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Tea and Poetry, Prayer for Difficult Girls

February 18, 2019

Starting when we lived in Maryland, Ron and I have occasionally organized a tea and poetry reading, usually in February, to provide some delight in our least favorite month. Since we’ve lived here in Ohio we’ve had a few teas in less precarious months for weather, inviting the people who have always attended since we lived in Maryland. Our friends Brian and Eric, who drove from Toronto for this weekend’s tea and poetry reading, have attended every one.

IMG_2513For tea, we offered
Sandwiches: shrimp butter, tomato and cheese, cucumber, Alice B. Toklas mushroom, Bengal egg, egg and olive, chicken with tarragon, ham with mustard, date and bacon, smoked salmon, strawberry cream cheese.
Scones: Ron’s cream scones, currant scones, and apple scones with pecans.
Sweets: Walker’s lemon macarons, Jeanne’s toffee bars, petit fours, chocolate rose cake.
Tea: Fortnum & Mason Afternoon Blend, Royal Blend, and Queen Anne. Also chai, green tea, dandelion, and milk thistle teas.

As usual, we had rounds of poetry reading, with breaks for eating and drinking in between. At this tea we had two serious rounds, a third kind-of-bonus round for other poems we’d brought as alternatives or thought of when something else was read, and then a fourth round for silliness, culminating, as is traditional, with the reading of several selections from Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes.

Poems from our tea and poetry reading

Round 1
Walker, February, Pasternak (tr. WG)
Ariel, A Prayer for Difficult Girls, Caroline Shea
Leeman, The Courtyard, H.P. Lovecraft
Ron, The Internet May Be a Gift From God, Patrick Duddy
Ben, The Secret in the Mirror, Alberto Rios
Carol, Dusk in My Backyard, Keith Wilson
Eva, One Art, Elizabeth Bishop
Brian, Alone, Maya Angelou
Eric, February, Margaret Atwood
Pamela, A Hymn to Hate, Dorothy Parker
Jill, Mailboxes in Winter, Jeffrey Harrison
Bryn, Love After Love, Derek Walcott
Jeanne, Good Bones, Maggie Smith
Round 2
Walker, To His Own Beloved Self, The Author Dedicates These Lines, Mayakovsky (tr. McGavran)
Leeman, Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll
Ron, Dog Descending a Staircase, Heather Abner
Ben, We Dogs of a Thursday Off, Alberto Rios
Carol, The Alpaca, Gabriela Mistral
Eva, This is Just to Say, William Carlos Williams
Brian, Three Little Pigs, Roald Dahl
Eric, Daisy Time, Marjorie Pickthall
Pamela, Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog, Judith Viorst
Jill, i carry your heart with me, e.e. cummings
Bryn, Dirge Without Music, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Jeanne, Heart Poem, Mary Oliver
Round 3
Walker, excerpt from The Cloud in Trousers, Mayakovsky (tr. McGavran)
Jeanne, This Be the Verse, Philip Larkin
Ron, Winter is Icummen In, Ezra Pound
Ben, The Aerodynamics, Rick Bursky
Carol, Auto Mirror, Adam Zagajewski, I wash the Shirt, Anna Swir
Eva, Late Air, Elizabeth Bishop
Brian, When I’m Old, Michael Holding
Pamela, A Garden is a Lovesome Thing, Thomas Edward Brown and My Garden, J.A. Lindon
Ariel, Gretel in Darkness, Louise Gluck
Round 4
Jeanne, The Pope’s Penis, Sharon Olds
Ron, Mail Call, James Valvis
Ben, excerpt from A Rhyming History of Britain, James Muirden
Carol, Madly Singing in the Mountains, Po Chii-I
Eva, That Time of Year, Shakespeare
Pamela, In Flanders Fields, John McCrae
Walker, Aviary, Jaswinder Bolina
Final bits:
Parodies of This is Just to Say
The Water Strider, from Joyful Noise, Poems for Two Voices
Selections from Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes

One of the poems new to me was this one, by Caroline Shea:
Prayer for Difficult Girls
I was born an apostle of belief,
a thieved pair of ribs straining in my belly.
I mugged Adam on my way out of the womb
and he’s been down-and-out
ever since. I am getting harder
to love each day.
In church, I would lie lengthwise
in the pew, until the light blurred to dandelion dust
and the ark of the ceiling swayed.
Grant me a body to survive a flood in, Lord,
something rough and pretty and expensive. Something untouchable.
If I cry, will you acquit me, Lizzie-Borden-style of my sins?
I forget to brush my teeth too often and I am ruinous
in the body you gave me, careless with its salted meat.
Crack the walnut husk of me open and pick at the goo.
Diagram the fault lines. I calve into such predictable crevasses.
I think I am asking you for permission
to exist the way I do.

I love the lines about how “I am getting harder/to love each day.”

Several of us brought poems about February and the end of winter, like this Margaret Atwood poem entitled February.

I’m so glad I have a group of friends who will come over to drink tea and read poetry together, because as the poem by Maya Angelou says, “nobody/can make it out here alone.”


16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2019 3:11 pm

    Sounds lovely!

    • February 24, 2019 4:15 pm

      It was. I wanted to share the loveliness of it with those who would enjoy reading some of the poems.

  2. February 18, 2019 6:07 pm

    What a spread!! Lucky friends 🙂

    • February 24, 2019 4:15 pm

      I invite all of you to at least share in the poems!

  3. February 18, 2019 7:46 pm

    What a great, fun idea!

    • February 24, 2019 4:14 pm

      It is fun. And fairly easy to do, if you have friends to help make the sandwiches.

  4. February 18, 2019 10:26 pm

    I love this whole thing – the food, the poems, the celebration in the midst of a crappy month. So cool.

    • February 24, 2019 4:14 pm

      Sometimes we’ve had guests read short essays, and that works too.

  5. February 19, 2019 4:17 am

    This is a wonderful idea, Jeanne. And Injust Love Fortnum and Mason’s Afternoon Tea: a perfect choice.

    • February 24, 2019 4:13 pm

      I love Fortnum and Mason tea. The rest of February is better because we have more of the tea to carry us through.

  6. February 23, 2019 4:59 pm

    This sounds so delightful! February in Minnesota has been punishing, so I think something like this would certainly be a nice bright spot.

    • February 24, 2019 4:12 pm

      It was a bright spot one, and one that helped me get through February.

  7. February 24, 2019 8:25 pm

    This is a splendid idea. February is a miserable month and we need to get creative to survive..

    “One Art” was in the February section of the poem-a-day book I’m reading. It’s always been one of my favorites.

    • February 24, 2019 8:35 pm

      Mine too. When I’ve taught the poem, I like to get students discussing the escalating examples of loss, especially what it would be like to lose something that belonged to your mother.

  8. Elizabeth permalink
    February 25, 2019 8:24 am

    What a lovely tradition, and the food especially sounds amazing.

    • February 25, 2019 8:25 am

      We have developed the menu over the years, based on what we and our guests have liked best from our plethora of tea recipe books.

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