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Poor She-Spye: an original poem

This month, my poetry sisters and I are working using what's called the Aphra Behn form. It is a form used by the female author and poet, Aphra Behn, back in the 1600s. I like to think of it as a mini-sonnet. It uses 9 lines of iambic tetrameter (4 poetic feet per line) plus one of iambic pentameter (5 poetic feet), for a total of 10 lines. And its rhyme scheme is ABBACDDCEE.

The one I wrote is a sort of mini-biography of Aphra Behn herself, who actually spied for England back in the day. She spent a bit of time in debtor's prison after King Charles II disavowed her and refused to reimburse her for her passage back to England. She wrote poems, books, and plays, and was what we would call a porto-feminist, in that she advocated for women's rights and women's sexual freedom.

"Poor She-Spye"

"Astrea"*, or the widow Behn,
was hired by King Charles II to spy
On William Scot, who meant to try
To overthrow the Crown (again).
She sailed to Flanders, found Will Scot,
Reported Dutch plans to attack
England's prize fleet, then traveled back.
Her warnings were dismissed as rot
Until the Dutch formed a blockade,
But it was by her pen her fame was made.

*Astrea was one of Behn's code-names.

She later wrote that she was "forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it." And Virginia Woolfe wrote of her in A Room of One's Own: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”


To get to the rest of today's Poetry Friday posts, please visit my poetry sister, Tricia, over at The Miss Rumpius Effect by clicking the box below:

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A limerick to start June

This month, Tanita challenged us to write limericks about the birds and the bees, however we interpreted it. Owing to my being away this entire week at an art workshop in St. Petersburg, Florida, I only managed to write one (though I was supposed to write three). So without further ado, here it is:

When talk turns to birds and to bees,
some people get weak at the knees.
They giggle and squawk
They’d rather not talk
of sex or venereal disease.


A response to One Art

Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" is among the best of villanelles. "The art of losing isn't hard to master," it begins. Tricia Stohr-Hunt selected the poem as our jumping-off space this month, and, though I got to it late, I am here, with my poem that uses a single line-- the second line--of the poem inside it.

I didn't write a villanelle, or even stick to form poetry. It's free verse, and I really wanted to cut a word out of the line I chose (the word "the"), but I kept the original words in their original order.

Here's the first stanza of Bishop's "One Art".

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Look for that middle line inside my poem about a shopping dream:

The Salesgirl Was Impeccable
by Kelly Ramsdell

I dreamed a shopping space
improbably large
Only dresses, displayed here
and there on racks widely
spaced atop wax-gleamed
concrete floors.

So many things seemed
filled with the intent
to win attention that
few could succeed.
Pink tea dresses on a
single rack, blue on another.
A black gown with a split skirt.
A dove-grey wrap I wish I owned.

The vast space between
displays should have
announced the shop a dream,
that and the salesgirl,
who was impeccable in a
streamlined 40's suit
and victory roll.

Such luxury of space
is not allowed in real life, although
the sameness of offerings
rang true, except one dress
constructed of ochre straps—
not mesh, not lace,
as much cage as garment—
brittle and unforgiving
in its beauty.

You can find my poetry sisters' posts by clicking the links below.

And, of course, it's Poetry Friday. You can find the host and all the other posts by clicking the box.

Tanita "places, and names, and where it was you meant"

Sara "I lost two cities, lovely ones, and vaster"

Liz "some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent"

Tricia, "The practice losing farther, losing faster"

Laura "Lose something every day, accept the fluster"

The rest of the Poetry Friday posts at the Poem Farm can be found by clicking the box below:

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Last month, we all wrote sonnets. Well, everyone in the poetry sisters except me wrote curtal sonnets, a form invented (or at least made popular) by Gerard Manley Hopkins. This month, we are each writing a tanka in response to somebody else's sonnet. I have been known to refer to a tanka as "a haiku pulling a trailer", but I've also discussed it far more thoroughly. Here's an introduction to tanka, another post describing the construction of tanka, and one about how the parts of a tanka relate to one another. And for fun, "a little tanka feminism".

Tanita Davis is responding to my sonnet about Kismet, the not-so-mighty huntress, and I am responding to Sara Lewis Holmes's curtal sonnet about Gerard Manley Hopkins, which you can read below:

Hopkins foxed sonnets to 3/4 spare
     wire-whipped stresses til they wailed
         half-tocked feral hymns from sprung clocks

Elbowing joy as birdsong from air,
      priested, pressed hard, he failed
          at 44, a life, curtailed and boxed

Yet, cold-call his poems, and he swells,
      as slugger’s bandied cauliflower ear; rung,
          you clangor, near strangled, on far-hailed
Words; carrion cry unlocked, he wells
                            blood to tongue.

Here is my response to Sara's poem, which is more about my feelings than anything else:

feral bird-song clocks—
imagery drives me cuckoo
cauliflower words
tiny white flower clusters
tasty morsels for the tongue

Here's where you can find the other poems:

Tanita, responding to me

Sara, responding to Liz

Liz, responding to Tricia

Tricia, responding to Laura

Laura, responding to Tanita

The rest of the Poetry Friday posts can be found by clicking the box below:

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Kismet in the Cold--a Poetry Friday post

Today, for the first Poetry Friday of the new year, an original sonnet about my cat. It's the first group project of the new year with my lovely poetry sisters.

