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Unread 11-06-2008, 10:49 PM
Leslie Monsour Leslie Monsour is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Los Angeles, California
Posts: 52

Gail White was born in Pensacola, Florida in 1945. She graduated with honors from Stetson University, and, shortly thereafter, married the historian, Arthur White. They moved to a house on the banks of Bayou Teche in Beaux Bridge, Louisiana, where, working as a medical transcriber, Gail has gained an impressive vocabulary of medical terms. Pet cats figure prominently in the White household.

There have been eight Gail White chapbooks, and, in 2001 from Edwin Mellen Press, a full-length book, “The Price of Everything,” which, as a sought-after, out-of-print rarity, has commanded some high prices of its own. Gail’s new collection, EASY MARKS, came out in April from WordTech Communications (aka David Robert Books). For links to more poems, reviews, and information, visit

I can’t recommend highly enough Julie Kane’s article in V.1, Issue 1 of Mezzo Cammin ( Julie has provided a sparkling, smart exploration, with extensive notes and bibliography, of the contrasts between Gail White, Wendy Cope and Dorothy Parker, as well as an in-depth appreciation of Gail’s work. Here’s a passage I like very much:

“White is not ‘sad.’ She does not tell stories. Her poetic voice seems unusually tough, self-confident, and astringent. The disturbing quality that all of these critics are pointing to but are not quite able to name is that White violates our cultural norms and expectations for ‘women’s humor.’ By refusing to create a victimized female persona as the target of her own wit, White claims a new authority for the woman light-verse writer: the right to assert herself as a satirist, as a clear-eyed critic of the world around her—a role that men have occupied almost exclusively for more than two millennia.”

Elsewhere, Julie wittily identifies Gail White as “the George Herbert of disbelief,” and points out White’s endorsement of Coleridge’s belief that “a great mind must be androgynous.”

Perhaps Auden’s characterization of Phyllis McGinley applies more to Gail White than any other poet in our group. I selected some of my own favorites--

--from the ‘nuff said department:


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

More about cats:


“Who would have thought she’d pick a younger man?”
“And foreign! Did they meet in Sicily?”
“In Rome. A tourist guide, I understand.”
“Italian men—they could excite a tree.”

“Well, he’s good-looking, I’ll say that for him.”
“Handsome enough, but not a patch on Jim.”
“He only wants her money.” “Is that news?
He’ll be unfaithful in his wedding shoes.”

But while they filtered her through many minds,
Not one had mastered the essential fact:
A heart in freezing weather, like a cat,
Will make a nest of anything it finds.

Mothers & daughters:


I never minded my unpopularity
in those days. Books were friends and poets (dead)
were lovers. Brainy girls were still a rarity,
and boys preferred big bosoms to well-read
and saucy wits. I look back now with pity
on the young Me I didn’t pity then.
I didn’t know that I was almost pretty
and might have had a charm for older men.
And my poor mom, who never bought a fluffy
ball gown or showed me how to dress my hair—
she must have wondered where she got this stuffy
daughter. She didn’t say it, but her stare
asked whether genes or nurture were to blame.
(But I got married, mother, all the same).

White has said the following is one of her personal favorites for its depiction of the experiences of all office workers and the accuracy with which it reflects her view of small children:


Marleen has brought her baby (eight
weeks old) to meet her office mates,
who duly gurgle and exclaim,
“Oh, what a darling!” “What’s her name?”
“Look at those eyes!” “Oh, could I hold
her for a minute?” “She’s HOW old?”

It seems a small and noiseless pulp,
able, for skills, to blink and gulp,
but in its flannel sheath I see
the upstart shoot supplanting me.
The brain inside that fuzzy head
will read and brood when I am dead,
add up its checks, and order drinks,
and say the Opposition stinks,
and ponder love, and fame, and chance,
when I am fertilizing plants.

They’re coming, a relentless tide—
babies that sweep my life aside!
Youth can’t be stopped—no law nor creed
Will stultify this urge to breed.
But to the last I can refuse
assent to lives I did not choose,
refuse to cry, “How soft, how cute!”
when knives are hacking at my root.
Baby and death have toothless jaws—
each smiles, but oh it gnaws, it gnaws.


Poets will drink you out of house and home,
no matter how much booze you’ve squirreled away,
and afterwards they simply won’t go home

till fading darkness warns of coming day
and then they burble “Goo-bye! Time to g’ome!”
Poets will drink you out of house and home.

Arhictects aren’t much better, by the way,
and theater people have IQ’s of foam.
At 3:00 a.m. they simply won’t go home.

