In today’s ORIGINS, Shelley Puhak talks about the inspiration for her poems “Betsy Patterson Bonaparte to Her Brother-in-Law, Upon Landing at Dover Alone and Nine Months Pregnant, 1805” and “Wallis Simpson Writes to Her Ex-Husband Ernest After Listening to King Edward Abdicate over the Radio,” which appear in the summer 2012 issue of jmww:
Baltimore is famed for its women, belles, and rule-breakers, and these two poems speak in the voices of two hometown girls, Betsy Patterson and Wallis Simpson. Both were disciplined and ambitious women, and I struggled to find a form to contain that ambition. Betsy Patterson thought she might beguile her brother-in-law Napolean as she had so many other men; Wallis Simpson thought she might have a casual affair with Edward VIII and then return to her husband. One was calculating, one was careless, but both paid for her presumptions about a powerful man.
These two poems about doomed love affairs spring from my own love affairs, both with the city of Baltimore and the form of dramatic monologue. And the dramatic monologue is a great analogy for any love, because isn’t that exactly what love is— learning the cadence and inflection of a voice so intimately that you can slip into it from time to time? And isn’t that what every love aspires to be—an act of imagination and empathy, of slipped perspective?