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The Little Water Girl. Essay contributed by Portland author Cliff Gallant.
When the renovations to the Portland Public Library were newly completed, I noticed an elderly woman standing in the foyer quietly contemplating the Little Water Girl sculpture, and as I passed by the woman, I heard her whisper the word “precious” to herself. I’m rather fond of the piece myself, so I glanced over caught the woman’s eye and gave her a little smile. She brightened up, took a step towards me, and began to say something, as if she had to tell someone what she was feeling, but instead she just laid her hand on my arm and sighed, as if whatever she said just wouldn’t be enough.
The piece depicts a young girl holding out a cup of cold water to passersby, with the overflowing water falling into a trough at her feet for horses to drink out of. Two wide steps are carved out of the left side of the granite base as an invitation to people to ascend and drink from the cup, and in the rear right corner of the base is a small basin carved out of the granite for birds and dogs to drink from. A most fitting memorial to the woman to whom the sculpture is dedicated, Mrs. M.N. Stevens, of Portland, who was known, as a young girl, and all through her life, for her great love and compassion for her fellow human beings and for all living things.
Lillian Stevens, who was born in 1844 in Dover-Foxcroft as Lillian Ames, was the third national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, from 1898 to when she died, in 1914, and the Little Water Girl sculpture was given to the City of Portland by the national organization in her honor in 1917. The original sculpture, from which copies were made, was commissioned by the WCTU and created in 1893 by sculptor George E. Wade in his studio in London, England, for the Columbia Exhibition in Jackson Park, Chicago. At the time, the WCTU was involved in a program to place public drinking fountains in cities around the world for the purpose of providing people with “pure drinking water, as an alternative to liquor”, and Little Water Girl sculptures were placed in Chicago, Detroit, and London, England, as well as in Portland.
Although the inscription on the bronze plaque on the base of the Portland piece, which was designed by Portland Architect Frederick Thompson, refers only to her work with the WCTU, Lillian Stevens devoted herself to a wide variety of other humanitarian causes as well, particularly with regards to women’s rights and the welfare of children, and that work stands as her greatest legacy to future generations.
The first “safe house” in the country for abused women and children was founded in Portland, through the efforts of Lillian Stevens. The Temporary Home for Women and Children she founded here served as a model for such institutions nationally and around the world. The coming into being of such institutions was a sign of the new-found recognition that women and children have rights that protect them from abuse by violent husbands and fathers. Only when Lillian Stevens began to question long-standing convention and take appropriate action did desperately needed change begin to occur.
Prison reform, especially with regards to incarcerated women, was another of Lillian Stevens’ passions. In her time there weren’t separate prison for men and women and she saw the great danger to women inherent in that. In a most fitting tribute to the reforms she brought about, when the Maine State Reformatory for Women was established in Hallowell, the first building was named Stevens School in her honor, and is today the main building of Stevens Commons, a mixed-use community center.
Lillian Stevens’ compassion and reform efforts also extended to the welfare of animals. She was especially grieved by the cruel treatment that horses were subject to at a time when they were commonly regarded as beasts of burden unable to feel pain or discomfort. The prevalent belief was that horses, like all other animals, were insentient beings put on this earth to serve man, whether for work or pleasure. Just before Lillian Steven’s passing she was, most fittingly, presented with the highest lifetime achievement award accorded by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Little Water Girl sat in Congress Square from 1917 to 1928, directly across High Street from where the Union Station clock sits today. The piece was well utilized there as a drinking fountain by passersby, as well as a watering trough for horses and a place where dogs and birds could also get a drink, but with the coming of the automobile and the faster pace of life it brought, The Little Water Girl was moved to Deering Oaks, where it sat until the 1940’s, when it was placed in storage after having been vandalized. Repaired and returned to Deering Oaks in 1961, where it remained until 1979, when it was moved to the courtyard of the Portland Public Library. With the renovation of the library in 2010, the piece was moved to its present location in the foyer, where it sits as the gem of the city’s public art collection.
Yes, the woman was right, “precious” it is.
For more about artworks on display at the Library: Art @ PPL
Jonathan Demme is probably best known as the Oscar-winning director of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, but he was also a writer, producer, and actor, and in addition to directing feature length films, he also directed documentaries (Cousin Bobby, The Agronomist) TV episodes (Columbo, Saturday Night Live, American Playhouse) and music videos (including “The Perfect Kiss,” by New Order, and “I Got You, Babe,” by The Pretenders.)
Demme passed away on April 26, 2017, at the age of 73. He will be missed.
For a list of some of the movies directed by Demme, click here.
Free Verse, by Sarah Dooley. Free Verse is triumph over tragedy, through poetry. A lovely little read that surprises the reader with a collection of Sasha’s attempts at different poetry forms stashed right in the middle of the book. Enjoy this book, then try your hand at new form. Golden Shovel anyone?
