We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv · 20 January 08

Dear Harriet,

I promise this will be the last about poetry where mine is included for a while. On Wompo, many members have been discussing how to promote a beautiful anthology of poetry and prose the members of list have put together & published as a collaboration born of the list: Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv. It was suggested that those of us who have blogs announce the publication of this book on our blog.

Here is the cover and publisher’s description:

“LETTERS TO THE WORLD is the first anthology of its kind—a feminist collaboration born from The Discussion of Women’s Poetry Listserv (Wom-po), a vibrant, inclusive electronic community founded in 1997 by Annie Finch. With an introduction by D’Arcy Randall and brief essays by the poets themselves reflecting on the history and spirit of the listserv, the book presents a rich array of viewpoints and poems. LETTERS TO THE WORLD is a remarkable example of how the Internet has radically rearranged associations among poets, editors, and readers.”

A longer description:

“259 contributors, 19 countries, 5 continents Australia * Canada * Cuba * France * Germany * Greece * India * Iran * Italy * Ireland * Mexico * New Zealand * Norway * Palestine * Philippines * Romania * South Africa * U.K. * United States *

LETTERS TO THE WORLD is unique on several levels. Its poems convey the extraordinary range of existing contemporary voices and show how the Internet allows people to connect meaningfully across cultural and aesthetic boundaries. The preface, introduction, and 28 brief essays by contributors meditate on this quality of Wom-po and reveal how virtual communities enlarge real lives and both deepen and broaden poetic discourse.

The creation of the book itself reflects the egalitarian quality of the Internet and the collaborative ideals which have engaged many feminists. Any Wom-po member who wanted to contribute to the book was included. The editorial group collaborated over a two year period, dividing tasks according to interest and availability and making decisions based on consensus, with no one individual having veto power. (The Afterword describes the process in more detail.)

The diversity of the poems and the poets’ demographics, the self-empowering means of selection, and the egalitarian process which brought the book into form make LETTERS TO THE WORLD a remarkable example of how the Internet has radically rearranged associations among poets, editors, and readers.”

It’s also described in an Iranian Newsletter! There’s a blog in Morocco, which features the book. In the upcoming American Women Poets Association meeting (Jan 31st – Feb 3rd, NYC), there will be sessions reading from the book and a celebratory party.

Friday Feb.1 9:00-10:15. Letters to the World: Creating an Anthology in Cyberspace. Panelists: Ann Hostetler (moderator), Annie Finch, Lesley Wheeler, Rosemary Starace, Ann Fisher-Wirth, and Kate Gale (publisher).

A launch party for the book on Saturday Feb. 2, 6 – 8 p.m., at the Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, NYC. (No link for this.)

As said, this is an anthology which brings together poems and prose by all the contributors to the listserv—of which quite a number are published poets or writers. I was too shy to pick my best or the most characteristic (Renaissance-type) poems I did from Vittoria Colonna, but rather went for a modest poem which had a modern or simple feel (so I hoped) from Veronica Gambara. I did pour myself into it & it represents a central part of what I try to hold to to give me strength. Recently (I admit) a false hope for personal happiness again tore away at me. It is hard to eradicate hope.

Now hope has died

Now hope has died:
what once upon a time
made me eager, bold.
But I grieve the less,
since I have understood
no one is constant;
nothing endures.

Hope has now died.

Once upon a time
hope’s deceit melted me, and I held on.
Now my pain is a game to her;
when she’s driven me to tears,
she abandons me,
worn out from love and desire;
she continually tempts me with dying:
a tenacious, strong passion,
which perseveres yet more strongly.

Hope has now died.

I hoped, and fed myself with sweet fire;
I shall not hope any more,
only cry, my soul wrenched with longing,
I call everywhere on death,
seek succour for my grief,
since my heart is without hope
whom I once turned to
as sweet refuge.

Now hope is dead.

While I had her as guide,
every evil seemed light;
without her I am bewildered, bleak,
the least thing is too much;
long anxiety and brief pleasure
are all I’ve known until now:
my only reward has been
to be a slave.

Now hope has died.

Gentle, sweet, soft hope,
... ah … fled from me …
why didn’t she take with her
this burnt heart, my weary life?
I am so frightened,
of hope wholly deprived,
not living, yet alive
at length I have no hope.

Hope has now died.


N.B. This is the fourth publication I’ve been involved in which is a result of or about cyberspace life: the other three are my book, Trollope on the Net, partly about the experiences of a group of people on a listserv reading Trollope together; an essay I wrote for the Burney Letter about a group of people who read an abridged edition of Burney’s letters and diaries together, On Reading Divergent Fanny Burney D’Arblays; and an essay I wrote for the Johnsonian Newsletter about another group of people who read Boswell’s Life of Johnson together with their tour books to the Hebrides, Johnson and Boswell Forever!.

