Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 7, 2017

Broken and Whole

I can remember back when the Internet could first enter our home and news of the world became available for me to glimpse near the keyboard. I was used to those rows of letters as a quiet place where I could be close to the people I was writing about. The pictures shimmering above it came from my mind. I resisted trading in my typewriter and having that intimate world and the one beyond my walls come together, but gave in. Much good has come of that. Being in touch with people far away eases the loneliness of writing. But it’s also a big distraction. Like many people these days, I’m finding it hard to keep myself from checking in to see what new disaster for the earth or its inhabitants we need to contend with not only this day, but this morning. Some days it seems bad news come around every few hours.

I want to be informed, but I also have books to write. I struggle to keep the focus we practice in yoga to keep us balanced, even though I’m a wobbly tree. And sometimes I go out to talk about books. This weekend I launched Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis with a room filled with wonderful people at The Odyssey Bookshop. Many thanks to Ann, Joan, and everyone who came! It was a privilege to talk about a girl who in 1863 had a hard time finding a place in a school where she was admitted, but not entirely welcomed, who faced prejudice and survived violence to move to Rome and spend months and years hammering out faces and bodies from broken stone. She took her pain and carved out something beautiful.


My book is written, but Edmonia Lewis stays with me as a presence near my laptop. She watches as I call forth another amazing and overlooked woman. I find some focus here, not exactly meditating, not exactly channeling, but I wouldn’t call it plain old writing either, as I softly call these women and gently try to briefly enter their spirits, as if they were gauzy clothing. Perhaps particularly with Edmonia Lewis, a novel in verse meant for teenagers and up, readers will find disturbing scenes, but I hope they join this amazing sculptor as she finds ways to both accept and transcend what she was given. We may have been taught to see joy and pain as opposites, but often they come together. Much needs to be broken before we can know what’s whole.


Edmonia Lewis split stone, then filed and polished, aiming for an ideal. Ekua Holmes, who illustrated the cover of Stone Mirrors, worked in collage, putting torn paper together to make something lovely. Poets work with broken lines, perhaps for emphasis or the power of pause or what poet Jane Hirshfield calls “a little Sabbath.” Writing can make something new from what was neglected or broken. In a New Yorker article called “Poetry in a Time of Protest,” Edwidge Danticat writes, “Trump’s speech was dark, rancorous, unnuanced. Afterward, I wanted to fall into a poet’s carefully crafted, insightful, and at times elegiac words.” I love the gaps and stretch of nuance, the way they invite our own answers. I don’t know if poetry or other sorts of beauty can save us, but we need its reminder of better places, and the tender effort of moving toward shine and hope.



  1. “I don’t know if poetry or other sorts of beauty can save us, but we need its reminder of better places, and the tender effort of moving toward shine and hope.”

    Yes! Thank you for your heartening words. And thank you for continuing to write about the lives and achievements of forgotten or overlooked women. I would not have known about Edmonia if not for you.

    • Thanks, Jama. We all hearten in the ways we can. I’m lucky to feel connected to women of the past, so I want to do what I can hoping that others will love them as I do.

  2. Thank you for sharing. It has been a challenge to do the work of writing when so much turmoil and unrest scrolls out over our morning feeds. Balance is key and what we do is important. Thank YOU for YOUR important work and I look forward to learning about Edmonia!

    • It is always good to remind each other of the importance of our work. You are so very committed, and I am, too — but it’s good to have each other to say: keep going!

  3. Beautiful, as always, Jeannine. These words are exactly what I needed to read this morning: “I don’t know if poetry or other sorts of beauty can save us, but we need its reminder of better places, and the tender effort of moving toward shine and hope.” Thank you.

    • I’m glad you found something to help you through the morning on what proved to be a tough day for dedicated educators like you.

  4. Yes, peace comes from stepping away from the words of the day and into the words of creation. After 9/11, after making sure my family was all right, I went up to my study and did my thing.

    • I like to think of you persevering in that quiet study. I’m also grateful for all you do for children and our country, peacefully marching, posting, and prodding our leaders to give more.

  5. You have been on quite a roll, Miss Jeannine, with a new book out every five minutes, it seems. Congrats on the latest! I too struggle with the Internet and the general “noise” out there. I have stopped reading newspapers, even my beloved (ruined by Bezos) Washington Post, and we don’t have TV news or I’d never get a word written either.

    This book looks wonderful and what a nice community you have to launch your books. Congrats again!

    • I’ll never catch up to your output, but it’s been a fun two years after five very quiet ones. Like you, I keep on word after word after word, pushing back the noise, but the publishing sorts aren’t quite as steady. We meet them as we can. Thanks for stopping by here — you always cheer me.

  6. Hi Jeannine, I just learned of some of these notable women, over the past year. I ended up buying a memorial book which belonged to the Quincy/Waterston family. It’s in memory of Helen Ruthven Waterston, Anna Cabot Lowell Quincy Waterston’s 17 year old daughter who had passed away. It’s dated 1860 and I did much research relating to Anna Quincy Waterston. There are two pages in the back with a long handwritten poem, in pencil. It is signed Anna W. This handwriting does seem to be that of Anna’s because it matches up pretty well with her diary notes in A Woman’s Wit and Whimsy. Edmonia Lewis was such a talented woman. Happy you are bringing some of these great women to light again ..

    • Oh, that sounds wonderful to find such a treasure! Fascinating to try to work out the handwriting. It seemed the fashion in those books to copy poems you loved — and since it was just a personal thing, the writer might not bother to include the poet/author since she knew, or — it was the words/wisdom that mattered. Thanks for letting me know about this — it made me smile — and sharing ways to bring women of the past to light.

      • Her poem is entitled “The Epiphany” Her daughter was born on Jan it is fitting..Her last two lines are ” And when I pass their circles bowed, I shall behold My Star..” The places they traveled are also mentioned in this poem..which makes me think she is the author of this poem. The poem is 36 lines long..

      • Most, if not all, of these poems in this book were personally written for her daughter, Helen Ruthven Waterston..They seem to relate to each one of their memories with her daughter..who was also Robert Cassie Waterston’s daughter, of course..

        • Sounds like an engrossing project. Good luck with connecting up the poems and memories!

          • It gives me the chills to think that Anna held this herself and wrote this poem down with a pencil in 1860..Eventually, it will be given its proper home..Thank you!

  7. Poetry has saved me more times than I care to count…. xoxo

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