Monday, February 11, 2008

Creative Non-fiction Thread 1: Sixteen Women in Search of a Poet

(One hundred years ago, some medical authorities warned that professional seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused by the steady rhythm, hour after hour, of the sewing machine’s foot pedals.*)


The above photograph, circa 1910-1920: sixteen horny women pose at their stations at a grubby sewing factory.


I once worked in a sewing factory--though I don’t recall becoming “sexually aroused.” I do remember being fired after one week of sewing misaligned baby sleepers, but arousal?

I don’t think so.

Winter 2004--still at work on my memoir. I set the photo aside and continue writing and then...


Must be the wind. Ignore it.

“Jennifer, listen to us!” A chorus of women.

Now I’m hearing voices?

“Who are you?”

“We’re the horny women from the sewing factory.”

Nice touch of irony.

“Go away. I’m busy.”

“We need a poet.” I feel a ghostly tap on my shoulder. “You!”

“Find someone else. I’m not a poet.”

Perhaps an occasional poet, one or two poems a year--I’d starve if I had to depend on my poetic abilities for a living.

“You must give us a voice.”

Most writers would feel honored to be chosen by fourteen ghosts for such important work, but I don’t need it right now: my memoir burns hot across the page--I mustn’t lose momentum.

“We need you.”

“Why me?”

“Because you know.”

No fair. It’s sixteen against one.

For the next two months, I swat my tormentors away, but they, buzzing, droning bees, always return, hovering and demanding that I act as their spokeswoman.

These misinterpreted women have argued well; not only were they accused of being horny on the job, but also had to endure having bromide dropped into their drinking water--to reign in that run-amok sexuality.

But that’s all in the past, right? Women have it so much better now...


January 2005: a ten-hour transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. I’m a temporary captive of U.S. Airways and a tight airline seat. No laptop, my memoir inaccessible kilobytes on a CD.

The women return. “Aha!” they smirk. “Gotcha!”

No escape. I dig out scrap paper and pen; somewhere over the Atlantic, I write a first, second, and third draft, opting for free verse, wordplay, humor, and satire. Once I've created several drafts, I’m hooked.

I must revise.

Three years later, sixteen unknown women, long dead, have finally found their collective voice. “Horny Women at the Sewing Factory” will find a home on this blog.

Next post. Promise.

As writers, how often have we lamented the insidious blank screen, the dreaded writer’s block? Inspiration is a gift, even when it drops in at inconvenient times, and shouldn’t be denied. Listening to my persistent muses has paid off: a rejuvenated writing life.

My momentum hasn’t suffered at all.

Next post: the poem.


*From: Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic]

"Sixteen Women in Search of a Poet," Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel

Note: Originally this essay was titled "Fourteen Women in Search of a Poet," but after I blew up the photograph, I found two more women, who seemed to be hiding from the camera. Interesting.


Please feel free to post your non-fiction prose (any style) in the comment section, or email me.

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