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 www.gailwhite.org.
I can’t recommend highly enough Julie Kane’s article in V.1, Issue 1 of Mezzo Cammin (http://www.mezzocammin.com/iambic.ph...cism&page=kane
). 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:
ON LOUISIANA POLITICS
The politician, like the tabby’s young,
Attempts to clean his backside with his tongue.
More about cats:
DIALOGUE AT A WEDDING
“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:
MY PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF NOT BEING ASKED TO THE PROM
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:
THE CYNIC AND THE BABY
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.
PARTYING WITH THE INTELLIGENTSIA
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.
WHY POETS DRINK: AN ESSAY
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.”
HIT IT, GAIL!