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Poems (Layer) Garden (Layer) Woman


“Heaven’s Virginia when the year’s at its Spring,” Anne Spencer wrote in her poem on Browning. Reading the recent post, “Spring and All” ( in Prufrock’s Dilemma, I thought about Spencer. Spring and gardens and flowers always bring her poems to mind, like the evocative phrase in “Lines to a Nasturtium”:

“Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty . . .”

I thought about Spencer, reading Susan Scheid’s post, because Susan provides thoughts and images about spring. She also features photography of Valerie Belin: “piled-up negatives made people’s faces into gardens.” And that took me right into Anne Spencer, through, and out the other side.

We know that she was many things – woman, wife, mother, poet, gardener, teacher and librarian, more. She wrote in a cottage built for her by her husband, where she could work in quiet, surrounded by her garden. I always thought of her like that, surrounded by the garden she planted. But contemplating the images created by Belin, and Susan’s description of them, has added dimension to my understanding of Spencer. My imagining had kept her, with her poetry, next to the many facets of her life. Now I have learned a deeper way of seeing her – she was a stack of transparencies: poems(layer)garden(layer)woman. She was no more separate from her garden than Belin’s women are separate from the flowers overlaid on them. So I can drink in a much better reading of this famous poem:

[Earth, I thank you]
Earth, I thank you
for the pleasure of your language
You’ve had a hard time
bringing it to me
from the ground
to grunt thru the noun
To all the way
Feeling seeing smelling touching
I am here!


7 thoughts on “Poems (Layer) Garden (Layer) Woman

  1. Anne Spencer is a poet unknown to me. How did you come to discover her?

    • Susan, a delightful surprise, being able to introduce you to Anne Spencer! Two areas of study first exposed me to her. Spencer was part of the Harlem Renaissance (though she didn’t live among the group – they visited her at home in Virginia). She was also included in the “Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry” (1973), and I have always loved anthologies as the starting point down so many paths. From what I read over your way, it seems that you and Spencer begin with a shared love of nature – I imagine that having read one of her poems, you’d enjoy more! For me, I find phrases from her poems arriving in my head at unexpected moments, especially in the garden, and she is one of the voices that feeds that hunger for art.

  2. Elizabeth thank you for your visit and kind words. Soon I will linger longer here and spend more time with your thoughts and reflections, and stories, which are so alive with some very personal experiences. As children, we had carrot ends in saucers on the window sill and all that floods back now. Next to the silkworms they were.

    • Wanderer, so nice to find you dropping by my way! I am charmed by hearing of your childhood window sill gardens. The fun in childhood days was the excited repeated checking on the progress – though I still can’t help eying seed plantings, watching for first signs of sprouts! Looking forward to reading, and hearing, more from you!

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