Jennifer Finstrom: Poetry and Divorce

Dwayne Butcher


A continuation of our celebration of National Poetry Month 2019 with poems about poetry, here by Jennifer Finstrom, who uses them to write about divorce…..


I Confide in the Lady of Shalott about My Divorce

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
                   —“The Lady of Shalott,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

and tell her that for the first time in my life,
I’m not gazing out my window longing
for someone or something else. I believed for years
that it was a part of my writing process, both
the longing and the window: I would make tea
and go into the sunroom and stare out at the lake,
the park benches, the pigeons and seagulls,
the people waiting for the 151 and the 147.
That apartment had eight rooms to the three
I have now, but I never wish for any of it
back. It’s true that my leaving was his idea,
but I keep the birdcage that I bought
at the Edgewater yard sale in my living room
to help me celebrate how free I am, keep
something inside of it that reminds me of him.

I Confide in Queen Elizabeth I about My Divorce

I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
               —“On Monsieur’s Departure,” Queen Elizabeth I

I can’t help but admire her lavish style,
that it took four hours to dress her and apply
her makeup, that as she got older, her gowns
grew more and more extravagant, and she
allowed her ladies to wear only black
and white to make herself seem brighter.
She never stopped expecting the arrival
of suitors, and together, we analyze
the vast difference between being courted
and being married. I always liked having
admirers but seldom wanted it to go anywhere,
should have known that getting married
was a bad idea from my lack of lipstick and
the drabness of the outfit I wore to city hall.
I used to think I wanted a boyfriend but really
just wanted a fabulous wardrobe. This makes
her smile, and I wonder if she had both,
but she hides her secrets in poems just like I do.

I Confide in Sylvia Plath about My Divorce    

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
               —“Mirror,” Sylvia Plath

I read at an open mic for the first time
in April of 1988 and immediately
afterward, left for spring break with
my friend Melissa. We were going
to stay with her family in Columbus,
Ohio, but stopped off in Chicago first,
arriving late at night to sleep at her
friend’s apartment. This is the one
story that I want to tell Sylvia
because I was sick that night and
spent the hours awake in a strange
living room, reading and rereading
her poems in the two books I’d brought
with me. And I understand now—
the open window letting in cool air
and the noises of an unfamiliar street—
that I was sick with the aftermath
of power, feverish from hearing my words
become real in a room full of people.
And even though only a few things
had happened to me then that I wanted
to store in poems, I knew that this
was where I would always keep them.


Jennifer Finstrom at EIL

Jennifer Finstrom in Ars Poetica at EIL

Jennifer Finstrom in ABCs of Poetry at EIL

Jennifer Finstrom as Guest Blogger at EIL

More art by Duane Butcher

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