From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer?
"Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."

Search This Blog


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

George Washington, Slave Catcher

       Yesterday was Presidents' Day, and the New York Times published an op-ed piece that has been getting a lot of traffic on the world wide web, entitled George Washington, Slave Catcher, complete with an eye-grabbing graphic of the General riding upon an enormous iron-shackled hand, a hand carrying him forward.
       It is an important article and I'm glad it is going viral. I admire Professor Dunbar's work. But the article, in its brevity, tells just part of a much bigger, and more important story. Ultimately, it is the story of the making of America.
       And since I'm making that claim, I will take this opportunity to officially announce that the life story of Ona Judge Staines, from her birth in a slave cabin at Mount Vernon to her death in fugitive slave cabin at Greenland, NH seventy-five years later is the basis of the 125,000 word novel I have been working on for over two years and am finishing this winter. It truly is a remarkable story, so rich in characters that I had to invent none. Places and events are all real and familiar too, though they are of a long ago that is much less familiar. I so look forward to sharing it with the world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Poet's Tale; Lady Wentworth

       Your Valentine deserves a copy of this humorous love poem by Longfellow, which I released last year in this beautiful new version brilliantly illustrated by beloved Portsmouth, NH artist Bob Nilson. Contact me or the Portsmouth bookseller you heart emoticon. (The link below is for the eBook.)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

With gratitude ...

      Interesting that today I wrote a new poem for the first time in a couple of months, and then received word that I have been nominated to be the next Portsmouth (NH) Poet Laureate. I am a bit like the proverbial bridesmaid, though without a funky dress, regarding the laureateship. This time, though, I no longer qualify as I have moved to the other side of the Piscataqua. Still it is wonderful to be nominated, and I humbly thank whoever took the time to honor me that way. 

On seeing Natasha Trethewey

     I went to see and hear Natasha Trethewey speak at my Alma mater this week. I was already a fan of her work, and had been looking forward to the talk entitled "Changing the World One Poem at a Time: Using the arts as a tool for understanding difference and as a catalyst to explore complex topics such as race", so central to the research and writing I have been doing.
     But something happened during the talk. I'm not at all sure what it was. But Ms. Trethewey, simply by sharing herself with her audience, became my favorite poet. I realize that sounds silly and simplistic, and will attempt to explain.
     My writing, both prose and poetry, is more often than not, an exploration of issues of race. My poetry, like Natasha's, often looks at snippets of history and / or art, to try to make sense of my own life and the America I live in. I have always been more drawn to narrative poetry, and consider myself a story teller, but I aspire to something more. Something she has voiced about herself as a writer as in this quote;
     “[I am] a poet interested not only in the sounds of language and in its beauty, but in its ability to help us deal with our most difficult knowledge and help us move towards justice.”
     I am especially interested in working with the concept of historical amnesia that Natasha talks and writes about, and much of my own work seems to be an exploration of that.
     Her comments on that subject have inspired the following poem from me today. It is brand new so will be reworked several times before it is finished. It occurs to me this morning that this childhood memory, that has always stayed with me, may have been the very beginning of my own excavations of what came before me and what created me. Yet I would not have written this without Natasha's influence on me this week.

Visiting Gettysburg

I was so little
that I remember little.
Only boundless rolling knolls
of luxurious green grass.

A perfect place for family fun.
But I think I had a child’s sense
that the beauty was false.
A sad secret rippled beneath.

Not the green of the grass
or the blue of the sky, but red.
A cold clotted river of loss,
mixed by bayonets and shovels.

Men, women, and children,
black, white, and native,
union, confederate, objector.
All co-mingling together forever…

beneath my skipping Mary Jane’s.
I breathed the false exquisite beauty
of boundless rolling knolls
of luxurious green grass.

Tammi J Truax. All rights reserved.

      The favorite writer status she has with me now is not just about me admiring her as a writer. It is at least as much about me seeing her as a teacher.  I endeavor to write the way she does; with great honesty and courage, but in stunningly beautiful words and forms. Considering the chasm between our accomplishments in that regard, this is a daunting task, and I have a lot of work to do!
     I share this video of Natasha talking about her work on Native Guard which caught my attention because one of the dozens of books I've read this year for research on my historical novel was Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. I was not aware of this museum.

