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)


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
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.




a new poem from penny harter

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” ~ from an Irish headstone

I was so pleased to hear from New Jersey poet Penny Harter recently, who sent along a new food poem she had just written.

You may remember when we featured Penny’s “Moon-Seeking Soup,” “Your Grandmother’s Whisk,” and “One Bowl,” all referencing her late husband, esteemed poet, translator, and haiku scholar William J. Higginson. With these poems, we saw a poet moving through various stages of grief, as words facilitated emotional release and healing.

As those of us who have lost loved ones well know, one really never stops grieving. We instead find a way to live with loss. Penny’s poignant poem reminds us that as time passes, we move on, but the heart, ever tender and hopeful, never forgets.



Sitting in our regular booth in the Prestige Diner,
often on our way home from some poetry event
or other, you always ordered eggs over-easy
and whole wheat toast, but we could never find
those little plastic packets of orange marmalade
in the small square dish by the napkin holder.

Now that you’re dead, do you still love marmalade?

Before we knew you were sick, we were driving
through a spring landscape, branches blossoming
white, sweet and easy miles disappearing beneath
our quiet tires, when suddenly you said,
I can’t imagine all this going on without me!

How fluently the names forsythia, red maple
flowed from our tongues that day, the engine
of our life together well-tuned and fuel efficient.
How can it be eight years since you drove alone
over the horizon? Yet I, too, have moved on,
weathered lonely nights, betrayals of my own body.

There is still marmalade, the sticky jar on my shelf
almost empty. I spread it thickly on this morning’s
whole wheat toast, and its bitter sugar lingers
on my aging tongue. Dearest, wherever you are,
know the heart makes room for other loves, although
I love you still, and I wish you marmalade on toast.

~ Copyright © 2017 Penny Harter. All rights reserved.


Penny: I just wrote “Marmalade” over MLK weekend while at Peter Murphy’s annual Poetry and Prose Getaway. We were given a model poem as a prompt and it had the word ‘marmalade’ in it. Suddenly the diner memory surfaced, and I was off and running with it. Then I benefited from work-shopping it in a small critique group. Funny what one word can prompt if the grove is ripe!

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please write, don’t call: my love-hate relationship with telephones

“The telephone, which interrupts the most serious conversations and cuts short the most weighty observations, has a romance of its own.” ~ Virginia Woolf

Rrrrring!!  Rrrrrrring!!

Oh, it’s for you. 🙂

Oil on canvas by Raymond Logan

by Edward Field

My happiness depends on an electric appliance
And I do not mind giving it so much credit
With life in this city being what it is
Each person separated from friends
By a tangle of subways and buses
Yes my telephone is my joy
It tells me that I am in the world and wanted
It rings and I am alerted to love or gossip
I go comb my hair which begins to sparkle
Without it I was like a bear in a cave
Drowsing through a shadowy winter
It rings and spring has come
I stretch and amble out into the sunshine
Hungry again as I pick up the receiver
For the human voice and the good news of friends

~ from Counting Myself Lucky (Blacksparrow Press, 1992)


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a three course meal with billy collins

“There’s something very authentic about humor, when you think about it. Anybody can pretend to be serious. But you can’t pretend to be funny.” ~ Billy Collins

Billy Collins (NYC, 2016)

Today we’re serving up a three-course poetic meal in celebration of Billy Collins’s 76th birthday on March 22.

Heidi Mordhorst, who’s hosting Poetry Friday today, is encouraging everyone to share their favorite Collins poems (or Collins-inspired originals).

Naturally I am partial to Billy’s food-related verse. Since he’s written so many good ones it’s impossible to pick a favorite. I love the wit and tenderness of “Litany” (you will always be the bread and the knife,/not to mention the crystal goblet and — somehow — the wine), and the wisdom and beauty of “Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant” (and I should mention the light/that falls through the big windows this time of day/italicizing everything it touches).

Come to think of it, Billy always seems to be eating in restaurants. Maybe that’s where he does his best thinking. My kind of poet. 🙂

Ossobuco e risotto alla milanese by mWP

He once said he would rather have his poetry be described as “hospitable” rather than “accessible” (which brings to mind “on-ramps for the poetically handicapped”).

Like it or not, he is undeniably both, a large part of why he remains America’s favorite poet. Doesn’t just seeing his name make you feel good?

Ever hospitable, he welcomes us into each poem with an easy conversational tone and generous spirit, engaging us with humor that lends a deeper poignancy to serious subjects. Continue reading

[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro and Catia Chien

One of my very favorite things to do is to feature children’s books by first time authors, especially when they’re written by dear online friends.

I’ve been a fan of Elaine Magliaro’s poetry and blog Wild Rose Reader for about ten years now. I first began reading her wonderful posts at Blue Rose Girls before she launched Wild Rose Reader in April 2007.  A retired elementary school teacher and librarian, Elaine is extremely knowledgeable and unfailingly passionate about children’s poetry, which she shared in the classroom for over three decades, and which she herself has written for many, many years.

Though I’ve loved the insightful book reviews, fascinating interviews, and general wealth of amazing educational resources available at Wild Rose Reader, I was always most excited when Elaine posted her own poetry. Over the years, her poems appeared in several anthologies, but now (hooray, hooray!), she finally has her own book!

Things to Do (Chronicle Books, 2017) is an absolutely stunning debut and I’m thoroughly delighted to sing its praises. The fourteen list poems, paired with Catia Chien’s evocative acrylic paintings, chronicle the small, sweet moments of a child’s day. Most illuminate wonders of the natural world: sun, moon, sky, rain, a bird, an acorn, a honeybee, crickets, a snail — from a uniquely childlike perspective that is refreshing, innocent, and thoroughly charming.

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