In 1867 three women were born: Laura Ingalls, Sarah Breedlove and Marie Curie. The first went on to become a beloved children’s writer; the second became Madame C. J. Walker, an African-American business woman and founder of a haircare empire; and the last became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two Nobels and the only person to ever win in multiple sciences.
Jeannine Atkins brings together these three women in a collection of poems. The poems center on the relationships between each woman and her daughter. The poems bring in true stories mixed with “imagination to fill in the gaps”. Atkins imagines Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane walking the same line between fact and fiction in the poem Shears:
Let just an edge peek out.
Rose takes back the notebook.
Begin with extravagance, but be ready to trim…
They put in poverty, blizzards, prairie fires,
leave out the milliner who cried
as she tied ribbons around hatbands
chose feathers, folded paper flowers, mourned
the husband who’d left her….
Don’t mention the children
who froze to death on Plum Creek,
the murderers in Kansas.
One family has troubles enough.
They won’t write about the baby
who was buried.
Even good dogs must die,
but such a shame that Jack was bartered.
Let’s let dear old Jack spend his last night at home
curled in a peaceful sleep.
Truth is as much justice as fact.
Due to the nature of the poetry the biographies of the woman are sketches only but rendered in a way that fleshes out familiar figures or makes the reader intrigued to learn more. I think this could be an excellent companion book for a study of the time period, or for a discussion of women’s history. Or just for the pleasure of reading the poems themselves.