rosemary stretch: a woman’s work is never done

Mercury retrograde’s got me itching to get rid of all these papers everywhere. A woman’s work is never done. I’ve been writing for a long time with drafts piling up over more than 30 years now. It’s too much. I mostly write by hand. By that I mean that I still do– I write every day by hand. People who know me well have seen the years of Mead journals that fill files, bookcases and chests. Not to mention all the journals in storage, the boxes full of them in my mother’s garage.

Every few years I have a bonfire. Or a shredding party. I just can’t keep all this stuff around, I need to let it go. Maybe I haven’t done a good enough job at midwifing; at getting the words out into the world: a woman’s work is never done.

There are poems here and there, a couple of books, but nothing compared to all these journals, papers and drafts. It seems a shame to just disappear them, but the point of the writing may have been the process itself. Not whether I got a book contract (I didn’t). Not anything measured in statistics, page visits, likes or any other measurable criteria. There was love in the doing, in the writing itself. (inner critic laughs, just keep telling yourself that, hon.)


In my heart I have so much love for ephemera, for noting the moment, bearing witness, archiving, preserving. All part of why I became a librarian. Creating all those chapbooks helped make me a poet. Output could have been zines or stories, recipes, paintings, mixtapes, dance moves, love songs, anything, but I made poetry chapbooks. Most of them hand-sewn, with hand-stamped or painted covers. I loved doing it and sharing it with folks who seemed to share my interests. It’s love. That’s one of the ways love expresses itself through me, the vehicle I am.

Lately I’ve focused in other directions, but I’m grateful to have been able to share. Now that I’ve added one pdf I’m going to try to add more. For me the point was always in the making and the writing. There’s a physical beauty to handmade things that doesn’t translate into digital realms. That magic is mostly lost now, like browsing books or listening to music in record stores.

There is access though and that’s beautiful too. Information spreads far, wide and quickly– instantaneously. Most of my chapbooks had very limited runs. Only however many I could sew or staple– 50 or 100 total (a woman’s work is never done). That made them seem very precious, wonderful gifts, but very few people ever saw them. Putting them online, at least they exist again: new digital life. If anyone ever gets curious, they can maybe find them.

Like Rosemary Stretch.

Whenever I put together a chapbook, it was usually full of poems that already felt old to me, distant. Rosemary Stretch (pdf) was published in 2006 with the first Dusie Press kollektive project organized by Susana Gardner. (It was like a spinoff of the subpoetics self-publish or perish project– is there anything about that online? It was so long ago I can’t even remember what I wrote for that; though I know I participated because I just saw some sheets of old mailing labels to people on that list. Ah, listservs… so Y2K. Looking around the internets I don’t see much mention of it. Maybe that’s a subject for a future post.) I was living in the UK at the time; a new mother, all my energy was going to the baby. My thoughts, when I had them, circled around ideas of women’s work (it’s never done), women’s writing generally, and whether motherhood would change my own writing.

women’s work

The idea of the “Rose Mary Stretch” struck me as hilarious then the same as it does now. I stay amazed that people mostly don’t know wtf I’m talking about when I say that. Even though I put an image on the cover. It’s an abstracted black and white rendering of Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary, demonstrating how it was that she ‘accidentally’ erased 5 of the missing 18.5 minutes of the Watergate tapes. In the image, she’s re-enacting the scene, later known as the “Rose Mary Stretch.” Rose Mary Woods died in 2005 and I must have heard a story about it to set me off thinking about what it means to be a good secretary.

Rose Mary Woods' stretch that 'accidentally' erased 5 minutes of the Watergate Tapes.
Rose Mary Woods’ stretch that ‘accidentally’ erased 5 minutes of the Watergate Tapes.

From the Washington Post, “Reporters were called to the White House to watch her perform a re-enactment, and the photos of her performing a tremendous stretch, which she supposedly held for five minutes, were rejected as implausible. Moreover, the particular tape recording machine does not operate the way she had claimed; simply pressing the foot pedal to “record” would not initiate a recording unless the play button was being manually depressed at the very same time.”

Halfway through 2021, we’re still in a global pandemic. Climate crisis, wars raging around the world, mass graves appearing, severed heads in the garbage. There are bodies still in freezer trucks down the street. Centuries of greed, hatred and delusion are being revealed for what they are; bearing fruit in deeply painful ways for us all. Poems inspired by the idea of a good secretary erasing incriminating evidence for her boss seem almost sweet right now. Simpler times. Even in simpler times, a woman’s work was never done.

new poems

Thrilled to get my hands on the latest copy of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. There are five of my recent poems in issue 45.1 along with fantastic work by some of my favorites, Cynthia Manick and Douglas Kearney as well as voices that are new to me. Thank you to the editors for putting together another wonderful issue!

Subscribe to Obsidian & support the work here:

New Yorkers’ busy schedules

Our writing & meditation class at The Poetry Project, meditation in an emergency, continues apace. We made lots of little books last week. Above is an image from one of my own. I’m so grateful to get to offer what I love with/for others who share my interests. Writing and book making for me are gateways into flow states. There was so much wonderful energy and focus in the room, I didn’t want to disrupt it by documenting for social media. Participants will be sharing some of their own work at an upcoming reading at the Project in December.

writing workshop

From October through December, I’ll be leading a writing workshop at the Poetry Project. Let’s write together!

I will be facilitating a writing workshop in which participants will delve into physical experience: writing through the senses — to create an embodied poetics and journey along a path toward a new body of work. Over the 10-week course we will incorporate/examine/manifest/experience Sight (visuals!), Sound (beats!), Taste (mad flavor!), Touch/Sensation, and Scent through writing exercises, readings and possibly field trips around the neighborhood. We do not subscribe to the notion that there are only five senses, but there are only 10 weeks in the course: at least a few sessions will be dedicated to an investigation of other, less familiar senses and what constitutes a sense. Make sense? One of the primary aims of the workshop is to kickstart the writing process– there will be a focus on generative writing exercises and collegial feedback.

Space is limited. Enrollment details here:

Tangled Spaces

Tangled Spaces:
Poets Writing Motherhood

Meena Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, Nicole Cooley, Lee Ann Brown, Tina Chang, Marcella Durand, Betsy Fagin, Idra Novey, Tracy K. Smith, Leah Souffrant, Karen Weiser, Rachel Zucker, Cate Marvin, Erica Hunt

How do we theorize a poetics of motherhood?  Attentive to divergent experiences of motherhood and using the maternal as a field that hovers outside neat categorization, this symposium will investigate the poetics of the maternal self and body through the experiences of women of color, adoptive mothers and single mothers.

Thu Sep 29, 2011, 4:00pm | Martin E. Segal Theatre
CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue NYC