These artsy types want someone else to pay
for dinner, want to use your car, your comb.
Poets will drink you out of house and home,

leaving your living room in disarray,
swearing they find your house a pleasure dome.
Even at dawn they simply won’t go home—

some have passed out, others regroup and bray
a chorus of “Wherever I may roam.”
Poets will drink you out of house and home
and afterwards they simply WON’T go home.


Poets (male) hang out in bars
and drink to hid their psychic scars,
to show that macho need not be
effeminized by poetry.
Society assigns no worth
to all their words that strain for birth,
and though they labor long and hard,
the poem must be its own reward.
But self-esteem, in these rough days,
is linked to income and to praise,
and those who earn no dollar signs
are only housewives in their minds.
So poets (male) hang out in bars
and drink to hide their psychic scars,
and boast of all the women’s beds
they conquered only in their heads.
Hard liquor fuels their inner spark
As Rouen’s fire fed Joan of Arc,
And who can sort, with critic’s tools,
the martyrs from the god-damned fools?

Here is my Q.E.D. for Auden’s axiom:

So now they know. She, and not he, will say
who gets the cuckoo clock, will give away
the books, the silverware. So much to give
from two shared lives. But only she will live.

Her picture of her future (tender, brave,
devoted) always ends beside his grave.
When his life ends, he feels—and she concurs—
nothing will go on happening in hers.

But she must look ahead—and while he sees
a mist of sweetly mournful memories
in that remote expression on her face,
she sees new uses for his closet space.


My death grows older like a tree,
ring by ring, invisibly,
I bear its weight, and feel within
its outward pressure on my skin.
My life retains its childish mind,
cries “Give!” to anything that’s kind,
believes that it will always wake
to worlds made lovely for its sake,
and confidently plans ahead
for days and years, well-loved, well-fed.
One hates to shock the silly thing
by severing its kite and string,
so still my youthful life endures,
waiting till my death matures.


They lie across France
like God’s love letters:

Something he can read and say,
“Anyway, they loved me once.”


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Unread 11-07-2008, 06:47 AM
Gail White's Avatar
Gail White Gail White is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Breaux Bridge, LA, USA
Posts: 3,477


I'm immensely proud of my contemporaries on the island of formal poetry by women. We are getting parity on the printed page with guys, the poetry by us is grand, and we have some superb books out there. I also love anthologies of women's poetry, and make no apologies for them, as they give me a chance to see a lot of our work in one place. And I'm especially proud to be included in the group on this thread, among both old and new friends.

Having said that, I'll add that I am somewhat ill at ease with the concept of “women's poetry” as a different entity from “men's poetry.” I've always adhered (even when it ceased to be the fashionable feminist viewpoint) to Coleridge's belief that “Great minds are androgynous.” I see little difference between estrogen-powered poetry and testosterone-powered poetry, except in the specialized areas of war (for men) and maternity (for women). Admittedly, maternity plays a larger role in poetry now than it did a century ago, when (as Carolyn Kizer put it) our geniuses were “old maids to a woman”.

But supposing a literature class was handed some poems they had never seen before, without the authors' names. Would they be able to tell that a woman wrote Emily Bronte's “No coward soul is mine”, or that a man wrote A.M. Juster's “The Secret Language of Women”?

In fact, I invite you to listen to an issue of Measure blindfolded and see how often you can guess the sex of the authors correctly.

Imaginative writing is about being able to put yourself in another person's place – to write about old age when you are young, or create believable males if you are female. Dorothy Sayres was once asked how she was able to write convincing dialogue for scenes in all-male settings, and she replied that it was no problem, since she thought of men as being as intelligent as women. One hopes that all writers today think the same.

So yes, I think the age of woman writing as “the feminine human being” has arrived. (I have just been re-reading Simone de Beauvoir, & have been reminded once again of her famous remark that “when women start acting like human beings, they are accused of trying to be men.” This too has passed, one does hope!)

I'll conclude these opening remarks by adding one of my favorite poems on this topic:

TUMPS (by Wendy Cope)

Don't ask him the time of day. He won't know it,
For he's the abstracted sort.
In fact, he's a typically useless male poet.
We'll call him a tump for short.

A tump isn't punctual or smart or efficient.
He probably can't drive a car
Or follow a map, though he's very proficient
At finding his way to the bar.

He may have great talent, and not just for writing --
For drawing, or playing the drums.
But don't let him loose on accounts – that's inviting
Disaster. A tump can't do sums.

He cannot get organized. Just watch him try it
And you'll see a frustrated man.
But some tumps (and these are the worst ones) deny it
And angrily tell you they can.

I used to be close to a tump who would bellow
“You think I can't add two and two!”
And get even crosser when, smiling and mellow,
I answered, “You're quite right. I do.”

