison poem, I think. If we spent more time on the tasks our grandparents did, we wouldn’t have so much time to worry about whether or not our…well, name any trivial thing we worry about now… This is such a full poem, reminding me of the women who have passed from my past. Thanks for sharing it today, and the art!
    Just so you know, some words were used from a poem on your post to use in the new Scavenger Hunt today! http://mainelywrite.blogspot.com/2017/03/poetry-friday.html

    Like

  7. That’s a good point, Donna. It’s all relative, isn’t it — every generation has their share of worries and concerns. Now we’re on our electronic devices so much, we forget to clean! 😀

    Like

  8. What a wonderful tribute! I agree with your words, “I see how the routine of doing household chores is reassuring and makes me feel secure.” As I read Kimberly Blaeser’s poem a second time I saw the faces of women from my childhood. When I read it a third time, I thought of things they made or used that have found their way into my home: a braided rug, doilies, quilts, a flour sifter, a sock darning egg made of polished wood, letters in a small wooden chest. Thank you for making me pause and remember these women who bequeathed to me a great legacy of character and love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a beautiful legacy, Alice. There are certain heirlooms that can never be replaced by modern conveniences or shiny new objects. I treasure two small jewelry boxes, one made of wood, the other, of metal, that belonged to my grandmothers. I used to see the shiny metal one on my grandmother’s dresser. And I have an apron and tote bag my godmother made that are so totally “her.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You created quite a treasure trove on your blog today Jama, thanks for all! I’m a bit exhausted from reading Kimberly Blaeser’s poem, glad I’m living in the 21C. I’m not big on cleaning and would much rather be writing or painting, or on a walk outside doing both. The closest I get in meditative thought while engaged in a chore is when I am weeding in my garden, but that probably doesn’t count because I enjoy gardening. I also especially liked August Macke’s “Three Women at the Table by the Lamp.”

    Like

    1. I think the meditative, restorative aspect is why so many enjoy gardening. 🙂 I try to be as zen as possible when doing household chores, but there’s always a part of me that says just get it out of the way so you can do things that are more fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I really enjoyed this post and the art is perfect! I’m not familiar with Kimberly Blaeser, but the poem you shared inspires to read more.

    Like

    1. Swamp tea is made from the Labrador plant — and has medicinal properties. Not made with swamp water, so don’t worry. . . 🙂

      Like

  11. And she played bridge, gave home perms, helped kids make Christmas ornaments, wrapped packages, filled Easter baskets, and petted cats. Along with bunches of bits in the poem. Another great post with great art! Thank you, Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m exhausted just reading this poem with it’s seemingly endless list of chores. My grandmothers are a constant source of inspiration for me, knowing how many hardships they endured, while accomplishing so much. As Irene mentioned, I love the paintings you chose. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

    1. It’s quite an exhausting and exhaustive list. It’s amazing how much they got accomplished without modern conveniences. Also ironic how everyone these days complains of having “so little time,” even though our appliances are all electric and technology has provided so many shortcuts.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. “Nobody notices when you clean your house, they only notice when you don’t” – so true, Jama! I struggle with my role as former teacher/freelance writer/stay at home mom to kids who need me less and less. I sometimes have an identity crisis (as is evident by my self defined job title). This post/poem is exactly what I needed to read today – I do more than I give myself credit for. Thank you. =)

    Like

    1. I think most of us do more than we give ourselves credit for. That’s the “female” mindset we grew up with and which society reinforces. These things are expected of women — no credit, no pay. Yet there are so many intangible benefits and positives we often don’t recognize until we stop doing certain things. The empty nest syndrome is a good example of that.

      Like

  14. Yes – I often remember that when poetry was written by “Anonymous,” it was probably a woman…

    I would love a print of the Mona Lisa with cleaning supplies – that amuses me for some reason. Are we sure enigmatic smile was not because she had a cleaning company coming in…?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow – like so many others, I’m reminded of my grandmother and all she did – more than I was ever aware of, I know. And I’m reminded of one of my favorite words, quotidian, just so fun to say and contemplate. Thank you for the poem AND the art; I’m smitten with the Macke painting you’ve shared, too!

    Like

    1. I do marvel at my grandparents. Large families were more common then; they all seemed to manage somehow. Quotidian is definitely a good word. 🙂

      Like

  16. The beauty in practical…..yes. That’s it isn’t it? My great grandmother married a handsome drunk. When her baby was young, he died. She took in boarders, washed laundry and re-married a much older man…possibly to survive. I have her cookie crock and wrote a poem about it. I may share that soon. The beauty of that chipped crock is special to me. She did all the things in the list poem above without fanfare. I wish I could have known her and asked her questions.
    Thank you for a beautiful post, Jama.

    Like

  17. Thanks for sharing this, Jama. Ironing was one of the few household chores I didn’t mind doing until I hurt my shoulder. Probably a repetitive movement strain! I am grateful to the women who came before us, for the good choices they made, for the character they built in themselves and in me. I still don’t like chores, though.

    Like

    1. I hear you on the chores! Sticking to them does build character, though. These days, I iron so infrequently that I don’t mind doing it as much. 🙂

      Like

Comments are closed.