Reflection on “Dream of Gina”

Dream of Gina
As dream releases dream obliquely, not you
but who, I don’t recall, told me your brother,
older, husband, father, swimming cold spring’s
rough jade waters off Nauset, drowned, sounding
in me, who never met him, your story:
Night, the knock, you roused, door opened, cracked light,
you, turning to ask, voice said, “Fool‒ Gina!”
muddled past hushed shoes, mastering covers
again fell wondering in final drop who
you were next limbs and all asleep found his
your arm fumbling fast. Morning waked duet,
waked puberty’s Lollobridgida lust,
older ribbing, you laughing, boys at war,
his usually winning ships attacked,
defending, your planes fly, a rival force
wanting victory then, sometimes, maybe
dreaming him sunk his hulk his hand, a thing
unimaginable, in smithereens.
-Ellin Sarot

My poem “Dream of Gina” started with a friend’s story about an unexpected late-night visit by his older brother. More than half asleep, he heard that his visitor was Gina Lollobrigida, a possibility the brothers as teenagers had dreamed of lustfully awake. Several years later, while my friend was abroad, his brother drowned swimming in the Atlantic off New England. My friend, I knew, deeply loved his brother and would be grief struck for life. As a younger sibling with an older brother, I understood the rivalry included in the love for his brother. When I learned of my friend’s brother’s death, the story of Gina Lollobrigida’s late-night apparition, of course, came back to me, and I began the poem. That was in 1961. I write slowly; it often takes a while until a poem feels done, though not usually this long.

Recently, two things permitted me to bring “Dream of Gina” to a final or near-final state: the time and space at the Writers’ Room and an event: One morning, as my brother, who has terminal cancer and now uses a walker, was in the basement garage of his apartment building, about to drive his wife and daughter to work, a neighbor suddenly backed out of her parking space, into him. As he lay on the cement ground and his wife and daughter went to him, they heard the neighbor say, “Oh my God! … Well, he was disabled anyway.” My brother was taken by ambulance to an ER, found not to have any broken bones but to have internal injuries, including internal bleeding from a source to be detected. He was admitted first to cardiac intensive care and incubated, then moved to intensive care, then a room, and now a rehab facility, though at this moment he is in the hospital again. During this, he has at times been close to death.

Last year I began reworking the “Dream of Gina,” but, frustrated, could not resolve its difficulties–mainly something unclear that I couldn’t find words for. Now I found the way through. But I did not put two and two together—that is, it did not occur to me for some time that the situation of a younger person’s loss of a loved older brother in the poem was very like what I was living now, though my brother, I am glad to say, is still alive.

My friend’s life and mine long ago took different directions and because we no longer live in the same area we never run into each other. I have never shown him the poem.

-Ellin Sarot, Gish Jen Fellow for Emerging Writers

Windows with a View

Windows, I discovered late in life, are essential to my writing process. When I began graduate school not quite four years ago, my husband and I converted a little-used attic room into my private work space. It should have been ideal —it was a garret after all!— furnished with new Ikea shelves, a comfy reading chair, and a refinished mahogany writing desk that I’d long been dying to put to virtuous use. It had three windows that overlooked the big backyard and a woodsy side lawn. The space should have been ideal, romantic even, but it wasn’t. It was drafty in the winter, stifling in the summer. I was able to stand up only in the very middle of the room where the ceiling peaked (and I’m barely 5’3”), and I often forgot to duck when I walked through the door. But the real problem was the windows. When I worked, whether writing at the desk or reading in the chair, I could see only a scrap of sky, like a piece of fabric torn from a larger, more luxurious garment. I felt disconnected, shut out from the richness beyond.

I abandoned the garret and spent the next two and a half years working in the basement office I share with my husband. This meant sitting less than four feet from someone who conducts business from home on the phone —and we don’t have room dividers or padded partitions. I had given up romance and privacy for something more important: windows with a view. They are doors, actually, two over-sized sliders that make a wall of glass.

We live about a mile from the center of our town, and only twenty miles from downtown Boston, but we border 80-plus acres of conservation land. Sitting in my shared writing space I can see an expanse of grass, majestic trees, an old dairy pond, as well as deer —lots of deer. Occasionally, a fox or coyote will skirt the edge of the property, and every June a snapping turtle lumbers across the lawn like it’s her private Serengeti to lay eggs on the same sun-beaten slope. While all this nature and wildlife is wonderful, I don’t need it to write. What I need is a view, an expanse where my imagination can roam. To borrow from Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility…,” (which also mentions windows), I thrive on fortuity. My creativity is at its best when my eyes can focus on the far, so my mind can explore what lies between.

The windows at the Room overlook an urban canyon populated by workers and cars and taxi cabs. But these windows are vast, roughly 3’ x 8’ and there are ten of them lined up like eager scouts. Imagine Larry Bird standing on the inside sill, putting his hands on his hips to fill the frame then stretching his arms overhead. Then imagine Larry Bird flying out the window, or a toucan flying up to the window, because with all that glass, with all those windows with views, anything is possible. The imagination is loosed on the world beyond and, in my experience, words are sure to flow.

-Jane Poirier Hart, WROB Poetry Fellow

Field Notes from AWP14

Winter 2014 Pike Place

Last week I flew across the country to Seattle for the annual convergence of writers and publishers known as AWP14. I joined over 12,000 other writers, teachers, editors, and publishers for three days of panels, parties, and networking. With so many attendees, AWP means a lot of different things to all these different people: a chance to build connections with other writers, to accost publishers, to learn, to flashback to the awkwardness of a middle school dance (on second thought, let’s not talk about the dance party).

