Women Observing the Natural World
A college course in natural history taught by the late ecologist and entomologist Lincoln Brower—a world expert on the monarch butterfly—sparked my lifelong interest in natural history, along with field research and environmental work as a young scientist. I have been working on a hybrid collection inspired by women naturalists born in the 19th century who lived and worked into the 20th century, after the 19th Amendment, securing a woman's right to vote, was ratified. The work includes persona and epistolary poems written in the form of imagined testaments and letters, along with photography, both historical portrait photos and my own images. Below is one of the imagined testaments, by Edith Patch.
Testament 9: Edith Patch
I am a world expert on aphids. Some call them plant lice.
This hardly suffices. They are stem mothers with wide-eyed young.
Pest to the plant is precious honeydew for the ant.
I know looks can be deceiving.
At Cornell, Anna Comstock took me under her wing.
Aphids lack wings until they need them.
I have sold millions of books but this is not the point.
The welfare of humankind depends on the protection of insects.
I have proclaimed this to everyone willing to listen.
The genus Patchia bears my name.
The year women received the vote I turned forty-four.
They who have no tongues still tell us things.
Edith Patch, 1916. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Edith Marion Patch (1876—1954) was an Entomologist, writer, and world expert on aphids, Patch spent most of her career at the University of Maine after receiving her PhD from Cornell. Patch was the first woman to serve as president of the Entomological Society of America and was one of the first scientists to recognize the dangers and effects of pesticides on the environment and the health of insect populations.
Women Making Art
In my second poetry collection, Chroma: Five Centuries of Women Artists (Shanti Arts, 2020), I built a gallery of ekphrastic poems inspired by the paintings of forty-seven women artists creating art over five centuries, and hailing from twenty-five different countries. As "curator," I organized the poems in four galleries, loosely organized in reverse chronological order so that the poetry leads the reader and "viewer" back through time and history. The titles of paintings become poem titles and so "echo" the voice of each artist as I write in response to their work. The titles also reflect how subject matter deemed acceptable for women artists has changed over time. The project was sparked by my intense love of painting, and in particular, my interest in works created by women, along with the sentiment of the Greek poet Simondes of Ceos—"Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks." Here is one poem from Chroma, along with the painting that provided the inspiration.
Self-Portrait Hesitating between Music and Painting
She is caught in the moment between two Muses—
Music, in her vermillion dress on the viewer’s left,
& Painting dressed in brilliant blue on her right.
She’s holding Music’s hand but has an open one
& she is leaning, the heroine in her own tug of war
that in between feeling—you know the one—pulling
both ends of a rope & afraid of being burned.
She knows the story of Hercules, the hero wrestling
virtue & pleasure before choosing his destiny, but wants
an answer of her own. Where would we be without
our myths & history? Music with her sheet of song
and scores, Painting with her palette & brushes—
Who will be the strongest, who will she love more?
For what they are but also for what else they are.
—Angelica Kauffman, 1794. Oil on canvas. Nostell Priory, UK