Doll, date unknown
I came across this doll in one of the many boxes of clothing, household items, and children’s toys stored in the NHS holdings one day when my friend, Ivy Schweitzer, and I visited to peruse objects we might want to write about. I was startled by the way she is nestled in amongst the clothing, how peaceful yet forgotten she seemed.
My first attempt at drafting an ekphrastic poem in response to the doll centered on my experience, as I put it, “ransacking the attic” in search of an object and, after much rummaging about, discovering this long lost face.
For me, the ghosts of the child or children who had played with her, and her being so long unloved and forgotten generated melancholy. But the poem just didn’t work. It was imagistic, opaque, moody, but not moving. Then I read Ivy’s draft and those of Woon-Ping Chin and Lisa Furmanski, both of which bring to life imagined characters. I returned to the image determined to write a persona poem, and the voice that emerged was that of an older sister, someone both wise and innocent. I did a small bit of research, learning that “lipstick” wasn’t a term used commonly in the 1800s, and that the eyelashes on the doll, which had struck me as so odd and a bit creepy, were likely made of human hair or mohair. Also, I found out that “corned” was a common term for “drunk,” and I liked this word because I thought it softened the idea of a drunken father. Plus I liked the sound of the word in the line where it appears. I learned a good bit more about dolls of the time period I had decided to use as the setting, the late 1890s, but in the end, not much of that stayed in the poem. The process of sharing drafts among other poets who were similarly imagining the lives of long gone women and girls — a theme that emerged among us — inspired me, and now I hope to do some more writing about the objects NHS has collected.