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95 Years Ago Today

On August 18, 1920, as women were campaigning state by state for ratification of the 19th amendment, Tennessee became the state to put them over the top, thereby making it possible for women to vote in the Presidential elections that fall.

There's a lot to be said about the hard work done by many women--and men--in introducing and passing the 19th Amendment, and over the next few years, I will probably say some of it, as I am in the midst of a new poetry project with which I'm in love, involving womens' suffrage at its core.

The hero of that day ninety-five years ago today was Harry T. Burn, a young state representative who, like many in his party, wore a red rose on his lapel to signify opposition to womens' suffrage. The legislature tried to table the amendment, which ended with a 48-48 tie. As a result, the speaker called the vote. The women packing the galleries with themselves and their yellow roses, were distraut, nearly certain of a loss.

The representatives were polled, and Harry Burn, known for his past opposition, said "aye" so quickly it took his fellow representatives a bit to react, but it was his change of mind that made Tennessee the 35th state to ratify the amendment by a vote of 49-47, making it the law of the land. He quite literally risked life and limb in casting his vote as he did, as he was forced to hide in the attics until the crowds had dispersed and was reportedly chased by anti-suffragists who forced him out a window and onto a ledge.

Why did he do it?

Before going to work that morning, young Mr. Burn received a letter from his mother. He might not have been a suffragist, but he was a good son, so he did as his mother asked. He carried her eight-page letter inside his coat jacket, along with a yellow rose. Her letter read in part as follows:

Dear Son, ... Hurray and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed Chandlers’ speech, it was very bitter. I’ve been waiting to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet.... Don’t forget to be a god boy and help Mrs. Catt with her “Rats.” Is she the one that put rat in ratification, Ha! No more from mama this time. With lots of love, Mama

When he was later called upon to explain his vote, which some said had been bought by bribery, Mr. Burns released the following statement:

I desire to resent in the name of honesty and justice the veiled intimidation and accusation regarding my vote on the Suffrage Amendment as indicated in certain statements, and it is my sincere belief that those responsible for their existence know that there is not a scintilla of truth in them. I want to state that I changed my vote in favor of ratification first because I believe in full suffrage as a right; second, I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify; third, I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification; fourth, I appreciated the fact that an opportunity such as seldom comes to a mortal man to free seventeen million women from political slavery was mine; fifth, I desired that my party in both State and nation might say that it was a republican from the East mountains of Tennessee, the purest Anglo- Saxon section in the world, who made national woman suffrage possible at this date, not for personal glory but for the glory of his party.

So for today, a big thanks to Mr. Burn, and to his mother, Phoebe (Febb) Ensminger Burn. I'm pretty certain she was one proud mama. She certainly looks like someone I'd have liked to meet.

          Phoebe "Febb" Ensminger Burn
Following, the closing poem from my chapbook, The Universe Comes Knocking, out earlier this year from Maverick Duck Press (where, HEY!, you can still order it! or you can contact me and buy one!)

This poem was first published by U.S.1 Worksheets, and it always gets a laugh at poetry readings. I'm extra proud of it because I adhered to the rhyme and meter of the original, including the same sounds on the line-ends. Here it is:

Stuck Doing Chores on a Summer's Evening
with apologies to Robert Frost

by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Whose clothes these are, I think I know.
I gave them birth. I've watched them grow.
They leave their dirty laundry here
In heaps as deep as drifted snow.

Sometimes I use All, sometimes Cheer,
And if a stain proves too severe –
Some grape juice, or some chocolate cake –
I always keep stain treatments near.

I give the Spray & Wash a shake –
It's running out, and so I make
A mental note. The dryer's beep
Reminds me I don't get a break.

My family is counting sheep,
But I have washing in a heap
And piles to go before I sleep.
And piles to go before I sleep.

Click on the link below for this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

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Spent a short bit of yesterday getting my breasts examined at the radiologist's, which put me in mind of this poem I wrote a year or so ago, and it being Poetry Friday, I thought I'd (over-?) share:

Mammogram time
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Mammogram time, says
the notice from nobody
at the radiology center,

or at least, nobody signed
it. Still, it's nice that some
anonymous body

cared enough to remind
me to set up an appointment
for the annual breast-

mashing. Who knew the old girls
had so much flesh in them?

