Cool Women Reflect on Path To Friendship, Writing Poetry
What started out as a small group of women meeting to discuss poems over coffee has now become Cool Women, a themed poetry performance group that has not only performed poetry readings nationally, but has also published two volumes of poetry and is now in the process of publishing a third.
This Saturday they will be reading at the Writers Block on the theme, "Women Unblocked."
Cool Women was formed seven years ago when Princeton resident and poet Carolyn Foote Edelmann and Betty Lies, a poet in the schools for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, decided to form a small group to meet and critique each other's work. While all the women had belonged to other larger poetry groups, Ms. Lies and Ms. Edelmann decided a smaller group meeting once a month with the same women in attendance each time would be ideal.
The other group members are Eloise Bruce, Lois Marie Harrod, Joyce Greenberg Lott, Judy Michaels, and Penelope Scambly Schott.
While today the women are known for their work together, each one stands on her own as an artist and poet. Some are English and creative writing teachers, as well as Geraldine R. Dodge poets. All have also authored either stories, essays, books, or chapbooks of poetry. However, this is what made forming the group difficult, said Ms. Edelmann.
"When I asked around, everyone said no but me," said Ms. Edelmann, a photographer and writer for U.S. I and Packet Publications, as well as the author of the chapbook, Gatherings. In the end she decided to organize the group on her own and ask everyone to meet at her house.
At the first session seven women critiqued 14 poems in two hours. After seeing how well the group worked together, the women continued finding a time each month to meet again.
What makes the group effective is that each poet can bring her own view on how to make a poem sing, said Ms. Edelmann: "We advance the voice of each poet, but we don't alter their voice."
The group has even encouraged some members who weren't sure they had a voice. After believing for many years that her husband was the writer in the family, Ms. Bruce published her first poetry chapbook, Rattle, this summer.
Now, rather than adjusting meetings to other activities in their lives, the women put the group first. Even Ms. Schott, who moved to Portland, Ore. last year, still manages to fly in for almost every Cool Women get-together.
While Cool Women is known not only throughout Princeton but throughout New Jersey and elsewhere, the group is not quite sure where their publicity has come from, said Ms. Edelmann: "I don't think of poetry as being that newsworthy, but apparently it is somehow."
After meeting for three years as a critique group, the women were approached four years ago to do a Valentine's Day reading at Micawber Books, at which time they decided they needed a name. Up until that point that had called themselves the "Sunday Group" or "Poets," but they wanted something catchy. After one of the women suggested they call their reading "Hot Poems for Cool Women," the name stuck.
Soon the women were being asked to read at area libraries, bookstores, and at the Grounds for Sculpture. After receiving numerous requests to put together a book of their poetry, they came out with Cool Women, Volume One (2001), which sold all 500 copies.
But their first real taste of success came in February 2002, when they held what had become an annual Valentine's Day reading at the U-Store. In the midst of a snowstorm the women were greeted by a standing-room only audience, that kept them for two hours afterward to sign copies of their book.
"It had just taken off," said Ms. Edelmann.
Now the women perform readings together about 12 times each year, not only in Princeton but in Hunterdon County, Somerville, Summit, Roosevelt, and in areas of Bucks County, including New Hope and Doylestown. Often there are more men in the audience than women, which has come as a surprise to the group.
The readings are very structured, said Ms. Lies, as they perform three rounds of readings, each reading a poem that fits the night's theme which "harmonizes their clash" of poetry. Some of their themes have included "Cool Women Give Warm Thanks," "Cool Women Talk Back," and "Cool Women Light Warm Fires."
The women also play off audiences' reactions to their poetry, sometimes changing the poems they read according to audience response. And don't be fooled if two readings have the same title, said Ms. Lies: "People can come to both readings and have a totally different experience." After having so much success with their readings and their first book of poems, which is divided into themed sections just like their readings, the group published Cool Women, Volume Two, in 2003, and are looking to publish a third volume early next year.
The books are published by their own publishing company, Cool Women Press, and are formatted, proofed, and edited by members of their group.
Two new aspects of Cool Women have been added this year: a group trip, and a poetry workshop for young girls.
This summer Cool Women travelled to Oregon to visit with Ms. Schott at her new home. The women participated in a Haiku workshop at a lodge, bunking up in a cabin with strangers for a week.
Cool Girls is a program the women started this fall for high school girls interested in pursuing a career in writing. After viewing samples of their writing, the women selected seven girls who now meet bi-monthly with one of the Cool Women to learn poetry techniques and go over their own work.
"They're not just amateurs by any means...they're incredible," said Ms. Edelmann, adding that they even selected a middle school student whose writing was advanced for her age. "I would have loved to have written some of their poems," said Ms. Lies, adding that she was embarrassed to read some of her own poetry in front of Cool Girls after hearing the talent that was coming from the students.
While formed out of acquaintances and friendships, Cool Women is also a movement, bringing together a group of successful women who were told as young students that only men could be writers.
"In college we were told if we weren't men we couldn't write poetry," said Ms. Lies, who gave up writing for many years until a poet came into the English class she was teaching at Stuart Country Day School to encourage her students to write. It wasn't until that moment that she found the will to write poetry again, she said.
"Cool Women is more amazing...to me than anything else in my life," said Ms. Edelmann, who said that she feels these seven women are the only ones she can trust with her personal writing.
"For me, it's more that level of critiquing we get from each other," said Ms. Lies, adding that the friendships she has formed within the group are some of the most treasured in her life.
Cool Women will perform their reading, "Women Unblocked," on Saturday, October 23, at 3 p.m. at the Writers Block. For more information on other upcoming readings, email Cfootedelmann@aol.com.