Forget what T.S. Eliot told you. April isn’t the “cruelest month”—it’s National Poetry Month and in honor of that, I’m getting well-versed to take a literature-fueled field trip.
After scandalously eloping in 1846, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and hubby Robert retreated to Florence where they promptly rented an apartment in a palazzo near Ponte Vecchio. Over the fourteen years she lived at Casa Guidi, Barrett Browning produced Sonnets from the Portuguese, plus her only child (appropriately named Pen). She died there, too, and the lovingly-restored space is now a veritable shrine. Part of it opens to the public for a few hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from April through November, so you’re welcome to take a tour. However, those who really love her work (hmm … let me count the ways) may actually sleep over, courtesy of the Landmark Trust. Rates start at $315 a night based on a one-week rental.
Like her poems, Emily Dickinson’s world was small. She made her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, a sleepy college town eighty-five miles west of Boston, and seldom ventured beyond her father’s grounds. In fact, the Woman in White was so reclusive that she sometimes communicated with outsiders by lowering notes from her window. Luckily for poetry lovers, though, her private sanctuary is now easy to access. Docents at the Dickinson Homestead will lead you right into her bedroom (look for the yarn-bound facsimile of poems, only ten of which were published in her lifetime). Afterward, take an audio tour of the poet’s beloved garden or take advantage of one of the many readings, lectures, and discussion groups the Homestead hosts.
An American in Paris
Given how busy she was hobnobbing with Picasso, hanging out with Hemingway, and cooking up cannabis-laced brownies with Alice B. Toklas, it’s a wonder Gertrude Stein managed to get any work done in Paris. But work she did, producing convention-flaunting poems that seemed outré even by Modernist standards. Today’s avant garde girls can seek out her former home (and site of Stein’s fabled “salons”) at 27 rue De Fleurus in Montparnasse; then toast her accomplishments at La Closerie des Lilas (the lit clique’s fav watering hole). End your journey, as Stein herself did, in Pére-Lachaise Cemetary where she is spending eternity with artistic A-listers like Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Honoré de Balzac.
Desperately Seeking Sylvia
You could think of Sylvia Plath as the Kurt Cobain of 20th century poetry—attractive, terribly talented, and ultimately suicidal. There’s no question that she was a tortured soul from adolescence on; however, before poor Plath was oven-ready she did find a measure of contentment in the rural setting of Devon, England, where she lived with husband Ted Hughes between 1961 and 1962. During her tenure at Court Green in North Tawton, Plath raised her babies, tended bees, walked the countryside, and wrote like crazy. So why not pay homage to her by taking a hike (as many wish the philandering Hughes had done!), visiting a honey farm, or even renting your own pastoral slice of paradise?
The Write Stuff
Prefer to put pen to paper yourself? These days there are plenty of opportunities for aspiring poets to hone their craft nationwide. Leading the pack is the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, held each August in Middlebury, Vermont. It caters to carefully-vetted candidates, many of whom are already on the fast track to fame. For a more relaxed approach, try the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference or the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, both of which offer weekend and week-long poetry workshops. The former welcomes beginners; while at the latter, there are “no requirements beyond the desire to write.”