TCS: Prose and Poetry Unfolded for Umbrella Day

. . Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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To see her small and larger than life.
She is both fragile and determined,
like a paper umbrella in the rain.

– Jessica de la Davies

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Today is Umbrella Day, because on February 10, 1899, John Warren filed a patent for an improved folding umbrella. Of course, in searching for poems about umbrellas, I found a huge amount for dreadful poetry, but very few poems, good or bad, with the umbrella as its central theme. It seems to be more of a prose object, as I found far more words written in prose about umbrellas than in poetry:

Most mornings I wake up with a sense of dread. If it’s raining I stab gravity with an umbrella. I find it later, dangling in the air like a mammogram. – John Olson

I raised the hood of my cape and opened my umbrella. Headmistress had given it to me for my twenty-first birthday, knowing how fond I was of the purple foxglove that bloomed in the park. When open, the underside revealed in each of the panels a spray of painted stems, lush with lavender bells. “No matter how bad the weather, you will always be able to look up and see something that will cheer you,” she had said, knowing that my quiet moods often concealed an orphan’s melancholy.”
― Karen Essex, Dracula in Love

Going around under an umbrella interferes with one’s looking up at the sky. – Jerzy Kosinski

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Marion Rankine, author of Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature, is obsessed with umbrellas. Among many other references, she cites:

  • Umbrellas featured as symbol of social divisions in Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster – “all men are equal – all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas.”
  • Roald Dahl wrote a short story, The Umbrella Man.
  •  In Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey, there’s a woman driven mad by grief and trauma, who brandishes her shabby umbrella at passersby – and sometimes hits one.
  • Then there’s Hagrid’s umbrella in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Mary Poppins’ magical umbrella in the P.L. Travers series.
  • Charles Dickens wrote an essay, “Please to Leave Your Umbrella,” and his Mrs. Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit wields hers as a weapon
  • Part of Will Self’s novel, Umbrella, occurs in an umbrella factory.

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My personal favorite literary umbrella-enthusiast is Amelia Peabody, in the delightful Egyptology-based mystery series written by Elizabeth Peters. But there is also a wonderful rainbow-striped umbrella belonging to Emily Pollifax, the CIA’s ‘innocent tourist,’ in Mrs. Pollifax on Safari, by Dorothy Gilman.
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Moving on to poetry, first up is a poem that is entitled “Umbrella” but it’s not that kind of umbrella.

Umbrella

by Connie Wanek

When I push your button
you fly off the handle,
old skin and bones,
black bat wing.

We’re alike, you and I.
Both of us
resemble my mother,
so fierce in her advocacy

on behalf of
the most vulnerable child
who’ll catch his death
in this tempest.

Such a headwind!
Sometimes it requires
all my strength
just to end a line.

But when the wind is at
my back, we’re likely
to get carried away, and say
something we can never retract,

something saturated from the ribs
down, an old stony
word like ruin. You’re what roof
I have, frail thing,

you’re my argument
against the whole sky.
You’re the fundamental difference
between wet and dry.


“Umbrella” from On Speaking Terms, © 2010 Connie Wanek – a Lannan Literary Selection – Copper Canyon Press

Connie Wanek (1952 – ) is an American poet and short prose writer who was born in Wisconsin, but grew up in Las Cruses, New Mexico. She has published four poetry collections: Bonfire, which won the New Voices Award from New Rivers Press; Hartley Field; On Speaking Terms; and Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems. Since 1989, she has lived in Duluth, Minnesota, where she is a librarian and renovates old houses with her husband, but still spends time in New Mexico. Wanek won the Willow Poetry Prize, and the Jane Kenyon Poetry Prize. In 2006, she was appointed by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006), as a Witter Bynner Fellow in Poetry.

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Just a passing reference here to actual umbrellas on a rainy day, but I love this poem, so I’m counting them.

American Pharoah

by Ada Limón

Despite the morning’s gray static of rain,
we drive to Churchill Downs at 6 a.m.,
eyes still swollen shut with sleep. I say,
Remember when I used to think everything
was getting better and better? Now, I think
it’s just getting worse and worse.
 I know it’s not

what I’m supposed to say as we machine our
way through the silent seventy minutes on 64
over pavement still fractured from the winter’s
wreckage. I’m tired. I’ve had vertigo for five
months and on my first day home, he’s shaken
me awake to see this horse, not even race, but
work. He gives me his jacket as we face
the deluge from car to the twin spire turnstiles,
and once deep in the fern-green grandstands, I see
the crowd. A few hundred maybe, black umbrellas,
cameras, and notepads, wet-winged eager early birds
come to see this Kentucky-bred bay colt with his
chewed-off tail train to end the almost 40-year
American Triple Crown drought. A man next to us,
some horseracing heavy, ticks off a list of reasons
why this horse—his speed-laden pedigree, muscle
and bone recovery, et cetera, et cetera—could never
win the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.
Then, the horse with his misspelled name comes out,
first just casually cantering with his lead horse,
and next, a brief break in the storm, and he’s racing
against no one but himself and the official clocker,
monstrously fast and head down so we can see
that faded star flash on his forehead like this
is real gladness. As the horse eases up and we
close our mouths to swallow, the heavy next to us
folds his arms, says what I want to say too: I take it all back.


“American Pharoah” © 2015 by Ada Limón. Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Prairie Schooner

Ada Limón (1976 –) is the author of Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) and Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.

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Huzzah! Umbrella in the title, and as an actual object in the first line of the poem. Too bad the rest of the poem is about melons . . .

Beneath a Big Blue Umbrella

by Jack Prelutsky

Beneath a big blue umbrella
a melon seller sat,
selling yellow melons
succulent and fat.

A huge and hungry hippo
made the melon seller mad
when he swallowed all the melons
that the melon seller had.


“Beneath a Big Blue Umbrella” from Beneath a Big Blue Umbrella, © 1990 by Jack Prelutsky – Greenwillow Books

Jack Prelutsky (1940 – ), American poet and children’s author; he has published over 50 poetry collections, mostly for children, and was named as the very first ‘Children’s Poet Laureate’ by the Poetry Foundation (2006-2008). He lives in the Seattle, Washington area, and spends much of his time reading his poems aloud to children in schools and libraries all around the United States

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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