From the heat of menopause, a poet finds light

For poet Moira Egan, a few sleepless hours before dawn were no longer a chance to write in peace and solitude. There were too many of them during too many nights.

Her poetic personality was always "mood-swingy." But things were getting wild, and her husband asked if she was OK.

Well, she was and she wasn't. She was 50 and lucky enough to still be alive to experience the unpleasantness of menopause.

"Since I am a poet, the least I could do is write a bunch of poems about it," said Ms. Egan, who grew up in Baltimore, the child of poet Michael Egan, and taught here for a while.

She wrote two sonnets — her favorite verse form — and submitted them to last year's thematic literary contest sponsored by Baltimore Review. The topic was, appropriately, "heat."

She won second place, and her poems were published in the Review. She wrote more poems about the changes her body and mind were experiencing. She knew there had to be 28, the number of days in a woman's cycle.

And the result is "Hot Flash Sonnets," published this summer by Passager Books of Baltimore, which takes pride in publishing the work of older writers.

Her poems are a revelation for any woman of a certain age. Funny, sad, edgy. They are tart and intoxicating like a salty margarita on a hot summer day.

The endless nights of insomnia, from indigo midnight to garbage-truck dawn. "Some nights I think I'd trade the sleep of the dead for this Sleepless of the Damned."

Mood swings like sudden summer storms — make sure you close the windows. "And in ten minutes, calm again."

The weight gain and the sagging body. "I'm trying (pass the wine) not to be cynical. Tomorrow (promise) I'll hit the elliptical."

And mortality. "What's one more silly old-gal injury? I'm still the one who visits the cemetery."

"When your body tells you you are not a kid anymore," said Ms. Egan from Rome, where she lives, teaches, writes and translates with her Italian husband, Damiano Abeni, "what are you going to do with it?

"It is TMI (too much information), but it is what this poor little poet is going through, and I'd rather laugh than cry."

Her wit and candor earned her this praise from former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins: "Her unabashed admissions, balanced by the sonnet's strictures and the wit of her endings, extend to the reader the double pleasure of craft and disclosure."

Ms. Egan loves the sonnet form, she says, because within the 14-line rule, there are almost no rules. And after the eighth or 12th line, there is a volta, a turn. Instead of rephrasing the opening thought, the poet is free to find a surprise conclusion.

She found great support even before the poems were published. Women at a writers' colony, upon learning her subject, piped up with suggestions.

"They were telling me, you have to write about dryness. You have to write about osteoporosis. You have to write about forgetfulness."

That last produced a charming new poetry form. Her husband calls it "a poem and a sidecar." Fourteen of those word-search, memory-gap moments are answered. "I'm speechless. I know there's a world for it. aphasia."

The process helped her deal with the little betrayals of her own body, and allowed her to tie them up in a bundle and put them aside.

"Taking raw material and turning it into something finished," she said. "This separated it from me, I have dealt with it. Good."

For the cover, she chose a painting by Suzanne Valadon, a contemporary of the famous impressionists who distinguished herself by painting female nudes.

The woman is older, fleshy and sagging. But she sits on a leopard skin and wears a necklace of coins.

Said Ms. Egan: "There is a hint there that she still has it going on."

You can hear Moria Egan reading from her new collection "Hot Flash Sonnets" at

Susan Reimer's columns appear on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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