October 10, 2010


I heard Garrison Keillor read a poem recently on his Writer's Almanac program and knew that I read it myself once. It was from a book I bought back in 1987.

The poem was "Clara: In the Post Office" by Linda Hasselstrom who is a poet and essayist - and also a working ranch woman.

She is a writer of the High Plains whose work is rooted in the landscape. Her land is southwestern South Dakota around Hermosa where she lives. She writes, ranches, conducts writing retreats, and tends a botanic garden on the land homesteaded by her grandfather in 1899.

She was dubbed a “prairie philosopher” by Booklist magazine and is the winner of the Western American Writer award.

Her books include No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life , Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live and Work , Bitter Creek Junction,and Feels Like Far: A Rancher's Life on the Great Plains .

The poem surprised me then and it still surprises me.  That's always a compliment for a poem.

In the poem, she redefines the word "feminist."

I keep telling you, I'm not a feminist.
I grew up an only child on a ranch,
so I drove tractors, learned to ride.
When the truck wouldn't start, I went to town
for parts. The man behind the counter
told me I couldn't rebuild a carburetor.
I could: every carburetor on the place. That's
necessity, not feminism.
I think about all the words that might be used to define me - teacher, poet, writer, father, son, husband and others. For most, if not all of them, I would want to redefine the usual definition which doesn't quite fit me.

Hasselstrom doesn't define with a definition, but as we often do in life, she defines by example.

It's not
that I don't like men; I love them - when I can.
But I've stopped counting on them
to change my flats or open my doors.
That's not feminism; that's just good sense.

"Clara: In the Post Office" is from her book Roadkill which appears to be out of print right now. That's too bad. So, I'm happy to give it another chance this month on our October prompt page on the main site.

We ask you this month to write a poem that redefines a word. You might choose one that describes you but doesn't describe you. But you can also just redefine a word that you'd assume we all know by now.

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