Women poets are businesslike, able,
Good drivers, and right on the ball.
And some of us still know our seven times table.
We're not like the tumps. Not at all.
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Unread 11-07-2008, 04:10 PM
Barbara Loots Barbara Loots is offline
Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: Kansas City, MO
Posts: 157

I met Gail White some thirty years ago in the pages of The Lyric, and had the good sense, when the chance came up, to award her one of the annual prizes. Of course, she wrote me a great letter. Between us, we now have such an accumulation of correspondence that one of us (Gail) had better get famous enough to qualify for a section in some university library, where an as-yet- unborn graduate student can sift through it all and come up with a winsome thesis on Literary Women of the late 20th Century.

Or, as we tell each other, "The last one to die has to edit the letters." Which way does that incentive work?

Now that I'm retired, perhaps I'll follow Gail's lead once again and become a more regular reader and contributor on Eratosphere. It's never too late to get "famous."

And it's always a pleasure to read Gail's poems and Gail's thoughts.
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Unread 11-07-2008, 04:27 PM
Janice D. Soderling's Avatar
Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Sweden
Posts: 14,175

Gail's poetry makes you smile even as your eyes are watering up. I just turn into one big Oh--h-h-h-h.

That is what a real poet does with her/his reader--squeezes mind and heart at the same time.
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Unread 11-07-2008, 08:32 PM
Deborah Warren Deborah Warren is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2001
Posts: 632

Gail is one of my very top favorite poets. And she's one of the best readers I know. She laughs at her poems as she reads them--she's just irrepressibly delightful.

Invite her to a venue near you.
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Unread 11-07-2008, 08:54 PM
Julie Kane's Avatar
Julie Kane Julie Kane is offline
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Natchitoches, LA, USA
Posts: 252

Having already written that L-O-N-G article Leslie mentioned (above) about Gail and her wonderful work, I don't know what else I can do to convey my admiration, except maybe turn a few cartwheels and set off fireworks. Yay Gail!
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Unread 11-08-2008, 08:13 AM
Gail White's Avatar
Gail White Gail White is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Breaux Bridge, LA, USA
Posts: 3,477

You can probably feel the heat of my virtual blushes as I read these flattering remarks. Thank you all!

I sometimes describe the poetry scene to nonpoets in this way: Picture American literature as an ocean. And in the middle of that ocean is an island where the poets live. And in the middle of that island is a pond where the formalists hang out. And in that pond we all know each other.

It's a great pond, with a wonderful croaking chorus.
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Unread 11-08-2008, 09:06 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,816

Gail, you crack me up. Isle Royale is the largest island on Lake Superior. There is a substantial lake on the island, which has an island on it. On that island is a tiny lake, which has a little rock that protrudes above the water, and yes, I guess that's an island too. The largest island on a lake on the largest island on a lake which is on the largest island on the largest lake in the world: Formalism.

Please tell us about your early collaboration with Katherine McAlpine, who wrote:

Sitting at Christmas dinner you're appalled
to note your baby brother's going bald.
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Unread 11-08-2008, 10:00 AM
Kate Benedict's Avatar
Kate Benedict Kate Benedict is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: New York, NY, USA
Posts: 2,196

It sure doth rankle that such delightful poetry, unique in its own right but on a caliber with Dorothy Parker or Phyllis McGinley, does not enjoy the publication opportunities that they did. Gail should be the wit of The New Yorker.
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Unread 11-08-2008, 01:00 PM
Gail White's Avatar
Gail White Gail White is offline
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Breaux Bridge, LA, USA
Posts: 3,477

Originally posted by Tim Murphy:

Please tell us about your early collaboration with Katherine McAlpine, who wrote:

Sitting at Christmas dinner you're appalled
to note your baby brother's going bald.
With pleasure, Tim. Katherine and I co-edited "The Muse Strikes Back: A Poetic Response by Women to Men" (Story Line Press, 1997. Now available from Alibris for $8.00 -

This was Katherine's bright idea. She wrote me that she had written some pieces she called "reply poems" and she noticed that I had done the same, and did I think there were enough similar poems out there to make a book? At that point you could have seen the cartoon light bulb going off over my head. I thought the idea was perfect for Story Line Press. They liked it, and we had collected the poems, got the permissions, and had it in print in the record time (poetry-wise)of two years. Without using computers.

I still love this book. It has 7 poems of Alicia's and 5 of Rhina's, from the days before they won their Wilbur prizes. Plus a lot of other good people.

Katherine is a fine poet, great with light verse, but I've also heard her read a tragic sonnet sequence about a Dutch wife and mother living through (and dying in) World War II that would chill your marrow. The last I heard of her, she was living in Eastport, Maine, enjoying the frosty solitude, and writing a novel about her eccentric neighbors.

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