julie eger | rendezvous | kitchen secrets | things my grandmother told me

17 11 2011

POETRY DISPATCH No. 359 | November 17, 2011

Julie Eger

Editor’s Note: I began as a teacher of English on the high school level in 1957. Because inside this teacher of grammar and literature lived a young writer trying to break out, no matter what I taught in the beginning or where, when, and what lower/higher levels of teaching I eventually reached (junior high, junior college, college, graduate school…workshops) my major focus was always writing. Words on paper. Essays, stories, poems. My be all and end all. Tell me about it.

I don’t know how many students (all ages, types, abilities) I touched base with in my brief, 10-year career as a certified teacher in the Chicago and suburban area, or my life beyond that as a writer (with a track record of publications and books) who loved to talk and work with others who wanted to write (in particular, over thirty years at my favorite setting ‘to get things done”, my annual workshop at the Clearing, here in Ellison Bay, WI), but certainly over hundreds of people wanting and needing to get their own words down…put their own lives on the line.

The more determined, intense, passionate—those were/are my people. NOT the hobby writers, not the people who talk about writing, not the folks who wish to write bestsellers, not the people who are afraid to write what they know because of hurting somebody’s feelings, and definitely NOT the people who think there is money to be made at this. Give me the people who need to write and know not why. Give me a classroom, a table, a desk, a counter, a bar, a bench in the park. Let’s talk writing. Where we are at the moment. Where you may need to go. How I might suggest you get there. What to read. Ways to write. Now do it.

My most frustrating writing student: the one who CAN do it, with little or some or no help from me. But, for whatever reason, doesn’t. ‘Doesn’t at least do it in the way I feel a writer must work reasonably. Unreasonably, steadily…to do IT before anything else. (Or almost anything else). I grow upset, tired, frustrated when someone whose work I admire is not publishing in literary magazines, not receiving the recognition they deserve…not publishing a first, second, third book of his or her work.

What does this have to do with Julie Eger? Well, a little. Or maybe a lot. I hate to use her as an example, especially since this piece will be news to her—though I’ve known her as a student/friend for quite a few years, and she knows where I’m coming from–as a potential publisher who has been trying to get a complete manuscript out of her for at least the last three maybe five years. But…nothing…still.

What’s frustrating for other writers out there who are persistently publishing in literary magazines, persistently approaching publishers like me to take a look at their book manuscript, but won’t, because I do not have the time or energy to take on unsolicited manuscripts by the car-load, beginners especially but others as well, yet here I go on my own ‘seek-and-find’ mission to get a writer, a manuscript I WANT—and come up empty. In this case, someone with perfectly legitimate explanations, such as those found in a recent note from Julie:

“I keep trying to piece stuff together but it seems that I’m busier helping other people piece their lives together and that is just taking over. I think I’m at an in between spot in my life where my mom needs me to help with Dad, my kids need me to help with grandkids, and then there is my own stuff. Too many which ways. I’ll keep writing and one of these days I hope to ‘get ‘er done! I’m not giving up, just taking longer than I originally anticipated. Damn economy threw a wrench in all my play time!”

Maybe, too, there’s a lesson here I need to learn and accept, as hard as it may be for a writer like me who lives and dies every day to get the word out, one way or another. Maybe some writers don’t want or need to see their work in print. Maybe some are satisfied enough in the act itself. In all my years of working with writers, I have known only a handful content to exist alone. Julie may be another one. “Nobody needs to read this but me.”

But I hope not. —Norbert Blei


My poem strolls in at midnight
like Humphrey Bogart,
tosses his coat and hat on my bed.
I pull back the curtain,
glance out at the lighted drive.
He’s backed in – front end
aimed at the highway.
His plan – a quick get-away.

But for now I lie
down beside him,
and because I am
a methodical woman
and alluring –
I undress him slowly,
one layer at a time
to reveal his hidden intent
and he stays,
this time better than the last –

His tie is on the floor now.
He’s gone – down the highway
I suppose
I am satisfied
he came at all.

Julie Eger © 2011

Kitchen Secrets

The first time I heard Elvis
I was five-years-old.
Papa was gone
and I was peeking
around the corner
while Mama was
in the kitchen
with the radio on.
Come supper time
I danced to the table
with swaying hips
and bendy knees.
I used my spoon
as a microphone.

Papa gave me the look
and Mama said,
“That’s enough child.”
And I said, “No,
that’s alright now Mama,
That’s alright by me.”

Julie Eger © 2011

Things My Grandmother Told Me

Wash the walls with hot soapy water but rinse with cool and clear.
Don’t rub so hard the paint comes off or the paper peels up.
Wear a hat when you’re out in the sun.
Don’t look directly into the sun
or you’ll burn your corneas and go blind.
Add this much salt to the soup.
Turn away when a man looks at you.
If he bothers you, kick him in the knee.
If he keeps bothering you, kick higher.
Mind your manners at school, especially Sunday school.
Sing your song loud even if you’re off key.
Don’t mind the ones who are always on key,
they don’t know other things.
Pull weeds, not carrots.
This is the way to use a hoe.
This is the way to use a rake.
This is the way to stack wood.
This is the way to use a broom.
This is the way to carry bricks.
This is the way to wash a dish.
This is the way to a fold a towel.
This is the way to fold fitted sheets.
This is the way to make a bed.
This is the way to carry buckets of water.
This is the way to flip a pancake.
This is the way to make beef stew.
This is the way to open a jar.
This is the way to pin your blouse
in the middle where it gaps.
This is the way to pull back your hair
when you are working hard.
This is the way to pull back your hair
when you are working hard to attract a man.
This is the way a whore wears her hair.
This is the way a whore makes a bed.
This is the way to wear your hair
when you want to keep a man.
This is the way to mark your calendar.
This is the rhythm to follow when you don’t want a baby.
This is the rhythm to follow when you want a baby to come.
This is the way to make your bed,
especially when you are expected to lie in it.