I watch small brown birds puffed fat against cold
peck gravel for small sustenance at best.
A finch, a wren, some dark-eyed juncoes wrest
the smallest bit of God-knows-what. I hold
the cat up to the window, where she tries
to follow hops and jumps, small bursts of flight.
We both pretend she’d catch them all, despite
us knowing that is all a flock of lies.
She’s lived inside a house since she was small,
found toddling by a highly trafficked street,
a tiny, bat-eared calico fuzzball
with pink toe-beans on all four small white feet.
    She asks to be put down, climbs in my lap,
    curls up, then dreams of birds during her nap.

To see what my poetry sisters have written, you can check out their posts here:

Laura (curtal sonnet)
Liz (curtal sonnet)
Sara (curtal sonnet)
Tanita (curtal sonnet)

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Reading to the Core. You can get to the roundup by clicking the box below:

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The Lai - a Poetry Friday post

This month, my lovely poetry sisters and I took on a form called the lai. It is an open form consisting of one or more nine-line stanzas. Each stanza follows the form of AABAABAAB, where each A line has 5 syllables, and the B lines have only 2 syllables.

I found this one challenging (as my poem illustrates), and the lines felt tight. It was super easy for this to get tight and trite fast. Without further ado, here goes:

When I start to write
in forms, I delight
in play
These short lines are tight
and the rhymes incite
I worry I might
lack the skill to write
a lai.

As day turns to night
turns to day, then night
to day,
I struggle. My plight
becomes dire. I fight,
I pray,
But try as I might
I just cannot write
a lai.

To check out my sisters' poems, you can go here:


Poetry Friday is being hosted by my lovely friends at A Year of Reading. You can get to the roundup by clicking the box below:

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Over at Guys Lit Wire

Over at Guys Lit Wire, it's my review (sort of) of Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I say "sort of" because it's more of a READ THIS BOOK thing.

You can find my review/exhortation at here.

Seriously, read this book. And if you'd like to read my 2008 interview with John, you can find that here on my blog.
This month, my poetry sisters and I were tackling triolets. A triolet is a short poem of just eight lines, rhymed ABaAabAB, where the capital letters are repeated lines. Basically, once you've written the first two lines, you only have three more to go (the lower case lines). Triolets were originally devotional poems, and then became popular as comedic forms, but they can be used for lots of things, serious topics included. There's no real fixed metre for triolets, although a lot of people use iambic tetrameter (four iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM).

Liz Garton Scanlon picked the form, and said we needed to use at least two from the following list of words in our poems: orange, fall, chill, light, change

As you can se below, I used three: light, fall, and chill.

The glow of leaves in yellow light—
the amber glow of sun in fall—
is swallowed as day turns to night.
The glow of leaves in yellow light
when crisp chill wind sets them in flight
enchants. In winter, I’ll recall
the glow of leaves in yellow light,
the amber glow of sun in fall.

You can find the poems of my poetry sisters at their blogs. You can find the rest of this week's Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below.

Laura Purdie Salas
Tanita Davis
Liz Garton Scanlon
Tricia Stohr-Hunt
Sara Lewis Holmes

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Late to the party, but at least I'm in attendance this month! This one is a poem from Fall . . .

My poetry sisters and I agreed to write a poem in hymn meter this month (think almost anything by Emily Dickinson, or Amazing Grace, or the Theme to Gilligan's Island, or the Yellow Rose of Texas). Here is mine.

I have a secret, said the Fall,
that nobody may know.
I whisper it through rustling leaves
that fall before the snow.

I know that it appears as if
death comes to growing things.
The truth is they are just asleep
and will awake in spring.

You can find the others' posts here:

Sara with If Apples Were Dappled and Sweet
Tricia with Autumn Song
Tanita with Keeping Emily's Sabbath
Liz with It Doesn't Feel Like Fall
Laura with An Old Dog in Autumn

Find the rest of the Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below:

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Statues in the Park - a Poetry Friday post

My poetry sisters and I have our monthly poems up today. This month's challenge was to write any poem you want to the title "Statues in the Park", and I have to tell you that it didn't give me much guidance or speak to me in any particular way. I started thinking about various statues in various parks, and did online research where I found this cool sculpture park in Ireland called Victor's Way that has some really interesting statues that I'd love to see in person, but still . . . nada.

Which is when I remembered being young and playing a game with other kids in the park. And then this poem mostly wrote itself.

Statues in the Park
by Kelly Ramsdell

One with the power to stop,
one with the power to release,
all others quite willing
to stop when tagged,
to hold their position
as long as it took until they
were freed, or the game ended.

Who can forget freeze tag?
Who can remember
how to be released?

You can read the other poems here, which include further references to freeze tag (aka the "statue game") as well as to actual statues.


Find the rest of the Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below:

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