A guest post by poet Moira Egan:
First and foremost, I would like to thank Barbara Younger for the invitation to be a guest on her terrific and award-winning blog. Passager Books (Baltimore, MD) has just published my poetry collection, Hot Flash Sonnets, and so I guess it’s official: I’m a woman of a certain age, and I’m here to talk about it.
Just yesterday, I had an email exchange with one of my dear friends from College.She’s been enjoying the Hot Flash Sonnets I’ve been posting on Facebook, and she had a couple of questions for me. She too is experiencing many of the classic symptoms of The Change, and though she lives in a city that’s known as a world capital, she is dismayed that her doctors are pushing her toward HRT and presenting no other options. She’s probably not a good candidate for HRT, for many reasons, and she asked me what I’ve been doing to ease my symptoms and get on with something resembling a normal life.
So I told her about certain websites that have been helpful (such as this one!), and a couple of books on hormone-specific yoga practices, and about my own, ongoing (!) experiments with various herbs and concoctions.Further, I told her that I was very happy that we were having this conversation. It strikes me as sad and strange that, in the year 2013, there is still a certain stigma or embarrassment attached to talking about MENOPAUSE, something that every woman will experience if she is fortunate enough to live long enough to pass from being a reproductive being to a post-reproductive being. Where’s the shame in that?
This is the first poem in my collection, Hot Flash Sonnets. I didn’t think Shakespeare would mind too much that I borrowed some phrases from his famous existential-crisis character, Hamlet, since we menopausal women are asking ourselves existential questions every day. I also hoped that Mr. Shakespeare wouldn’t mind my borrowing from him because, without his example, I probably never would have gone off onto my own poetic path as a dedicated sonneteer.
Something I didn’t tell my friend, though, is that one of the best therapies for me has been recording my experiences and turning them into sonnets. A few years ago, when I first started writing this sequence, I realized that, beyond its being the form in whose constraints I feel most at home (and in which I have the most fun), the sonnet is an ideal form for expressing change – like mood swings! And thermostat malfunctions!
You remember from your English classes that sonnets have 14 lines, a rhyme scheme, and a neat little thing somewhere towards the end called the volta, the turn, where the poem changes direction and surprises you with its ending. As Robert Frost famously said, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Well, ask any menopausal woman about the surprises she’s encountered on the journey, and you might be surprised yourself.
So it really did help me to externalize the things that were happening to me, to hold them at arm’s length, so to speak, and make sense out of them by shaping them into sonnets. I wanted the poems to range in tone every bit as much as I range in my moods: from “LOL” funny to philosophical, from poignant to painful, from sarcastic to dead serious. Some of these things aren’t fun or funny to experience, but when given the choice between laughing and crying, though I don’t always succeed in this, I do try to laugh.
Just as these two “sisters in sweat” share the heat wave, I hope to share whatever insights I might have come to along this path of Strange Change. I also hope that in laughing or even at times crying together, we “sisters in the sweat,” ladies of a certain age, can take comfort in the shared nature of our experiences, and truly understand that we’re not alone.
Giveaway: Friend for the Ride is giving away a copy of Hot Flash Sonnets. Simply enter a comment by October 10 saying you’d like to be the winner.
Passager Books is a press for writers over fifty! Our menopausal hats goes off to this insightful and artistic press!
Moira Egan is the author, most recently, of Hot Flash Sonnets (Passager Books, Baltimore, 2013). Her previous poetry collections are Cleave (WWPH, 2004); La Seta della Cravatta/The Silk of the Tie (Edizioni l’Obliquo, 2008); Bar Napkin Sonnets (The Ledge, 2009); and Spin (Entasis Press, 2010, for whom she also co-edited Hot Sonnets, 2010).
Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the U.S. and abroad. Her sonnets in particular have won many accolades, including the 2005 Baltimore City Paper Poetry Contest; The Ledge Chapbook Competition (Bar Napkin Sonnets, 2009); the Baltimore Review’s 2012 Literary Contest (HEAT being the all-too appropriate theme); and the 2012 Sonnet Competition of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition of the National League of American Pen Women.
She has been a Mid Atlantic Arts Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; Writer in Residence at St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Malta; a Writing Fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Center; and a Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.