A Poem For Saturday

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Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

Counterpoint Press has just published an important anthology, Modernist Women Poets, edited by Robert Hass and Paul Ebenkamp, featuring the work of sixteen avant garde artists born near the close of the nineteenth century and forging their way in the transformative early years of the next. A number of them are famous still—Gertrude Stein. H.D., Marianne Moore, Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, and a little less so, Laura Riding. But many have slipped out of view in spite of the consistent or intermittent devotion of scholars.

In her preface to the book, C.D.Wright introduces the group, “Only one was born in the South and stayed rooted in her native state. Only three of them had children. Five of them preferred women to men. Most traveled extensively or relocated far from their origins. Many of them lived long and calamitously and struggled with poverty, disease, divorce, and, in one instance, rape and likely incest. Two died very prematurely, one of tuberculosis and one of scarlet fever ….Within a wide span of intensity and yield, they all felt compelled to write poetry.”

We’ll focus on three this weekend, starting with Angelina Weld Grimke, daughter of the second African American to graduate from Harvard Law School. With the exception of a few years separation, Grimke, born in 1880, lived with her father until he died in 1930. Her mother committed suicide when she was a child. It is said that her father insisted she renounce her love of women in favor of their bond, and the wistfulness of the delicate, deliberate poem below seems to speak of that unfulfilled longing.

“Grass Fingers” by Angelina Weld Grimke:

Touch me, touch me,
Little cool grass fingers,
Elusive, delicate grass fingers.
With your shy brushings,
Touch my face—
My naked arms—
My thighs—
My feet.
Is there nothing that is kind?
You need not fear me.
Soon I shall be too far beneath you,
For you to reach me, even,
With your tiny, timorous toes.

(From Modernist Women Poets: An Anthology © 2014 by Robert Hass and Paul Ebenkamp. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press. Photo by Kitty Terwolbeck)