“SONGS OF A HOUSEWIFE” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

When I was collecting, for many years, rhymed recipes—or any kind of poem relating in any way to the kitchen—I had absolutely no clue that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings had ever written poetry! Not ONLY did she write poetry, she wrote a good many on topics I adore – recipes, the kitchen, pie.

From the dust jacket of “Songs of a Housewife” we learn that “more than a decade before writing ‘The Yearling’ and ‘Cross Creek’, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was a young housewife-journalist living in Rochester, New York. In 1926, the Rochester-Times-Union did a trial run of her column-in-verse, “Songs of a Housewife”. To the editor’s surprise, the column proved immensely popular; over the next two years, Rawlings published a poem a day six days a week, and gained a wide syndication. When she moved to Florida in 1928, however, the poems were forgotten and—until this collection of roughly half of them—never reprinted.

In the 250 poems collected here, Rawlings presents homespun advice on such subjects as the trials and tribulations of being a cook, mother, friend, relative, and neighbor. She dedicates many to her favorite subjects: gardening, cooking, pets, and nature. Throughout, her goal is to entertain, to educate, and to give a voice to the housewife who sees her role as a creative and important one. In the process, of course, she invariably reveals a great deal about herself, and devoted readers will be curious to see how the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings they know and love is evident here, in these early and spirited poems”.

Rodger L. Tarr is University Distinguished Professor of English at Illinois State University. He compiled and edited “Short Stories of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings” published by the University Press of Florida in 1994, and “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a Descriptive Bibliography” published in 1996.

In the introduction, we learn “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s poems, published under the title ‘Songs of a Housewife’ belong to that special genre called newspaper poetry. They were addressed, in spirit at least, to the growing working-class readership of the late 1920s…when she stopped writing the column and moved to Florida in 1928, she had written 495 poems on the subject of being a housewife, an achievement unto itself…”

“At its zenith, it was syndicated in more than fifty newspapers, and thus reached literally thousands of readers each day. The poems were, if one measures the response of Rawlings’ readers, a cultural phenomenon. The success of the column stemmed from her ability to identify and then to relate to her audience…Newspapers needed to…increase circulation…in response, large city newspapers went so far as to employ their own poets, some well known, to write about the contemporary scene…”

“Songs of a Housewife” grew out of Rawlings’ early commitment to poetry. She began writing poetry as a teenager. (As did I. And I began submitting some of my poetry to the local newspapers in the 1960s, in which they were published. It’s something else of Rawlings’ that I can relate to).

At the age of 11, Marjorie published her first story in the Washington Post and this was followed by many poems and stories, some of which were awarded prizes, usually $2.00, by the newspaper’s children’s editor.

Professor Tarr continues, throughout the introduction, to relate Rawlings’ early beginnings and the various successes she enjoyed, as a writer, even as a child. What is most remarkable is that the collection of poetry went unnoticed and unremarked for decades, and that someone – Rodger Tarr—was able to research and bring it all together in a book. You may also want to read his publication “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, A Descriptive Biography” published in 1996.

My favorites among all of the poems are those food or recipe or kitchen related and I wish I could have had some of these when I was compiling the Kitchen Poets for my blog. I think my long-lasting admiration for Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings can only be explained by knowing she was a kindred spirit. I wish I could have known her. Next time I am in Florida, I’ll be heading for Cross Creek to visit her home.

Prize Jelly
June 2, 1926

Yes, that’s my apple jelly,
And that’s the currant there.
They took first prizes, both of them,
Up at the County Fair.

Why no, I don’t mind telling
What makes them sparkle so—
Nothing on earth but sunshine,
Before they “jell”, you know.

Make them the same as always
Then put them in the sun.
They drink it in and hold it,
Sun won’t fail anyone.

You know, I think some folks need
The self-same thing as well –
A long, deep draught of sunshine
To make their spirits “jell”.

–Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

“Songs of a Housewife”, Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and edited by Rodger L. Tarr (to whom I apologize for misspelling his first name previously in my blog) was published by the University Press of Florida, in 1997.

You can purchase it from Amazon.com, new, for $24.95, or “new” from a private vendor for $17.95 (you will always pay $3.99 shipping when you purchase books from Amazon through a private vendor. Amazon also has used copies starting a $12.92. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent this much on a book of poetry—but this was one I just had to have…and now I am delighted with my purchase.

–Sandra Lee Smith

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6 responses to ““SONGS OF A HOUSEWIFE” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

  1. Having lived most of my adult life in the Rochester, NY, area, I never realized Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was from this area! We are never too old to learn something new!

    • Marge, I was surprised when I first read this. She & her husband Charles both worked for the newspaper in Rochester for a few years. There is quite a bit more in the book about her childhood and how she paved the way for her writing throughout her life. Then they moved to Kentucky for a while and worked for a newspaper there – until the time came when they felt they needed a vacation and ended up in Florida.The rest is history. She had some money from her mother’s estated – they bought all of that property in FLA – house and truck and land and grovs – for $9,000. She put $7000 down from her mother’s estate. Can you imagine? I just love reading new things about her. Professor Tarr has really researched her. I imagine there could be many writers whose unpublished works are lying gathering dust somewhere. (maybe that’s how I will become famous). lol.

  2. Now I did not know about this genre, but my mother who was a farmer by default, when my father died and she had young children to raise, also wrote scribbler poetry. She named all the cows and the calves in a black scribbler and beside the margins she would write her cheery thoughts and money woes. Creativity in many forms be it cooking, writing, sewing or gardening has helped many a woman survive.

    Doreen

  3. Oh, Doreen! Do you still have any of these? It makes me wonder if my own mother ever wrote anything – if she did I never knew about it. Actually, I think I was the odd duck in their household, writing stories and poems and telling stories to other children. I heard a fellow on NPR the other day tell how he told stories in chapters to classmates in the school yard – I did that from about 5th grade on, with the younger children clustered around me. I couldnt tell you what any of them were about–I never wrote any of them down. just told them.

  4. There are very few people in Rochester who realize that Marjorie lived and worked here. A few years ago, the US Postal Service unveiled a first class stamp featuring her and the paper in Rochester sadly did not cover it (and she used to write for them!). The book of poems is a lovely one to add to any library! She loved to cook and wrote a really fun cookbook – The Cross Creek Cookery. I too am a kindred spirit – I am Marjorie’s great-niece and I live and work in Rochester. I have been to Cross Creek which is enchanting (it was my grandfather and great uncle who found the property for Marjorie and Charles.) The docents there are very knowledgable and delightful in their stories and information – well worth the trip.

    • Dear Dawn,
      Every so often someone writes to my blog about something or someone I have written about & it just makes my day. I’ve heard from a few people who knew or worked for Chef Louis Szathmary or cookbook author Jeanne Voltz (both of whom I have written articles about); I’ve heard from several people who cherish their Meta Givens cookbooks (someone else I’ve written about) and recently, from a relative of the Browns (My favorite cookbook author trio–have also written about them & a great-great nephew or great-grandson of Cora Brown saw my article & wrote to me–also very pleasing…but Marjorie has been one of my absolutely favorite authors since I was a young adult and first read The Yearling–even before I started collecting cookbooks and found copies of Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery–so it’s really a pleasure to hear from a relative of hers. Every so often I will Google my favorite authors to see if anything new has surfaced about then & that’s how I found the book of poems–what a treasure! And needless to say, I had no idea she had written these poems when she was living in Rochester and worked for the newspaper. I regret to say I have never visited Cross Creek (and I een lived in Florida, near Miami, for 3 years) – but I have quite a few relatives living in varioius parts of Florida and will make it a point to visit Cross Creek when I go to Fla. again. I can’t thank you enough for writing–it’s such a delight. THANK YOU SO MUCH! – Sandy@sandychatter

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