And if I don’t want to lie in it?

Then you haven’t been listening.
We all have to lie in it.

Julie Eger © 2011



13 responses

17 11 2011
Patt Clark

I enjoyed reading Julie’s poetry, but I much preferred reading what you had to say. Keep writing to us about your thoughts–that is what I look forward to.

17 11 2011
Geordie de Boer

Hurrah for Julie Egger. Such terrific work; I understand why you’re after her for a book. Always enjoy your posts and Julie Egger is an example of why.

17 11 2011
Ralph Murre

If Julie ever does send that manuscript, you’d better publish more than a very limited edition. Put the name “Ralph Murre” at the top of the patrons list. And be patient — better to read an old writer with some stories gathered from a real life than a young one who’s only making it up.

19 11 2011
Robert M. Zoschke

If Julie ever does send that manuscript…please publish it in a most- limited first edition. And whoever’s name you put at the top of the patrons’ list, please make the price of the book significant enough that the only people who will be patrons are people who will read and cherish re-reading the book. Surely Julie, and any writer with the talent to produce what you have sampled here, would much more desire to have a limited edition of their work being read and re-read by patrons who happen to be literature enthusiasts….not patrons who happen to take books they have been patrons of and deposit them at less-than-second-hand used bookstores in town…(a peculiar act I do believe Ralph Murre would find as alarming as I did if he saw it first-hand in the less-than-second-hand store…)

18 11 2011
Julie Eger

Ah, Norbert – Touche’. And I’m still smiling. Another thing my grandmother told me – “It’s a woman’s job to frustrate a man.” My grandmother would be proud of me! I love what you wrote, there is such passion there. And I will ‘get ‘er done.’

18 11 2011

Maybe writing the poems themselves is enough for Julie herself; but reading more of her work is what I want for myself. What then is the duty of the Writing Life? And how do you fold fitted sheets?

20 11 2011
Julie Eger

Kris! The duty of the writing life, I’m beginning to understand, is not only to capture but to ‘share.’ As for how to fold a fitted sheet, according to my grandmother, it involved a lot of tucking. :o)

20 11 2011
Julie Eger

Thanks for the comments everyone… it was great to ‘be’ here.

29 11 2011
mary j. kunstweker

fun writing.
you go, Julie!
nize twists & tumbles.

30 11 2011
Lucy Palmer

Julie, I want to read more so you must share! My grandmother would tell you hiding a talent such as yours is the devil’s work 😉 She had a bit of a preoccupation with the devil, my old gran.

30 11 2011
London Accountant

I love the way the lines in ‘Things My Grandmother Told Me’ follow and connect with each other, like the way the theme of looking travels through the poem in the lines about the sun, and the dangers of burning your eyes – to the potentially (equally harmful?) stares of men – and again, the ensuing physical pain that follows! Then all the talk of kicking followed with gentle irony by a lesson to mind your manners.

Your ‘this is the way…’ lines are great – for me, and I don’t know if this is what you intended, it mimics the rhythm that these kinds of advice from elder figures starts to follow – so that you no longer even hear the individual words (‘yeah, yeah, grandma’) – but then your attention is brought to that very dissolution of meaning into rhythm by the mention of the word ‘rhythm’ and the very valuable lesson (which underpins all others!) at the end of the poem.

11 12 2011
Barbara Vroman

I have been in awe of Julie’s writing since I read her first novel (unpublished)
about Arbishaw County (backwards for the real county we live in.) It began with children meeting in an old chicken coop to receive missions to accomplish that would have astonished and frightened most of their elders.
It also depicted Julie’s fictional account of real relatives like the Gramma they couldn’t find because she was way up on the top of the church painting the steeple that no sane man had been willing to take on. Both Julie and her writing are extraordinary. People are beginning to take note. She won first place in the Wisconsin Regional Writing poetry contest a year or so ago when they had received a record number of entries. I am in awe of Julie.

1 02 2012

I find the contrast striking between John Bennett’s insistence on aloneness (as an apt tribute to Bukowski), and the valuation here of the social aspect of writing (publishing). It’s pretty to think otherwise, but the correlation between quality writing and publishing has always been accidental, and that’s the way it should be — everyone has their own path. Publishing is about how one connects to others, mostly in the publishing world, but also to a distant other that wants to find themselves in someone else’s use of words. I think we all have to think long and hard about what it means to be a writer as our civilization continues to transition back to one of individual responsibility — writers, however skilled, cannot be responsible for the enlightenment of others.

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