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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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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
TS Davis
Jul. 6th, 2018 04:37 pm (UTC)
Sister, Martyr, Scapegrace, Spy
I LOVE this one - the autobiographical touch is perfect because so few people have heard of her. Thank you again for bringing us to this - I'd never heard of the poetic form associated with her, but indeed, she did "invent" it, in a manner of speaking, as her thing.
Liz Garton Scanlon
Jul. 6th, 2018 04:49 pm (UTC)
This is so beautiful and fascinating and I'm grateful to you for introducing us!
Sara Lewis Holmes
Jul. 6th, 2018 05:01 pm (UTC)
Now if only I could learn ALL of history by mini-sonnet! (I love the little jolt of "again" btw)
Jul. 6th, 2018 05:18 pm (UTC)
I like this little bio--wish I had read it first before reading all the poems:>) Very clever!
Mary Lee Hahn
Jul. 7th, 2018 12:17 pm (UTC)
Aphra Behn is my new s/hero! A spy! A poet! A women who earned a living by writing! Thank you for this challenge and for our education, Kelly!
Tricia Stohr-Hunt
Jul. 7th, 2018 08:02 pm (UTC)
I think this is a fabulous form for telling stories, and you have knocked it out of the park. Everything about this just works. Thank you for pushing us to write in this style.
Heidi Mordhorst
Jul. 9th, 2018 01:50 am (UTC)
Thanks for the introduction

I'd heard of Aphra, but I had her all mixed up as an early 20th c. type. Thanks so much for bringing her, her story, and her minisonnet to Poetry Friday this month! You fit an awful lot into that biographical piece. Let flowers fall indeed, and can't you begin to imagine the movie?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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