Poetry News

The Ladies Behind Hemingway's "The Lady Poets with Foot Notes"

By Harriet Staff

lady poets

Tongue Journal's got this bit of marginalia on their Tumblr--Ernest Hemingway's "The Lady Poets with Foot Notes," originally published in Der Querschnitt, 1924. "In satirical imitation of T.S. Eliot, Hemingway provided elaborate footnotes giving clues to identify 'the Lady Poets,'" writes the Special Collections department at the University of Delaware. According to Hemingway scholar Michael Reynolds, these ladies were:

1. Edna St. Vincent Millay
2. Aline Kilmer
3. Sara Teasdale
4. Zoe Akins
5. Lola Ridge
6. Amy Lowell

Let's take a further gander, if the gander don't mind:


"College nymphomaniac" Edna St. Vincent Millay you know well: "I wish I could walk till my blood should spout" (from "Departure"). Good timing: Looks like the town of Camden, Maine is celebrating the 100th anniversary of their 1912 "discovery" of Millay with a summer full of events, including a June 7 screening of a documentary about the poet that "traces Millay’s poetic development from her Maine roots to her Greenwich Village years to her social and political activism."


Aline Murray Kilmer, step-daughter of Henry Mills Alden, editor of Harper's, wrote a book of prose essays called Hunting a Hair Shirt and Other Spiritual Adventures (add to cart), which came out in 1923. Kilmer also authored two children's books and three volumes of poetry. In 1908, at the age of 20, she married poet and critic Joyce Kilmer, who became insanely famous after the publication of his short poem "Trees." Sara Teasdale wrote the couple letters, becoming friendlier with Aline after she lost her husband, who died in battle in World War I. "It sold her stuff," joked Hemingway. Not anymore...


Sara Teasdale, the "Favourite of the State University male virgins," was often rejecting suitors, including her lifelong friend Vachel Lindsay, "who was absolutely in love with her" but felt unprepared to support them both (he later wed someone else and had four children). Teasdale was the first 1918 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry for her collection Love Songs, which also won the annual Poetry Society of America prize. She married businessman Ernest Filsinger in 1914, but gave him a surprise divorce in 1929. Vachel Lindsay committed suicide in December 1931, and Teasdale wrote to Aline Kilmer of her battle with depression. Apparently "torn between her desire for love and her need for solitude," the poet became increasingly preoccupied with death and followed suit in 1933 by overdosing on sleeping pills. She left a biography of Christina Rossetti unfinished. Reviewer J. Overmeyer wrote that her “simply stated thoughts are complex … and reverberate in the mind.” We quite like her poems "Epitaph" and "She Who Could Bind You."


Teasdale's St. Louis friend Zoë Akins, a poet and critic, became a famous playwright and was also a recipient of the Pulitzer for her play "The Old Maid" (1935), based on a short story by Edith Wharton. Many of her plays were made into silent movies—and one of them, 1925's Declassee AKA "The Social Exile," starred a young Clark Gable. Akins continued to work for Hollywood for a while, even co-writing Camille. Her original play "The Greeks Had a Word for It," written for Broadway in 1931, was adapted in 1953 and became Marilyn Monroe's star-turning How to Marry a Millionaire. Photo by George Eastman, 1921.


Lola Ridge--"One lady poet who never had enough to eat," as Hemingway foots it--was, as Peter Quartermain described her in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "the nearest prototype in her time of the proletarian poet of class conflict, voicing social protest or revolutionary idealism." Née Rose Emily Ridge in Dublin in 1873, she ended up a 33-year-old divorcee in San Francisco and reinvented herself as 23-year-old Lola Ridge, poet and painter. She received a Guggenheim and the Shelley Memorial Award, and a fact from her PF bio alludes to Hemingway's blind item: "Ridge held weekly Broom salons, at which she momentarily gave up her vow of poverty to feed tea and cakes to other writers." Despite such fodder, she has not received a proper biography. Thom Donovan posted some Lola Ridge book covers, including Sun-Up, Dance of Fire, and Red Flag, on his blog Wild Horses of Fire not too long ago. Studio photograph, 1935, courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College.


Imagist poet Amy Lowell is of course at the gut of the modernist canon. She was central to establishing H.D.'s reputation in the U.S., and was in general a great supporter of other poets. Ah but did you know of the Amy Lowell Scholarship for U.S. Poets to Travel Abroad? And we're fond of this book, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass. It starts with two epigraphs, the first from Shelley's famous elegy on the death of John Keats, "Adonais":

"Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, / Stains the white radiance of Eternity."

And the second from French Symbolist poet Albert Samain's poem "Nocturne Provincial," which Lowell translated for a 1916 issue of Fragments: A Journal for Artists:

"Le Silence est si grand que mon coeur en frissonne / Seul, le bruit de mes pas sur le pavé résonne."