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Old 12-27-2001, 05:36 AM
Michael Juster Michael Juster is offline
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As longtimers here know, I occasionally make provocative statements about New Formalism that are as welcome as a long slow belch after a beer at a family reunion. Perhaps the one that has gotten me into the most trouble over the years is one--regrettably--I still stand by almost three years later, which is that the two most underappreciated poets who deserved to be mentioned in the same breath with the usual suspects of New Formalism are Katherine McAlpine and Gail White. Since almost everyone writing formal poetry these days feels underappreciated, I periodically have to defend myself from fierce attacks on this one. In my own defense, I will only note that when I first started making this claim both Tim Murphy and Rhina Espaillat were starting to get their fair share of recognition.
Katherine McAlpine has become a mysterious case. She seems to have stopped published poetry (at least as far as I can tell), and one can only hope that she has not stopped writing it. There are rumors she is writing fiction in rural Maine, and if true I can only hope she returns to poetry soon. She is a poet with a sharp wit reminiscent of Dorothy Parker at her best, a broad range of interests, and a master of inventiveness within the formal tradition.
Gail White is a similar, yet distinctive, voice. Everything I have just said about McAlpine applies to White, but there are differences. Gail is also a master of free verse, and can range into subjects unlikely to yield to formal treatment. Gail is also a harder-edged voice, someone willing to push readers a little harder to make them both laugh and think harder.
McAlpine and White were linked in my mind before they were linked in others by being coeditors of the Story Line anthology The Muse Strikes Back. Gail is also coeditor a book that highlights four skilled female New Formalists, including OUR Rhina Espaillat. She has had published five chapbooks, and has her first full length book out from Mellen Poetry Press. It's called "The Price Of Everything" (taken from Oscar Wilde's famous one-liner), and it's a fine collection that should have been picked up from Story Line or an academic press a long time ago.
I will include here a couple of brief pieces to whet your appetite, and, I hope, to inspire you to run out and order it. (Mellen Poetry Press, PO Box 450 Lewiston NY 14092-0450 or (716) 754-2266 or mellen@wzrd.com or www.mellenpress.com)
For me, a quintessential Gail White poem is the sonnet "Rossetti's Wife":


He wants his poems, now: the ones he buried
with me, to be a sacrifice of love
forever. There you are: that's being married
to genius. That's what you're dreaming of,

you silly girls who think it was great luck
to rise from milliner to painter's model
to poet's wife. You marry and you're stuck.
Give me an artist for a man who'll coddle

himself. O, he's in love with his ideal
and thinks it's you, but it's his bag of tricks--
even when I was dying, he could feel
that I'd be his perfect Beatrix.

And then? They're all alike, poet or hack--
he digs you up and grabs his verses back.


I will pass over one of my favorite White epigrams because I can't space things here properly, so I will leave you with this bitter treat:

On Louisiana Politics

The politician, like the tabby's young,
Attempts to clean his backside with his tongue.


Buy one for yourself, and one for a friend who needs to stop wallowing in self-pity.




[This message has been edited by Michael Juster (edited December 27, 2001).]
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Old 12-27-2001, 05:46 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Oh, yes, wicked wit! The sonnet couplet's priceless, the epigram a hoot. (Had a friend who couldn't wait for relationships to "die" so he could write another dismal sonnet sequence. I'll send him a copy.)

------------------
Ralph
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Old 12-28-2001, 11:13 PM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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Thank you, Michael, for starting a Gail White thread. Long overdue! I also am a fan. (I've been in the States for a couple of weeks, and only just returned, so sorry for the tardy response.)

Sometimes I think our age in poetry will be remembered for how unbelievably slow it was to publish books of some of its finest contemporaries (and how quick to publish a book a year by some of its worst). I am thrilled to learn her much-awaited collection is in the works! (And am off to order it forthwith.)

Here are some poems from the book <u>Landscapes with Women: Four American Poets </u>(Martha Bosworth, Rhina P. Espaillat, Barbara Loots and Gail White), with a forward by Richard Wilbur (Singular Speech Press,1999). This is definitely a book worth having--all four poets have wonderful stuff here, and play off each others voices well. (The book can be found on Amazon, I believe).

Gail is probably best known for her "light" verse with wicked teeth, as this favorite of mine (odd lines should be indented):

Unmarried Victorian Lady, Photographed among Ruins

Minnie went sailing down the Nile
and sketched the ruins in her journal.
She faced disasters with a smile
and merely called the heat "infernal."

Her sister married and became
enmeshed in life's domestic trammels,
while Minnie weathered hurricanes
and managed crews of Moors and camels.