Posted by: Ellen

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  1. From Fran:

    “Congratulations, Ellen, the anthology looks and sounds great – very sad poem, though. Was Gambara writing from real experience or picking up a common theme?

    Anyway, my own hope is that the collection does very well.

    Elinor    Jan 20, 7:07am    #
  2. Dear Fran,

    Thank you very much. Everyone on Wom-po is chuffed and they are planning events during the AWP: American Women Poets meeting—an AGM at the end of this week; it occurs in NYC. There are quite a number of very well-known poets on Wom-po so the volume has well-respected poets in it. I’ve bought two copies! When they arrive in my house, I’ll be able to see if anyone else did translation and if so, what? Then I could write a better blog for I’ll actually know the contents of the book.

    The poem is traditional in form. Here is the Italian and an explanation:


    There is a tradition or it’s common to see such poems mourn the passing of time—for example, Villon’s “where are the snows of yester year. " And it’s common in the Renaissance for women to write melancholy poems. However, Gambara’s goes beyond this as do a number of her most famous pieces, of which the most famous is:


    I think she was often melancholy—or knew real periods of depression. My study of the poetry and edition online suggests she had a couple of devastatingly unhappy love experiences. She saw and fled massacres (small ones—I don’t mean to be comic, but there were just not as many around to kill as there have been in recent massacres, and the motive was not racial or ethnic but economic). I didn’t write the life I put online in terms of this, but you can pick it up:


    It’s not very long. She really did align herself with Dido. Her letters are lively but a vein of melancholy is ever creeping in (they are self-censored as she knew they could and would be opened and like all Renaissance women who wanted to survive, she guarded herself strongly). One of Gambara's recent and official biographers came to my site and read this little life and liked it very much so it has some "authority." I put her praise of the biography on my blog but someday will put it somewhere in this documents. Perhaps as a footnote?

    Elinor    Jan 20, 7:27am    #
  3. I loved the Gambara poem so much that I ordered the book. I paid thro’ PayPal and am hoping that the postage was sufficient. A great project to have been associated with, Ellen. Congrats.
    Clare    Jan 20, 10:50am    #
  4. From Judy:

    “Congratulations from me too, Ellen – it looks like a lovely collection, and I like your translation of Gambara very much.”
    Elinor    Jan 21, 12:00am    #
  5. My congratulations and compliments, as well. It’s a bleak but lovely poem, and I wish I could supplement the day’s ordering (of Origo’s The Last Attachment) with a copy of the book. I wish you and it all success with readers. And it’s wonderful to be getting such diverse notice! At any rate those who come upon the Gambara will be touched.

    Hope can be torturous and delusive, but isn’t always. – Though I find its untamed rising frightening; a thing always to be countered, measured, managed. Yet fragments of great joy, answering my hope, show here and there, and continue, have reality. I know they and others may fade, change places, or for some time evaporate; yet they are real enough that I am trying to learn to give hope just enough latitude to lead and draw me, without letting it run free.

    May you have what you hope for, and feel it as a refreshing stir in the air, without hope’s lacerating.

    Julie Vollgraff    Jan 21, 4:02pm    #
  6. Dear Julie,

    A beautiful comforting remark. At the same time as you acknowledge so eloquently, hope does lacerate. I find hope aroused and then thwarted so much harder to cope with than if I never was led to hope at all.

    There’s a noble sentence in Johnson’s Ramblers where he says we should try not to want intensely what is out of our own power or control to get because such intense desire will destroy our virtue, peace, & tranquillity.

    The context is about how people will sell themselves and do anything for others to get someone else to help them to the desire so Johnson is concentrating on virtue.
    I emphasize the tranquillity part of the axiom.

    Elinor    Jan 22, 1:09am    #
  7. From Nick:

    “Many congratulations on the poem – I am delighted for you.”
    Elinor    Jan 23, 7:28am    #
  8. Kathy:

    “Hope you’re well. And that the WOMPO book sells well.

    Elinor    Jan 23, 7:28am    #
  9. Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi has now published her anthology of modern American poetry in Iran:


    Her previous books include The Blood of Adonis, and Women Poets
    Elinor    Feb 2, 7:51am    #
  10. By Annie Finch, list-owner of Wompo, and she who conceived of the anthology and was a powerful force in bringing it into existence:

    “I have just spent a dawn hour in the midst of AWP chaos with the anthology—and I am so very moved by it. This richness is amazing. I can’t think of any anthology of contemporary poetry I’ve ever read that I have found so moving. It is the swirl and mix of so many various layers and currents of feeling and meaningfulness (poetic, personal, political, national, international, formal, thematic, social, emotional) you’ll see what I mean when you get your copy. It’s sort of like meeting everyone on the list in person, all at once, in a huge cocktail party in a church or temple yet while yet being absolutely alone. Thank you all for the gifts of your poems, and thank you to the editors. To have my name in the dedication to this book is a profound joy to me.

    Thank you,
    Elinor    Feb 2, 7:56am    #

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