Naomi Replansky, at 99 years old, is on full speed ahead, a poet with an entirely unique and powerful style, as well as political activist and pioneer in so many ways. Read a fascinating article about her here; it speaks of how the poet Philip Levine “rediscovered” her while in his capacity as Poet Laureate in 2013, and by shining a light on her, helped her gain the recognition that had eluded her for much of her life. Despite praise from many critics and poets for her first book, the National Book Award-nominated Ring Song, a bad review by Lawrence Ferlinghetti so upset her that she didn’t write another book until 1994, 42 years later. However she continued to write and to engage with poets and other writers, including Bertolt Brecht, whose work she translated, and her longtime partner, prose writer Eva Kollich. Now she has sadly stated that she will write no more, and to that end has penned the poem below. Also, she reads another poem “Inheritance” on a video link here.
About Not Writing
Tongue-tied, I stand before
Myself as inquisitor.
I loved to mark time
With a beat, with rhyme.
Time marked me with its thumb,
Slowed down the pendulum.
Slowed it down, or stopped:
Words were lopped, words dropped—
No use to devise
Reasons or alibis.
Now, strangely, I draw breath
Well past my ninetieth.
What’s begun is almost done,
Still, I must brood upon
The much that I sought,
The little that I wrought,
Till time brings its own
Lockjaw of stone.
Here is the text of “An Inheritance”:
“Five dollars, four dollars, three dollars, two,
One, and none, and what do we do?”
This is the worry that never got said
But ran so often in my mother’s head
And showed so plain in my father’s frown
That to us kids it drifted down.
It drifted down like soot, like snow,
In the dream-tossed Bronx, in the long ago.
I shook it off with a shake of the head.
I bounced my ball, I ate warm bread,
I skated down the steepest hill.
But I must have listened, against my will:
When the wind blows wrong, I can hear it today.
Then my mother’s worry stops all play
And, as if in its rightful place,
My father’s frown divides my face.