"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Celebrating Charlotte

The Little Brick JJQ Duplex ~ Fall 1982
University of Tulsa ~ 8th Street

I'm posting this Fortnightly a day late, in commemoration of my friend Charlotte Stewart, who died a year ago today. Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at a memorial service, organized by Charlotte's dearest Tulsa friends to honor the anniversary of her death and to include those far - flung acquaintances who may have missed her funeral services last year:

Celebrating Charlotte: The Life and Legacies
of Charlotte Cathey Stewart, 1938 - 2014
Sunday, March 8, 2015 ~ Tulsa, Oklahoma

What a joy it was to reminisce of Charlotte, touch base with new friends, reconnect with old, and meet family members for the first time:

Kitti, Marguerite, Ethelyn

At the risk of some small repetition, I'll begin with a re - post from last April, "That Other World I Touch" then move on to "Celebrating Charlotte." and conclude with another of Charlotte's poems, "Gallipoli," which, like "Lost Continent" is about the puzzle of our transition from this world to the next.

In Memoriam
Charlotte Cathey Stewart
~ friend & litterateur ~
25 November 1938 ~ 29 March 2014

A poem for Charlotte . . . by Charlotte . . .

Lost Continent
Loss laps the shore of this awful
sunlit day, bathes the bare roots
of a single shoreline tree. I feel

this continent's afloat, conceals another
deeper down. I think that we could
find it, if we knew the way.
What's buried?
Some dark jubilance we've never known.
Or only I. That other world I touch.
That expectation you arouse in me:

maps in our hands, if they were joined,
deep spells that blind, and spells
that make us see. So be it.
Now begins
the evening's bright lament. Voices blaze
like sunset's spreading tent: I want
to know you. Naked thought:
as if to know could set us free.

written by Charlotte Stewart in 1983
from her book of poems: A Home Against One's Self

Re - reading this beautiful poem for the first time in many years, I had to wonder, did Charlotte compose it in honor of someone else's death? Perhaps she told me at the time and I've forgotten, yet another loss.

She writes of a deeper, lost continent concealed beneath our visible world but, more importantly, of a deeper, richer self - awareness, lost -- or as yet unfound -- that lives below the surface that we currently apprehend as our existence. Is Charlotte there now? Has she found it -- the dark jubilance -- now that she has touched the other life?

When I met Charlotte, she was managing editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, and I was lucky enough to be one of her student assistants for a semester. I've never forgotten Charlotte telling me that when she was little, she thought that the last line of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" was "life is butter beans" (rather than "life is but a dream"). Sometime after that, she drew me a little card with those words and a smiling butter bean. A happy memory.

On the back, it says "From Charlotte ~ October 11, 1982"

Other fun memories include the day that we sat in the office reading out all the the questions on the MMPI and making jokes of all our answers. Or the time when Charlotte bought me my first ever Cadbury Creme Egg at one of her favorite little shops near Utica Square. This confection was totally unknown to me until that day when Charlotte told me that I had to try one and we admired the candy yolk inside the white creme. Of course, best of all were the many friends and the way that Charlotte pulled us all together.

End of Fall Semester Party at Charlotte's house, 1982.
Look how much fun she was having!
Clockwise from noon: Kay, Charlotte, Susan, Jes, Jan, Donna

Charlotte's friend Marguerite shared this drawing and wrote to say that "Charlotte loved to doodle. When she learned that my totem was the rabbit (as I was born in the Chinese year of the hare), she started drawing rabbit images on her notes to me."

So fitting for this sad yet, to quote Charlotte,
"darkly jubilant" occasion.
And to you too, dear Charlotte:
"See you anon!"

For more doodles & photographs, see my facebook album:
Tulsa 1982 & Beyond


Here I am, three weeks ago, sharing a few
words on behalf of Charlotte's grad students:

"In August of 1982, I came to Tulsa, drawn by the opportunity to work under Charlotte's direction on the James Joyce Quarterly, along with two other graduate students, Curtis and Peter. The three of us adored working for Charlotte in the little house devoted to the JJQ, which was across the street from the house devoted to the Tulsa in Studies Women's Literature. Sheri, from TSWL remembers the joy and positive energy that flew between the two locales, with Charlotte as the common thread.

"That fall, I also enrolled in Germaine Greer's Monday night Seminar on 17th C Women Writers, which Charlotte attended every week. This is where I met Alice, Donna, Jan, Jes, Lisa, Sharon, Sheri, and Susie. When thinking back, we all agree that it was a time of magic.

"Jan writes, "There are so many things I do not remember about that semester. But what I do remember is a sense of Charlotte's leadership and generosity, her wonderful parties, her playfulness, her compassion, her love of literature, and her love for the band of women we were so many years ago during that magical semester in Tulsa."

"And Jes recalls that "No one could have been kinder. . . . She made us laugh, gave us good advice, invited us to parties, helped us out out of scrapes, read us her poems . . . Charlotte and Germaine were a dynamic duo; it was a gift just to be around them, hoping that some of their magic dust would rub off."

"The lasting comraderie that began for our group during that semester revolved around Charlotte and the way she took us all in and taught us to enjoy literature, each other, and every little pleasure in the world around us, right down to the season's first Cadbury Cream Egg. It's true. I never had a Cadbury Egg until Charlotte took me to the store and bought me one and said, "Look inside!"

"Doesn't that just capture the way she was always adding so much joy to the lives of everyone around her, in the most surprising little unexpected and unforgettable ways?!

"If I had to pick one memory, it would be our Joycean discussion of misheard song lyrics -- we all have them! -- in which Charlotte described her childhood misunderstanding of the last line of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat": "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is butter beans." That was Charlotte, always offering a wry smile and a new perspective. Life is but a dream, yes -- but it's also butter beans.

"Charlotte was our mentor and we all become friends -- lifelong, as it turns out. You can't ask for more than that."

Charlotte Stewart, Germaine Greer, Alice Price, Susan Hastings
~ eating cake and reading manuscripts ~
at the Tulsa Center for Women's Studies, 1982

The service was filled with smiles, tears, slides, musical interludes, and poems of all kinds, including "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop; "Journey" and "Uses of Sorrow" by Mary Oliver; and several others authored by Charlotte.

Not on the program, but running relentlessly through my mind -- "This book is a box, this box is a boat . . . This book is a box" -- was Charlotte's poem "Gallipoli, written thirty - three years ago, in response to the movie of the same name, which I had seen with Charlotte and a few others, one night on the TU campus in the Fall of 1982. We were lucky that TU had a film series of fairly recent art-house movies because, of course, in those days if you missed something at the movie theater you couldn't just rent it on netflix! None of us had seen Gallipoli until that night, and we continued to speak of it in the weeks to come, during which time Charlotte was crafting her poem, linking history to current events and to the unknowable future, near and distant:


This book is a box
this box is a boat
the man who runs fast
and furthest is imprinted
on its leaves.

The soldiers
come at night in boats
across blue water. They wear
deep mantles of fog. This book
is where they sleep.

Play on the beaches
it is all the world there is.
Make tin can bombs, explode them
to help you pass the hours.

This book is a box
this box floats in deep water.
This world will be extinguished
in a festival of fire.

~ Charlotte Stewart

~~ Rest in Peace Charlotte ~~

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, April 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

1 comment:

  1. Jan writes: I put this comment on the blog as well--do not know if it actually landed there: What a beautiful tribute to Charlotte, Kittii! I cannot think of a better story to describe Charlotte than the Cadbury Egg incident: "Look Inside!" That is Charlotte, always imploring us to see beyond and over and under . . . and also . . .