I think, Macbeth-like, every

year as they spread like
chicken cutlets between
two glass pressure plates.

"Don't breathe," says
the helpful tech. As if I
could. As if anyone could.

Hoping to be able to breathe fully again by next week. I continue to be in need of additional rest and whatnot following a trip to Maine last weekend. My autoimmune conditions don't really rebound well, as it turns out.

Here's hoping you can all breathe easy this weekend!

Click on the link below for this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

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Over at Guys Lit Wire

It's my review of YOU NEED MORE SLEEP: Advice from Cats by Francesco Marciuliano, which turns out to be pretty funny overall, and pretty decent advice in places.

Cat-lovers in your life will decidedly want this one.

You can read the review at Guys Lit Wire.

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This month's poetry sister project was haiku - specifically, haiku in the form of classified ads. Three of them. And man, I found this so much harder than it sounds. Here are what I came up with:

Single cicada seeks mate

For free: one mattress
Includes foam mattress topper,
Future ex-husband

Want: Cabana boy
Grapes and fans not optional
Life is too damned hard

I hope you will check out the wonderful work by my poetry sisters:

Laura Purdie Salas

Tanita Davis

Andi Jazmon

Liz Garton Scanlon

Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Sara Lewis Holmes

For still more poetry, click on the link below for this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

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At long last, a new start

Friends, I have been struggling for months now. When it comes to writing, I just haven't gotten all that much done (one and a half picture book drafts and less than 10 poems since late last fall). The thing is, I have had an IDEA for that entire time, and have done a bunch of research, but when it comes time to write, only two of those aforementioned poems are related to the project I've been pondering.

This morning, I figured out a few things about this project, which is related to women's suffrage (hence the new icon, a still from the song "Sister Suffragette" in Mary Poppins).

One is that I pretty much already know most of the stuff I want to write about, and I've been stalling. Which is something I've been aware of lo these many (many) months. All that research has been helpful, but adding layers on top of layers to what I already know isn't really advancing the cause at this point.

Two is that I have been trying to figure out the "perfect" organizing principle for these poems before starting. And that isn't entirely helpful, although eventually a decent organizing principle will be necessary. Waiting for a framework in this case isn't precisely needed, because I can always slot things inside a framework later. And maybe letting my brain write the poems it wants to will give me a pool of work that leads to a different framework than the one I've been trying to force. And the one I've been trying to force is a terrific framework, but it has also led to me being blocked from proceeding. I should have realized that meant something before now, but hey - I'm a slow learner sometimes.

Three is that I have been shying away from writing about really difficult subjects because I have convinced myself that I need to immerse myself in the research and details of what happened to women who were at the foreground of fighting for the right to vote, such as imprisonment, beatings, and forced feedings. And I realized (as I was making matzo brei for myself and my sweetheart this morning) that what I already have internalized the horrible stuff enough to write about it, and can supplement what I know with further details as I go, but that (a) I don't need to read every single account of forced feeding and know every single detail about how it was done and who it was done to in order to write about it and (b) I've already learned enough about it to be upset by it, and not writing about it won't take away that uneasiness, disgust and dismay.

And right about that time (as I was scrambling the eggs to add to the matzoh), a whisper surfaced from inside: Force feeding would make an excellent pantoum, it said. Just think of the possible end-words, and how the horror would build reading the repetition of the abuse.

I didn't eat that much breakfast this morning, and not because I was disgusted by the thought of forced feeding, but because I was excited to get started. I almost didn't notice that Morris was leaving to teach classes, I was so absorbed by my work. (But I remedied that one - life is too short not to stop things for goodbye kisses!) And I wrote a workable down-draft of the poem, and am ready to roll on more of them.

It feels good to be excited about writing again.

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Time away

IMG_1599.JPGOn Thursday afternoon, my sweetheart and I left for a weekend in Sedona, Arizona. Everything about the trip was wonderful: our flights went without a hitch (including having to switch on the way home in Atlanta on short turnaround), our rental car was great (and cheap, and easy-peasy), our hotel was excellent - we stayed at the Best Western Plus in Sedona, which has terraces; our room was on the second level, and had a gorgeous view of the hills to the east) - and our meals were terrific, especially the dinner at the Golden Goose Cafe.

