Elisavietta Ritchie

A poem and a remembrance of Ann Knox:

Pablo Picasso: The Tragedy

is knowing this is
the beach between

sea with no boat
shore with no house

the lost cannot
be remade

the night is chill,
feet bare, clothes thin

the child’s fingers too delicate
to seize what might be

and behind the bluff
dogs strain on their chains

Remembering Ann B. Knox

I was trying to explain to Marion Knox, to Jane Blair, to Charlotte Brewer, and others, why Ann Knox's dying affected us so deeply. In my own case, we were not only "social friends" who have known members of each other's families since the 1950s, but long before I met Ann, her brother Mike Brewer, Charlotte's late husband, told me I would love her, and we would find common interests. In their various distant Foreign Service postings, which place countless demands and strictures on a diplomat's wife, especially one with a brood of children, Ann was yearning for the chance to write, and to enjoy the conviviality of fellow writers.


Ann returned to Washington, entered the literary world full force, studying as well as writing, editing, publishing, helping others, and until the final hour, discovering. As neighbors, we were often back and forth between Ordway and Macomb Streets with our clutches of poems and thoughts. As Clyde (Farnsworth) says, Ann had "a way of seeing big things in little things. She lived to the fullest, and maintained a love of adventure."


We think of how, in her Subaru Outback, accompanied only by her corgi, she drove several thousand miles to the Yukon. There, she surely enjoyed Diamond-Tooth Gertie's Casino & Saloon. Toward the end of that transcontinental loop, mostly camping out, she stayed with us in Toronto, glad of a shower and a bed. Periodically, in the Adirondacks and in northwestern Maryland, she emulated the Yukon miners over-wintering in their lonely cabins with a wood stove, despite the need to snow-shoe out, or to kayak upriver.


For she needed solitude as much as she cherished friends and family and whatever odd characters she encountered. In today's me-me-me era of self-puffery, where we are encouraged to promote ourselves shamelessly, she remained, in Clyde's words, "understated . . . with a delicate power." Above all, she gave generously of her talents, ideas, knowledge and wisdom to the rest of us.


Among a handful of writers working together in a small circle or one-on-one, while we're critiquing each other's manuscripts month after month, year over year, from drafts where we slash and burn, to proofing galleys, to admiring published work, strong bonds can develop. Many of these workshops and literary gatherings had their beginnings at 3207 Macomb Street, subsequently mushroomed around the area, and some continue to this day.


When one member of our Inner Circle dies, a piece of ourselves is amputated, as with the death of a sibling, spouse or child, or a lover when one dare not show or share one's grief.


For among small knots of writers, we become each other's confidantes, holding and protecting each other's secrets, fictional and real.  As French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote, what happens within the mind can be more real than the quotidian "real life" beyond. The characters who populate our dramatis personae are often more alive than even those fellow writers around the table—who suspend judgment on the writer regardless whether his characters are sociopaths, call-girls, thieves, or merely klutzes. Five people around one table may hold five different ideas for improving a given story or poem, so the writer, who realizes something in his/her manuscript has rung wrong for first-readers, must choose—or discover in the midnight shower a new mot juste, perfect word, brilliant conclusion. Thus we judge only the depictions of characters fictional or real, the verisimilitude and dialogues in the work-in-progress, the words themselves. Concern for originality and craft dominate. "Soul-mates" is a pretentious term, but apt. The French call the tacit communication sous-entendu, or sous le peau.


We do not need to waste spoken words with each other, only to tailor them to fit the occasion for outsiders. We may know more about each other's outer and inner lives than do not only outside friends, but our spouses, parents, siblings, children, even the Great Loves. Whatever secrets might be shared within the workshop, or merely suspected, one rule within such a group is that whatever is said or read within these walls goes no further—until such time as the work sees print. Then we help to publicize each other.


Thus we become something other than family. We don't have to argue over who-borrowed-my-hairbrush, only who borrowed a phrase or cliché. We keep our "normal" friends, cohorts and siblings: these may provide companionship, and sometimes grist for our mills. We are responsible for our kind, and likewise for our others.


We re-learn our interconnectedness when one in our circles loses a child, faces an operation, undergoes a divorce, tends a terminally-ill parent, spouse, or ex-spouse—all of which situations Ann faced head on. A Buddhist appreciation of life lifted her above the frenetic, above maudlin self-pity.


When we read the obituary of any creative figure, we are sad: this individual can produce no more books, no more concerti or paintings, will no longer provide new work to enrich our lives. When one of our own circle dies in the manner many of us would have intended for ourselves, had we a choice in the matter— in full possession of faculties, in the midst of celebrating the newest book—in a way that the subject would have approved for a kindred soul, then through our tears we can only marvel.

Although the sudden death of poet—and fiction writer—Ann Brewer Knox, sparked this essay, it also commemorates too many other close writer friends, in the Washington area, among them John Pauker, Howard Roman, Ann Darr, Betty and Hugh Parry, and more recently, Hilary Tham, Maxine Combs, Elizabeth Follin Jones, and the list goes on. 

Note:  A more formal, less intimate, version of this personal remembrance appears in the Fall 2012 issue of Potomac Review, under the title of "Had We A Choice in the Matter."

Elisavietta Ritchie's books include Tiger Upstairs on Connecticut Avenue (due 2013); From the Artist's Deathbed (2012); Cormorant Beyond the Compost; Real Toads; Awaiting Permission to Land; Spirit of the Walrus; Arc of the Storm; Elegy for the Other Woman; Tightening The Circle Over Eel Country (Great Lakes Colleges Association's "New Writer's Award"); Flying Time: Stories & Half-Stories. Raking The Snow and In Haste I Write You This Note: Stories & Half-Stories Washington Writers' Publishing House winners. WWPH president poetry 1980s, fiction, 2000-2011. Created anthology The Dolphin's Arc: Endangered Creatures of the Sea; others. In this issue, she also shares a remembrance of the poet Ann B. Knox on Ann's page.



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A CLOSER LOOK: Martin Galvin

Jenn Blair

Kim Bridgford

Lara Candland

Gayle Reed Carroll

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Jen Coleman

Barbara Westwood Diehl

Jean Free

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Maryanne Hannan

Adam Hanover

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Michael Lauchlan

Lyn Lifshin

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Anthony Opal

Laura Orem on Michele Wolf

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William Page

Beth Paulson

John Perrault

Dan Pettee

Oliver Rice

Elisavietta Ritchie

W.M. Rivera

James Robison

Hilary Sideris

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