Poetry News

The Story of Poetry and Nancy Luce's Chickens at Electric Lit

By Harriet Staff

The 19th-century poet Nancy Luce earned so much money from sales of her self-published poem "Poor Little Hearts," written as homage to her beloved chickens, that she managed to commission "the first of two marble headstones for her chicken companions," writes Carand Burnet. After all, Burnet explains, "[l]ove can manifest itself in countless ways." Picking up from there: 

It can be privately expressed or publicly flaunted; love can drive a person into the most outlandish regions, and yet it can also teach important lessons. For Luce, her chicken graveyard stood as the ultimate example of love for her hens.

Luce’s story surfaced in the press, including The Chicago Daily Tribune, The Boston Weekly Globe, The Atlantic MonthlyHarper’s Bazaar, The San Francisco Bulletin, and The New York Times. By 1873, hundreds of vacationers visited Luce’s homestead each year. They would meet the poet, view her chicken graveyard, and purchase her chapbooks, photographs, and eggs. These tourists were glimpsing into an individual’s world who rejected 19th-century social norms. Upon her death in 1890, Luce was so well known that her obituary was printed from coast to coast. Yet today she is a folktale.

Most assumed Luce was deranged, yet her intellect shined through meticulously handcrafted books, colorful visual art, country-wide correspondences, and detailed accountings. Additionally, Luce’s more experimental poems include lists and fragmented grammar that predate 20th-century Modernists.

Read the whole story at Electric Lit.

Originally Published: October 22nd, 2018