If you ever were under the impression that it’s all downhill after 50, the gutsy, lusty, deeply honest stories and poems shared today at the “Women of a Certain Age” reading quickly set the story straight.
Led by host Sonia Pilcer, a longtime writer and teacher of writing who divides her time between homes in Columbia County and New York City, the reading featured four other strong women writers, ranging from women who have not yet published, to one woman, Sondra Zeidenstein, who runs her own successful press, Chicory Blue, dedicated to publishing poetry by women over seventy.
It was impressive to hear these women write so openly, with humor and humility, about characters whose experiences with love, erotic satisfaction and frustration, and the challenges of aging must mirror their own.
Zeidenstein read poems honoring two of her mentors in poetry: Allen Ginsburg and Sharon Olds, both of whom have been willing to reveal more to the world than most writers of their own inner-most desires and longings.
Beth Sack read a story about a woman dealing with cancer, and realizing that she would need to leave her husband, a distant and unhelpful figure, if she were to survive.
Joan Embree read an over-the-top story about a woman living with a man so horrid that no one is sorry when she sets out to murder him by appealing to his bottomless gluttony. When he falls over dead after an orgy of eating her delicious home-cooked food,the audience cheered! Listening to Joan read off the drop-dead menu, it was easy to remember that this is a writer who spent many years professionally engaged in gourmet food preparation.
Victoria Sullivan represented a rollicking, sexy voice in older women’s writing, reading several poems that had the audience roaring with delight at her razor-sharp humor, for example when one of her narrators says matter-of-factedly, “I seem to be a woman in whom lust trumps the moral imperatives of the moment.”
Her poem “Blessing the Body” was exquisitely beautiful; perhaps she will be willing to share it with Festival blog readers in a later post.
Sonia Pilcer herself brought down the house reading a story from her novel-in-progress about the inhabitants of a rooming house on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Laced with Yiddish and bold with sexual honesty, the story features two characters who might seem entirely innocuous to an outsider, but are brought to live in all their passion and color under the strokes of Sonia’s pen.
It was clear from the lively discussion following the readings that there are many “women writers of a certain age” in the Berkshires who are hungry to share their stories and learn from each other in the process, and many women and men of all ages who delight in listening!
Look for this panel, with a changing cast of “women of a certain age” readers, to become a Festival fixture in the coming years.
BLESSING THE BODY
by Victoria Sullivan,”Poet Laureate of the Woodstock Roundtable” on radio WDST 100.1 FM
We must gather the parts of our bodies up and love them.
Now I love my little hands. And is it because someone,
a man, told me they were “perfect little hands”? Did that
make them worthy of my love? Each part deserves
a blessing. Here are my feet that hold my weight.
I will love them with their cherry painted toe nails.
My legs are sturdy, I do not fall over. Bless them too.
And my hips that undulate slowly in dance, I will absolve them
of all crimes. They need the music. My belly grounds me,
my breasts cry out for love, my neck holds the huge mass
of my head, surely a worth task. All these I bless, and my eyes,
and ears and mouth that loves to kiss and eat and eat and kiss.
Don’t let me forget my tasting tongue that brushes his skin
and keeps my mouth from getting lonely. My teeth and lips
of course demand their credit. But it’s my hair that wants
always to wave the crowd on and guard my scalp and brain—
my hair that shouts a song to all my body: Dance on.
All this as youth slips further and further away, as if
the goddess is laughing at the ironies of life. I am ready
to dance around the Beltane fires at last, while friends go down
to hip and knee surgeries daily. At what point is ripeness all?
Never mind the question. I will bless my body parts
because like yours and yours and yours, they do their best
to keep our hearts beating, the blood still rushing in our veins.
I will kneel down to this husk in which I live, this system
of bones and sinews, this fragile clothing for my soul,
and let tears flow at all the beauty that we grasp
so very incredibly briefly on the swift train ride of life.