     Finally here is a video of Natasha reading her poem Incident.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Wish

       On this day most of all I wish my children's book about Reverend King visiting NH could find an interested publisher.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Retreating to the Green Mountains

      Well, you probably already know I am a serious word counter, and post my daily total on my Facebook page. You may also know that I have become a fan of writing retreats. It has actually been quite a long time (two years, feels like a long time!) since I have had a real vacation (not that I am opposed to that!) as I have been spending any travel money I have on retreats or research trips.
      I am happy to announce that I have been accepted into one this winter which gives me something to look forward to as I hunker down here and finish up this first draft of my first historical novel. I hope to head up into the Green Mountains of Vermont in mid-March with a completed manuscript, and begin my revisions there. I think I can do it!
      The retreat is called When Words Count and takes place at the farm pictured below.

  0152da6.png (646×220)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Death Becomes Her (Sometimes)

     Here is something I wrote recently following one of my weekends in NYC. This was originally published by Seacoast Media Group (Dec. 2014). I also took all of these photos.

      Death Becomes Her

By Tammi J Truax

       Vanity Fair called it “… a perfect little black cocktail dress of a show…”, and I highly recommend it too. Now through February first there is an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center which I recently visited, and knew many of you would be interested in it. The exhibit is called Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire.

           This exhibit really is a striking artistic as well as cultural display. The detail and darkness of the garments are contrasted starkly by the white mannequins wearing white wigs in the all-white gallery. White curtains and panels add a quiet and slightly sacred softness to the large open space. There are about thirty ensembles for men, women and children on display, along with accessories, quotes, fashion plates and historical photographs.

       The history of mourning attire is fascinating as alluringly alluded to in this quote from the exhibit’s curator Harold Koda, “The predominantly black palette of mourning dramatizes the evolution of period silhouettes and the increasing absorption of fashion ideals into this most codified of etiquettes. … The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances. As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order.”

      While the wearing of black garments when in mourning dates back to ancient times, this exhibit covers only a century of the tradition spanning the years from 1815 to 1915. That century, though was a period of time when mourning fashion, as a part of grief expression, became very serious in our nation in large part due to the overwhelming loss of life in the Civil War. While across the pond all time champion mourner and fashion trend setter, Queen Victoria, donned an all-black ensemble upon the death of her husband Albert in 1859, which she would continue to do every day until her own death forty-two years later.

     The more common cultural requirement for wearing black during that century was two years. These demands were focused on the female, but men had some requirements to follow too. As evidenced by the elaborately designed ensembles in the exhibit this must have been more than just an emotional drain on the bereaved, but also a financial one. A considerable amount of money had to be set aside to have a mourning wardrobe made, which of course, many war widows could ill afford to do. Poor people would often resort to dyeing their clothes black so as not to defy convention. There were stages of mourning dress as well; “full mourning” was followed in due time by “half mourning” when a woman could begin to introduce one or two other colors into her black outfits as long as they were not bright or light. Shades of gray were considered safe.

      After the death of her son First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was once reported to be wearing “deep black”, the meaning of which seems inexplicable, but helps us to understand how society judged the person by what she was wearing. There were even expectations on the fabrics that should be chosen, with a preference for dull, not shiny ones, such as crape.

       I had always assumed that a widow’s black clothing communicated only that she was still grieving for the loss of a loved one. I was surprised to learn that these costumes were also used to communicate her availability for remarriage, and that suitors and busybodies could interpret when she could be remarried based on the stage of dress. Veils, generally only worn when leaving the home, had another variety of meanings for the onlooker to interpret.

      While I am greatly relieved that such harsh expectations have been eased, I do find the study of them interesting. Unlike most museum exhibits, this one has a little something for just about everyone. Death Becomes Her is an enthralling look at our past that will be of interest to both fashion and history enthusiasts, as well as all ilk of Goth folks and ghost hunters. The exhibit can be seen seven days a week at the museum’s 1000 Fifth Avenue location in New York City which charges pay-what-you-can admission.