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Maiden, Mother, Crone: The Writing of Corinna Parr and Barbary Chaapel

Corinna Parr, Imagist


When I read fiction, be it prose or poetry, I want pictures in my mind, and no one creates mental pictures better than Corinna Parr.

This young author’s work is akin to that of the Imagists, a 19th-century group of writers containing many women. Like the Imagist’s work, Corinna’s writing features clear visuals, precise language, and mythological themes.

As her charming essay Memory of Magic reveals, Corinna is a born poet. At the age of five, while playing with other kids in a sprinkler, she saw spontaneous circles of children shift into a variety of geometric shapes.  Corinna was carried away by the beauty of the impromptu dance: I’ve remembered it, and in remembering have caught glimpses of the pattern of magic elsewhere.”


This childhood experience seems to inform the poetry Corinna writes today.  You can see it in her magic-laden prose-poem Maiden Mother Crone in which a daughter of Epona (a horse-goddess) emerges from the earth and has only three days in which to live a full woman’s life.  The story’s climax is a three-circled dance ceremony.

What this young poet celebrates most, however, is sex and the complementarity of men and women.  She often writes of a frustrated yearning to merge with her lover, to feel and understand his maleness.  From Ode to Happy Man:


…Oh, if I could
press you
into myself and
drink the masculinity
of you, become one
with it and
truly know what it is
to be a happy man,
I would.
For me, it is only ever
the imperfect joining,
the spill of fluids
and your ragged breath
caught in the cup of my

Corinna walks the fine edge of erotica, writing sensual poems that stop just short of being explicit.  But sometimes she delves deeper, exploring the ways in which submission flows naturally from her femininity.  Corinna is not afraid to cross lines, and the short story Captivity (written in collaboration with James Ciriaco), set in colonial America, is both terrifyingly violent and psychologically astute.  For BDSM fans, this is the most natural, least forced piece of that genre I have read.

Corinna’s muse embraces motherhood as enthusiastically as she embraces sex. The Butterfly Shirt speaks of a three year-old who’s precociously gallant, and Corinna beautifully unveils the tensions between mother and son.  The short sentences of this poem hold the reader in a tight mother’s squeeze until gravity takes over at the end:


If you knew,
little man,
what you do
to my heart
when you tell
me to wear
the butterfly shirt
because it makes
me beautiful,
you would then
why I cry
and hug you
until you complain,
"Mama, put me 

Corinna is not shy about pondering her own mortality.  In The Universe is Bloodless she expands her poetic reach, reflecting on the fact that it’s not flesh and blood but star-stuff that composes the universe, and this is a form to which our bodies will one day return:


Stroke your arm and think:
The universe is bloodless,
Not I; this body
of flesh, veins, soft pulsing heart,
made to spill, to break;
Life, to the beat of mad drums,
or hands on my skin.
The universe is bloodless;
Not I, this body of flesh.

The narrator draws a sharp contrast between her youthful zeal and the cold indifference of inert matter.  Though she makes life seem exceedingly fragile, faith shines through her words. In asserting that she is not her body, Corinna also asserts that some part of her will survive death.  Her writing will stand the test of time because Corinna Parr’s passion for life is infectious.  As her profile says:

"Breathe, cry out, sing, or don’t write at all."



Barbary Chaapel Weds Water and Land

Barbary Chaapel excels at capturing sensory impressions and weaving them into universal themes. Her beautiful Quartet of Seasons takes us through a symbolic year of life in her Appalachian home, seamlessly mixing rhythms of nature, people, and ghosts. Here is Spring:


Alive, the mountains,

The rills and runs,

Light spilling over new green.

Look beyond the tulip tree buds:

Wood smoke, elixir

From a chimney in the clearing,

Where every April, my flower bed

Gives up a marble, a shooter -

Imagine marble-clicking sounds -

Lost to the earth by long-ago farm children…

Although she was born in rural West Virginia and grew up in the Great Lakes region, Barbary spent seven years sailing the Caribbean with her husband.  This voyage yielded her first two books, The Journey of The Snow Goose (prose)and No Name Harbo(poetry).


In he recent poetry collection EstuaryBarbary contemplates the opposing forces of her life, symbolically joining her earthly roots with her seafaring adventures:

"The estuary inside me, a confluence, words of earth and fire from mountain to sea."

But Barbary’s work isn’t predictable.  She blew me away with her unconventional poem Simulation, in which she once again touches on a journey from water to land.

In it Barbary writes of  an abnormal pregnancy (fetus in fetu) in which a smaller, partially-developed fetus grows on a normal one.  The larger fetus, soon to give up her watery life for one on land, narrates the poem with loving acceptance of her little stow-away:


We turn in on each other

In those first months of sacred knowing.

I am sweet fruit. She swims naked in

The red-black juice of a pomegranate…


I signal baby kisses

To my little aril other,

Her tiny foot and leg tilt in my round pan

Of a brain. I become the boat,

She, the norish voyageur,

Fetus in fetu.

But I think this is more than a poem about a stowaway, a parasite, or a haunting. This is about the growing realization that one carries something that has been there all along and requires nurturing: a soul.  For even the “monster-born” are children of God.

Like Corinna Parr, Barbary Chaapel has written a poem (Maiden, Mother, Crone) about the three stages of a woman’s life. Although Corinna looks at a woman’s life from a broad mythological perspective, Barbary ties her reflections to a specific place and time:

On tiptoe at lamplighted cottage window,

She peers into the corners of her kitchen life

Sacred sentinels…

Iron skillet, greenglass juicer, apron strings:

Her life as a woman,

New moon, full moon, nearly dark moon.


Notice how carefully Barbary has placed objects in the kitchen of her life— a skillet (masculine imagery), a juicer for extracting essence, and apron strings for children to cling to.  What more could a woman want?

Barbary’s current project is a charming book of poems called A Child’s Calender of Verse.  Here’s a sneak preview for you: When the 11th Month Comes:

The fishes sleep

their long winter sleep.

They doze under a skim of November ice.

A slow-motion video swims behind their round

fishy eyes…worms, wriggling provocatively.


Reading the work of these two gifted women makes me wish I were a poet.  But not being one seems less important knowing that I have Corinna Parr and Barbary Chaapel to speak for me.



Corinna Parr’s web site.

Barbary Chaapel’s web site.

Copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida.

All images are stocks from Google Image

Filed under barbary chaapel corinna parr critique imagists james ciriaco jessica phare litertaure maiden mother crone modern poetry painting poem poems poetess poetry poets reading poetry women words essay literature lit ann marcaida

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