{An Umbrella Invitational}

Ann E. Michael

is a poet, essayist, librettist and educator who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania and holds the position of Writing Coordinator at DeSales University.  She has an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and is a rostered Artist-in-Education with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and in newspapers, family magazines, poetry anthologies, educational and academic publications, as well as on radio.

Ann's chapbook of poems, More than Shelter, is available from Spire Press.

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La Barbe

Monsieur Coulon, my grandfather, wore large moustaches and a beard three meters long. He tied it to his bedpost by night, to avoid strangulation in his sleep; as it was, he died of fever in 1902 and the beard grew two centimeters more the day after his death. For years I had nightmares, grandfather silently choking me from the bed I’d inherited with his estate. I bobbed my hair before the style became fashionable; Mama said it was scandalous, but the dreams ceased. I left Nièvre for Paris and America, to avoid strangulation.

In 1942, I visited Savannah, Georgia, where trees resemble men, their great beards choking ocean breeze. I dream of trees opening grey coffins into the humid night: I am an old woman, now, and waiting—

ah, listen, the wind is speaking French, Grandpère, it takes my precious breath away!

[Originally published in Yarrow, and in Always the Beautiful Answer, A Prose Poem Anthology (King’s Estate Press)]

Artist’s Statement

I was very young. It seems so, anyway; I can hardly imagine myself so young. Mostly, I had been working with lyric, the overly-personal late-adolescent approach to self-expression through verse. That approach worked for me until I began to read poetry in earnest, poems by people who could write well, whose images were evocative and surprising and superceded the merely personal and made me want to read them again and again.

I joined a writing critique group in Brooklyn, New York where I met David Dunn, who became my lifelong friend (unfortunately, his life was short). David was experimenting with prose poems. His stuff was surreal, jazzy, and cool—not my métier, and not what I was after in my own work though the energy his poems had was something mine lacked. We talked and talked, read each other’s work and read Kicknosway and Bly and Lorca and Paz and more Lorca and Kunitz; and we listened to avant garde jazz, and then we read more Lorca. He suggested I try on personas in order to escape my personal lyric prison. It worked.

This poem wasn’t the first persona piece or prose poem I tried, but it was the first successful one. I still perform it at readings, partly because it means so much to me; I associate it with David, gone these eight years. It’s also the piece that freed me from unsuccessful confessional modes. I do write lyric poems, which are often personal; but I think I’ve learned how to handle such poems more effectively, thanks in part to the narrator of this prose poem, who spoke to me so clearly 27 years ago.