As a young writer, I went to AWP14 full of the rosy hope that I would learn something mind-blowing that would change my writing forever. Most AWP veterans would tell you, though, that the panels are hit and miss. Sometimes you are riveted. Sometimes – well, sometimes panels don’t live up to their titles.

Here is a distilled version of my field notes from AWP14, with the boring parts removed. (And no, this is not a guide to who throws the best parties.)

Happy Endings in Literary Fiction
I’m working on a collection of stories about a tiger in captivity, and one of my friends asked for “just one story where the tiger is happy.” So I tried to write a happy story for the tiger. I thought I had accomplished it, until my friends read the story and told me that it was just as sad as the others.

These days novels and stories don’t often end with a happily ever after. If they did, we probably wouldn’t buy it. Ian Stansel pulled together a panel on Friday morning to tackle how to write a positive ending that doesn’t ring false.

Rebecca Makkai warned us that coincidence can get your character into trouble, but not out of trouble. You have to earn your happy endings. Amber Dermont added that all endings are a kind of death, a loss, a minor apocalypse. However, this loss serves a purpose: you cannot feel happiness with loss, joy without despair. She suggested that instead of trying to write a happy ending, it is more effective to give characters access to their own, elusive agency. Danielle Evans added that stories can end with the capacity of life to deliver joy and promise.

To finish, Kyle Minor suggested that while death is the end, stories are narrated from a point of living. Endings, he said, often invite a recontextualization.

Poetry and the Online Community
I work with social media as a Marketing Assistant for Ploughshares, so I was excited to hear about how poetry organizations built community online in the session “Poetry and Online Community: Using Digital Media to Build Audience.” The panelists from Poets.orgThe Poetry FoundationPoets House, and Dodge Poetry Festival gave some great advice for literary organizations on social media:

  • Pick your channels – If your audience is on Twitter and Facebook, don’t spend all your time and energy on Pinterest.
  • Interact – People love to answer questions and chat with organizations on social media.
  • Share, share, share – Share content from other organizations to build followers and relationships.
  • Create a culture of fun and experimentation for your staff to empower them to use social media as ambassadors for your organization.

Literary Citizenship
The most interesting idea that I discovered at AWP14 was the concept of literary citizenship. As writers we are often focused on our own work, rather than on the literary community or a greater social good. But in “Double Lives: Writers/Translators” on Thursday morning, several writers spoke about being a good literary citizen. I’ll leave you with this quote from panelist Sholeh Wolpe: “Dialogue between nations and cultures should be through poetry, not politics.”

-Mimi Cook, Ivan Gold Fellow in Fiction

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Announcing the 2014 Writers’ Room Fellows!

Please allow us the pleasure of introducing our 2014 Fellows!

final author photoAnthony D’Aries, the Writers’ Room of Boston Fellow in nonfiction, is the author of The Language of Men (Hudson Whitman/Excelsior College Press, 2012), which received the PEN/New England Discovery Award and was named Memoir of the Year by ForeWord Magazine. He has taught literacy and creative writing in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections and is currently Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Program at Regis College.

Profile photo smaller Large e-mail viewIvan Gold Fiction Fellow, Miriam Cook hails from the rainy wilds of the Pacific Northwest. She migrated to Boston to pursue an MFA in Fiction at Emerson College where she writes stories that draw on her western roots and sensibility. Outside of class, she works as a Marketing Assistant for Ploughshares at Emerson College, engaging with the literary community through social media and the Ploughshares Blog. She also teaches playwriting to Boston public high school students through the emersonWRITES program and assists in coordinating the Breakwater Reading Series. In her free time, Miriam practices shotokan karate, throws dinner parties, and writes an epistolary food blog with her father.

20131015_210532 JH of meA lifelong resident of Massachusetts, Jane Poirier Hart, the Writers’ Room of Boston Fellow in poetry, has made her home primarily in the southeast, where she is inspired by the nature outside her windows, Cape Cod’s beaches and back roads and–when she can get it–far-flung travel.  Her poetry is inflected with music–she has a degree in music composition from Berklee College of Music–and syntax borrowed from years of studying American Sign Language.  Jane was a 2012 nominee for the anthology, Best New Poets, and a 2010 resident at the Frost Place, and her poems have appeared in journals such as Southern Poetry Review, The Worchester Review, Mosquito and Poetry Nights.  Jane holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and when she’s not writing poems or reading them, she cooks, complains about grocery shopping, and dreams of sewing lovely but practical objet d’art.

EllinSarotEllin Sarot, the Gish Jen Fellow for Emerging Writers, was born and raised in New York City, and during World War II her mother’s parents bought an abandoned farmhouse sitting in 73 acres in upstate New York, between Fleischman’s and Pine Hill.  After teaching high-school and college English, she became the editor with a science group, then a technical group, and then on a medical publication, stopping, except for free-lance work, on becoming disabled. “When I was fourteen I said to myself I was a poet ,” she writes, “and, despite vicissitudes and exigencies, that has not changed. My project at the Writers’ Room of Boston is to put together a first collection of my poems.”  Ellin has published poems in journals such as Chaminade Literary Review, Women’s Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal, The Little Magazine, and The Beloit Poetry Journal.