{poetry 7: “in the style of” echoes}

Do you know the word “saditty?” Lest you think I made it up (it IS a made-up word, but I bear no responsibility), I give you A Way With Words Radio’s podcast from awhile back wherein they discuss the word saditty – or seditty, as it was once spelled. It’s a portmanteau words for “sedate” and “uppity,” as far as they can tell, and it’s an old word from the African American community of the ’40’s, a disparagement usually applied to women. (Aren’t they always??) A woman who is saditty is a woman who believes she is ALL that is classy, regardless of the fact that you knew her when she was just another girl from the block. I had a good time using it here – directed toward no particular gender.

the saditty committee, whose lives gather creases

the saditty committee, whose lives
gather creases in shabby chic conform
their feet to roads-more-traveled, go gentle
into inoffensive twilight (do
nothing so gauche as rage) believing
themselves lost without the flock,
they bleat to a diminutized shepherd.
the green pastures, to which he leadeth, (O
blessed thought), their own well-grazed front
lawns. (no shadowed death valley-walkers need
apply) the saditty are shocked by tragedy
ruminate on the unfortunate in …
was it Cambodia – no, Cameroon – ?
(never mind.) with pleated brows they care and
they give – as long as no one needs more than
ten percent, parsimoniously parceled,

…the sadity committee, not of this world,
does not care for it. Politely, they fold
their righteousness into vintage
carryalls, eschew – in slippers or in streets –
gold, (except in tasteful crosses). pluck and tune
their harps while Rome’s smoke rises.
meanwhile, at the crossroads the signal, red, insistent
strobes warning like an oncoming train

Sometimes poetry best lends itself to voices. Here, I read aloud. (Since I was still fiddling with the final lines until this morning, they don’t match, but never mind.)

This month’s Poetry 7 Challenge was both easier and harder than expected — (and isn’t it that way every month?). We chose “In The Style Of” and selected a rather recognizable poet in the form of e.e. cummings. That was the easy part — everyone knows e.e.’s lack of capitalization and entertaining line breaks. What was hard was choosing a poem to echo. He has a great many poems which I still don’t understand (Shhh! English major confessional here) and couldn’t hope to emulate. However, a great many of his best-loved poems resonate more simply with me. Edward Estlin wrote the original poem, “The Cambridge Ladies, Who Live In Furnished Souls” about his own community, and his genial contempt for their insufferable contentment with the world as it stood shows clearly through these lines:

The Cambridge Ladies Who Live In Furnished Souls

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also,with the church’s protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things—
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
….the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

“the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls”. Copyright 1923, 1951, © 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust.

Estlin Cummings was inextricably a part of Cambridge in the community of Harvard — and as such, as he criticizes these Cambridge ladies, he invariably also criticizes himself. Ideally, we only can truly criticize a community to which we belong – at least, criticizing with any hope of change. Change comes from within… The saditty committee is my own attempt to harness my genial contempt for the the do-gooder, churchy-girl type of person I tend to be – if “do gooder” is all I am, without more thought and depth and soul. The Cambridge Ladies were probably nice people, who meant well, but we well-meaning folk can get too involved in our little lives spent doing good – while the world outside of Cambridge – or the Church – or our hometowns – has real issues we haven’t even imagined.

Kelvinbridge 11 HDR

Today is kind of a podcast day; as part of our Challenge this month, we all decided to record ourselves reading. We most of us didn’t love this part, and don’t love the sounds of our own voices, but I decided to quit dithering and just do it all in one go. You’ll find the rest of the Poetry Sisters poems for today (and bonus poems from Laura) right here. Should you just prefer to page-hop the old-fashioned way:


Need to sail through the words of more poets like e.e. and his tribe? Poetry Friday is hosted today by Katie @ The Logonauts.


11 Replies to “{poetry 7: “in the style of” echoes}”

  1. Wow!

    I love how you don’t pull any punches here, especially the line “they bleat to a diminutized shepherd.” It is interesting how we make our worlds so small and our goals so small, when there is so much more out there.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh, how I love a poem inspired by a single word, a good word, a unique word. I had no idea such an expression as seddity was in play, ever, and now that I do, I can’t stop wishing it could still be dropped on CNN or NPR. So much language (especially of marginalized groups) is lost. My favorite part (as I told you earlier) is the bit about folding into vintage handbags, but this time, I also marveled at the eschewing of gold in slippers and in streets—I hadn’t gotten that subtle dig before. No streets of gold for them, then… But I do agree that your re-workings have tweaked the tone to just the right admonishment. Most excellent.

    1. Though the word is archaic, in the African American community, at least to those of a certain age, I don’t think this is quite in danger of dying out. I think language has repeated renaissances that are surprising and amusing — we find ourselves suddenly slinging about drink terms from the ’20’s or dance terms from the ’50’s. Seditty/saditty is here to stay – it’s SUCH a good word, too. Much classier sounding than “bourgie!”

  3. T – I like the way this poem has developed. Hearing you read it is just amazing. My favorite lines: “…the sadity committee, not of this world,
    does not care for it. Politely, they fold” Sadly, that fits so many of the little congregations I have been part of over the years. And, “saddity”! I love how it rhymes with committee and is such a “just right” word for this poem. Beautiful!

    1. We’re taught all our lives that we’re meant to be “in” the world, but not “of” it and it’s easily misinterpreted to mean we don’t actually have to care for anything outside of the church. I think e.e. got that when he talked about things in the sky above Cambridge not at all mattering… and I DO love the word saditty, and now have to drop it into three or four conversations!

  4. Ooh, Tanita, this has changed since I last read it. I like the changes–it feels not only more polished, but also a slightly more distant and gentler recrimination. It doesn’t feel fueled at all personally…more of a statement on one specific group, but revealing truth about just about all of us.

    I like seddity better, btw. Saddity makes me think of a bereavement committee or something. Seddity definity brings that taste of sedate more.

    My favorite part here is the Cambodia/Cameroon/never mind part–brilliant!

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