Guest Blog Post, Joan Colby: Old Lady Poems

“An old lady poem,” was the judgment of a friend recently. I was offended, then considered—at 73, am I getting to be an old lady? How could that happen!

Yet, the poems I wrote in my 20s were sharper and less reflective. Many had to do with self-discovery, the landscape of the young. As time passed, I found this investigation tiresome. It was easier to accept the person I have always been, or through decades have become.

My poems shaded into narrative. Though I write short fiction, I found my natural rhythm and voice more suited to the poem, yet story increasingly intrigued me. Subject matter changed too. Poems on the struggles of relationships—parental, sexual, marital, social gave way to less personal, more external topics.

I wrote a series of poems on criminals and on saints (featured in The Lonely Hearts Killers), a chapbook on art (The Chagall Poems), on the natural world (The Boundary Waters) and most recently on decades of country life with a noir flavor (Dead Horses). It seems a predictable progression. While I am still interested in, and write about, a variety of subjects, with the passage of the years, elegies replace love lyrics, ruminations on illness, loss, loneliness and death, for good or ill, are new preoccupations.

I hope I’ve retained the sardonic outlook that speaks to my dread of falling prey to “old lady poems.” Hera forbid, I become a character in one of my own such as “Red Hats.”


A hat tribe based on a poem
Praising a notion of insouciance.

The intention to wear purple
With a red hat when old

Incited not a revolution
But a convention of the like-minded.

Not the war bonnet

But a herd of red hats
Grazing their salads.

Joan Colby

Joan Colby is the author of ten published books including The Lonely Hearts Killers, The Atrocity Book, Dead Horses, etc. She has published poems in many journals including Poetry, Atlanta Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, The New York Quarterly, South Dakota Review, Epoch, etc. She is the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards (one in 2008) and an IAC Literary Fellowship. She received honorable mention in the 2008 James Hearst Poetry Contest—North American Review and the 2009 Editor’s Choice Contest--Margie, and was a finalist in the 2007 GSU (now New South) Poetry Contest, a finalist in the Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize in 2009 and 2012, 2010 James Hearst Poetry Contest, and the Ernest J. Poetry Prize. Her most recent book, Dead Horses was published in September by FutureCycle Press. Colby lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois with her husband and assorted animals.

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3 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post, Joan Colby: Old Lady Poems

  • December 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    How I identify! There is a definite change in tone of voice and passions. I’ve not been left ‘passion less’ by age, but definitely more contemplative. I love the ‘herd of red hats
    grazing their salads’. What terrific poet you are, Joan, at whatever age. Chapeau!

  • December 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    I really liked your reflections on how your writing has changed through time!


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