Fifty local women writers dwell on place
by Rob Neufeld
Two local authors, Nancy Dillingham and Celia Miles, have combined as editors to publish Women’s Spaces Women’s Places—from 50 WNC Women Writers.
Like their two previous anthologies, Clothes Lines and Christmas Presence, the new book has a theme.
“Seeking and finding of space and place,” is the touchpoint, represented by a Virginia Woolf quote: “Give a woman a room of her own and let her speak her mind.”
Factory worker’s haven
Miles herself has a piece in the book that makes the most of three pages.
Thinking about “when a heightened sensibility of surroundings engulfs you,” Miles proceeds to write about—not “a warm meadow bathed by grassy odors,” but a department store lunch counter.
The narrator works in a windowless, dehumanizing factory, assaulted by machine noises, speed-up orders, sweat, perfume, dust, and “ear-splitting…sputterings from the spastic intercom system.”
At the end of each work day, she and her friend go to the one place where they can transform back to human, despite or because of the crying babies and popcorn smell.
Many fine pieces
There are many very fine pieces in “Women’s Spaces”; and others that are charming or personal but not as professionally crafted. In a book that serves partly as a sharing from a community, this critique may be off point.
Jennifer McGaha, non-fiction editor for the “Pisgah Review” at Brevard College, shows impressive craft in her five-page essay, “Vampire Run.”
“Say you want to become a runner,” she writes. “You begin by buying a used treadmill and sticking it in the room above your garage. This is also the room your teenage sons use for…playing video games.”
Then McGaha does something remarkable. Making “you” the protagonist, she spools the story out as a single ribbon, though it traverses weeks and years.
“Sometimes, from that tiny window by the road, you see seasoned runners going past,” she writes. “You want to try running on the road.” One thing leads to another. You are testing your strength.
Dusting, not running
` “I am clearing the clutter/ a real dust up/ that both elevates and deflates,” Nancy Dillingham begins her poem, “Clearing the Clutter.”
Nearly every short line is a showpiece of wit as well as verbal music. The double meanings of “dust up” and “elevates and deflates” match.
“For the life of me/ I don’t know why/ I feel so luckless,” another stanza goes, varying the tone from remark to swan song. It all leads up to a self-image that is dramatic, sad, funny, and beautiful.
Other great poems in the volume include Kathryn Stripling Byer’s “Ashes.”
Shifts in subject within a line of thought are features of Byer’s mastery.
“Only the bathtub was left/ where once I saw her wash her toes solemnly,” the poem begins. It then turns its attention to: a light fixture that had hung above the tub; a metaphor for the imagined experience; ashes found in the tub; and heirlooms caught in a house fire.
In the end, the poet further imagines being in the bathing woman’s position, at midnight, looking at the blisters on her palms “swell like the scuppernongs she dreams of bringing/ back home through the curtain of dust/ and the corn stubble everywhere. She holds them/ up to the meager light. I see them shine.”
Glenda Beall’s poem, “No Safe Place,” should be anthologized in a book of poems about grief, too. It has the sound of a sonnet, with its iambic pentameter and resounding last line; and it tells a moving story.
Some of the stories that Women’s Spaces puts forward are very personal.
Susan Reinhardt, in “Whatever God Sends,” the book’s longest entry at eight pages, tells about her pregnancies. She turns up emotional intensity and turns down sentence length in her trademark compelling style.
Julia Nunnally Duncan recalls pre-school days with Grandma while parents were at work. “A few years later,” she writes in “Grandma’s Bed,” as Grandma “lay dying in the local hospital, lapsing into delirium, she told her daughters she needed to get home to fix dinner for me.”
“These days,” the narrator reflects in the end, “my own thoughts conspire against me,” and she needs solace.
To feel right, she goes, in her mind, back to the bed in which she’d slept at her grandma’s house, and where her grandma had warmed her feet with diaper-covered hot bricks.
Women’s Space, Women’s Places—with its inclusiveness, short entry length, and powerful theme—inspires discussions and writing.
Women’s Spaces Women’s Places—from 50 WNC Women Writers edited by Celia H. Miles and Nancy Dillingham (Stone Ivy Press trade paper, 184 pages, $20).
EVENTEditors and authors of "Women's Spaces Women's Places" launch their book with a reading, signing, and reception at Accent on Books, 854 Merrimon Avenue, 3 p.m., July 10, Call 252.6255.