Her mother kept the parlor filled
with guests and tea and flower painting.
She spoke of Minnie with distilled
regret and mild attempts at fainting.

Her sister bore a seventh child
and swore that Min was quite inhuman,
while Minnie breezed along the Nile
and missed fulfillment as a woman.


But "light" verse is merely a thin band of her spectrum. Gail White also works in the sublime. (Even here, though, she is not without an ironic Ozymandias-ish bite):


The Engulfed Cathedral

With a keener eye for symbols than for sense,
they built their church on sand. The last great boat
to bear God's folk--whale-ribbed, shark-jawed, immense,
a gothic monster, light enough to float
(it seemed) in the sunset. And the faithful flocked
to mass, packing the sand with steady shoes,
year after year. When finally they stopped,
leaving the altar floomy and unused,
the unsettled sand would heap and then subside
restlessly. Seabirds perched on gargoyle heads
with mocking cries. Eventually the tide
itself changed pattern, cut a new sea-bed,
and every morning up the narrow nave
cam workshippers, wave after silent wave.


And as Mike mentioned, she is one of those rare "formalists" with a keen ear for free verse. This one always gives me a chill:


Settlement

Who gets custody of the bones
under the bed, he asked.
I do, she said. Community property.
You had no bones under the bed
before you married me.
Now just a minute, he said,
I earned them myself.
But I put you through school, she said,
And that gives me a stake.
Don't be so hard, he said.
Remember where we got that skull?
That was in Venice--
we were so much in love then.
I don't want to part with the skull,
it's full of memories.
You'll be lucky if I leav you the femurs,
she said in a rage.
Don't try to soft-soap me,
you sonofabitch.
Listen! They're rattling,
he said.
They've done it at night
but not in the daytime before.
What, are you still afraid
of the bones? she asked.
Oh yes. Oh yes.
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Old 12-29-2001, 06:27 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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You can count me as a long-time Gail White fan too. I'll instantly order the book, which can rightly be characterized as "long awaited." It's always mystified me that Gail and Katherine McAlpine haven't had trade books out--what injustice! Here from (possibly flawed) memory, a McAlpine poem:

Sitting at Christmas dinner, you're appalled
To note your baby brother's going bald.
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Old 12-29-2001, 04:30 PM
Rhina P. Espaillat Rhina P. Espaillat is offline
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One of the nicest things that's ever happened to me is having two of Gail White's poems printed in my section of "Landscapes with Women." I've had a million compliments on them--"Gravity, Grace" & "one Woman & 25 Cats"--and admit, as honesty requires, but only with regret--that they're not mine. How I wish some of the poems in "The Price of Everything" could somehow be made to migrate to my next book: "First Death," for instance, or this wicked little beauty:

CINDERELLA'S SISTERS

Who would have guessed we'd end up in the convent?
Regan and Goneril reformed at last!
But we, like most who found this place convenient,
can't face the future or escape the past.
Oh, she was generous and so forgiving!
We could have made good matches--so she said--
with aging dukes who would have gone on living
just long enough for us to wish them dead.
We really tried. We visited the palace
and praised the rooms, the service, and the food.
Call it humility or call it malice,
we couldn't stick. Whatever attitude
we tried, we couldn't seem to get it right,
and so we got religion, out of spite.

Actually, I'll take any she's willing to let me have.
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Old 12-30-2001, 11:30 PM
Robert J. Clawson Robert J. Clawson is offline
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"Whatever attitude
we tried, we couldn't seem to get it right,
and so we got religion, out of spite."

I love funny, white poems with dark underbellies.


Bob
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Old 01-01-2002, 10:44 AM
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Gail White Gail White is offline
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No "line" I ever heard in my life has been as
flattering as this one. Thank you all!

I'd like to add something to the notes on
Katherine McAlpine. My favorite work of hers
was a sequence called "The Transatlantic
Sonnets", published some years ago in the late
much lamented Plains Poetry Journal. This is
the first one:

Eighteen and an expatriate at last!
Southampton-bound aboard an ocean liner,
would-be Janet Flanner in tourist class,
passport boasting, "Occupation: writer,"
I have a beat-up duffel bag, a new
copy of Europe on $5 a day,
savings I calculate should last me through
next spring, a head stuffed full of Hemingway-
Fitzgerald notions, and (almost forgot)
a husband -- the solution to my parents'
ultimatum: "A daughter of ours is not
traipsing off with someone she's not married
to." A hindrance easily overcome--
I married him (he's almost twenty-one).
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