IMG_2047.JPGBesides eating and sleeping, we were pretty active over the course of a few days. We took a vortex tour with the Red Rock Jeep company, and had an extremely knowledgeable guide whom we really liked. We hiked up to the top of the airport summit (no small feat for either of us!), and did some tai chi. We hiked up to the foot of Bell Rock, and found three different strong energy sites along the way (where we did tai chi or stood in santi, a tai chi meditative stance). We spent time shopping in Uptown Sedona, and in nearby Jerome (where we had the most excellent sandwiches at the Hilltop Deli).

We visited Amithaba Stupa and Peace Park, too. It had a very peaceful feeling to it. I circled the stupa three times, while focusing on a mantra for peace. Morris preferred to stand off to the side and meditate while in the santi pose.

Here are a few photos:

Steps leading up the hill to the airport summit.

On the path toward Bell Rock.

Morris and me

We really enjoyed everything about the trip, which proved to be everything my sweetheart had hoped it would be - he's been wanting to go there for years, so I set up the trip for him as a birthday present. I rather suspect that we will be going back in the future, since we both loved our time together there so much.

I finished my re-read of Persuasion by Jane Austen while we were traveling (more on that anon), and began a re-read of Pride & Prejudice. We returned home where Kismet the cat reminded me a bit of Mr. Collins. Not that she was obsequious or smarmy or any of those things. It was just her feeling the need to remind us of "the violence of her affection" by flinging herself at our closed bedroom door at obscene hours of the night and morning and making tortured kitty noises. What can I say, except that it is good to be loved.

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EATING ROME by Elizabeth Minchilli

The other night I purchased a copy of EATING ROME: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City, a book by expat American Elizabeth Minchilli. I would have selected a genre-related word instead of "book" to describe it in that last sentence, but . . . well, it's complicated.

It is just the sort of hodgepodge book that I usually love - in the way that Molly Wizenberg's first book, A Homemade Life, became a much-loved favorite (though I still wish that the publisher had used much better paper to make the book - they went with recycled paper and it is yellowing like whoa). EATING ROME is part memoir, part travelogue, part guide book, part cookbook. Want to know how people eat in Rome? You'll learn about all sorts of food - food in the markets, pizza bianchi, aperativos, and more. Fancy restaurants to trattorias to (more or less) street food. How and where to order a coffee or a panino. What Romans feed their dogs and children.

Minchilli has a popular blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, where she features stories about the city she lives in and loves, as well as recipes and more. If you like her blog, you'll like her book. If you like armchair tourism, you'll like her book. And if you happen to be planning a trip that includes time in Rome, well . . . I'm sure you'll like her book. Or perhaps you'll prefer her app, "Eat Rome" (also available: "Eat Florence" and "Eat Venice").

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to trying a few recipes, and hoping to get to try some of those restaurants, trattorias, and gelaterias she mentions one of these days.

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Two things

1. As I posted yesterday, I'll be at BookTowne in Manasquan, NJ this Saturday from 4:00 - 5:00 p.m., and available to sign copies of AT THE BOARDWALK (my picture book) or THE UNIVERSE COMES KNOCKING (my chapbook), and possibly some anthologies I have poems in, like the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK OF ANIMAL POEMS or DARE TO DREAM...CHANGE THE WORLD. (Also, there's an art festival, which means there will be art and music and such all over the place.)

2. Over at Guys Lit Wire, I've got a review of MIKE'S PLACE: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror by Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem, illustrated by Koren Shadmi.

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Hello friends!

Want your own copy of AT THE BOARDWALK? Signed?

Or your own copy of my chapbook for grownups, THE UNIVERSE COMES KNOCKING? Signed?

Or quite possibly one or more of the anthologies that I've got poems in? (Signed?)

Then do I have news for you:

I will be at the wonderful independent bookstore, BookTowne, in Manasquan, NJ this Saturday afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. And there happens to be an art festival going on. In Manasquan. Blocks from the beach.

Hope some of you (or someone - anyone!) stop(s) by!

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