In serious times, this one is always good for a laugh or three: written the way Haiku would be if you were bitten by a zombie. Written the way Haiku would be if you were a zombie-in-progress. Finally, written the way Haiku would be written as a zombie. Light yet disgusting. Horrifying and hilarious. So creative & disturbing. 5-7-5 all the way!
“Little old ladies speed away in their wheelchairs, frightened meals on wheels.”
“You are so lucky that I cannot remember how to use doorknobs.”
Another item from the dark side: the novel-in-free-verse Crank by Ellen Hopkins.
Free verse, free speech. Ellen Hopkins portrays the process of drug addiction. Why it happens, when it happens, how it feels (to all parties involved). In my opinion, every teen should read this as assigned reading in school – every parent should also read it. It’s eye-opening and expresses emotion to readers who may not understand the “whys” of addiction. Very raw, very real.
A few quotations from Crank:
“Smile. Nod. Say something witty before he finds out what an incredible geek you are.”
“Empty and closed, hovering in some frozen netherworld neither sun nor rain could thaw.”
On the lighter side, there’s always Shel Silverstein! Falling Up!
I’ve read this over and over for decades, along with the rest of Silverstein’s volumes of poetry. He has the imagination of a young child – silly and way beyond the reigns of adulthood. He also states things as they are! So obvious but ignored by the grown world. My son loves his poetry and I love my son’s expressions as we read together.
“Why can’t you see I’m a kid, said the kid. Why try to make me like you? Why are you hurt when I don’t cuddle? Why do you sigh when I splash through a puddle? Why do you scream when I do what I did? I’m a kid.”
My Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara is tattered and has about a million dog-eared pages and pieces of paper sticking out of it. Whenever I “feel like reading poetry,” this is the book I hunker down with, because I am a New York School fangirl. It’s like talking to an old friend.
Night Sky is an earnest invitation to witness Vuong’s most personal experiences: his sexuality, his absent father, and the kind of grief that is passed down through generations. These poems have a softness to them that permits moments of peace and even celebration to peak through, but ultimately his objective is clear: he reminds us that perhaps the only thing more painful than an exit wound is a bullet that stays in the body.
Myles’s signature style almost makes poetry look effortless. With usually just a few words per line, it’s not hard to imagine her scrawling a passing thought on a napkin and publishing it as is. But the simple fact that I’ve never encountered poetry that makes me feel quite the same way suggests that there’s nothing easy about it. Many of her earlier collections are rare or out of print, so it’s truly a treat to have her best finally compiled in one volume.
One of my favorite poets is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun and scholar from the 1600’s. Sor Juana, considered one of the great poets of the Spanish Golden Age, wrote beautiful poetry about love, feminism, and religion. A Sor Juana Anthology includes some of her finest works poems, both in Spanish and translated to English. The poem titled “In which she visits a moral censure on a rose, and in it, on fellow humans” is one of my favorites, in particular the opening stanzas:
“Rose, celestial flower finely bred, you offer in your scented subtlety crimson instruction in everything that’s fair, snow-white sermons to all beauty.
Semblance of our human shapeliness, portent of proud breeding’s doom, in whose being Nature chose to link, a joyous cradle and a joyless tomb.”
A description of the book from Library Journal: “One Hundred Poets is a teaching anthology of Japanese poetry, completed in 1235 yet still as popular today as in [the artist] Hokusai’s time (1760-1849). Hokusai planned a print to accompany each poem but completed only 27 prints, although designs for 64 more still exist. Eighty-nine of these are reproduced here, along with the Japanese and English texts of the poems and Morse’s insightful commentary on the poet, the poem, and the picture.”
Eileen M’s Picks
Mother Goose. Dr Seuss. Joyce Kilmer. “The Highwayman.” Even Beowulf, it grieves me to say. For better or worse, these are stones paving the road to my relationship with poetry. My journey has brought me to some conclusions about it all, to wit:
Potential poetry is everywhere, happening all around: An osprey glances sidelong toward my earthbound Subaru from her perch atop a vintage roadside nest. A sun-burnt, frost-touched face hovering above a sign reading “Anything helps” casts a similar corner-slung look as I, shamed, pass. An earthy scent rising when a spading fork stirs a winter’s worth of half-baked compost and a thought cascade of biology, abundance and the right tool for the right job. On and on and on.
A poet is part explorer, part alchemist: One who gently grips a single time-slice, feeling for an opening into something that is at once unique and universal; and does so with a verbal economy impossible to imagine for a more-words-will-tell-the-story-better sort like me.
A poem, when it finds us ready, is pure gold. It is birthed when a poet brushes up against the world with words that render it into simplicity that can make your heart break in gratitude, sorrow, clarity, joy.
I like poetry that helps me feel and see deeply or differently, but doesn’t require a degree in hermeneutics. For me, a good poem points gently to a scene, a feeling, a color I think I already know in a way that nudges me further. As Popeye might say (since it is National Poetry month), “Iamb what iamb.” I am no scholar. My take on poetry may differ from the next guy’s, but this is my blog post, so listen up:
I think you should run as fast as your feet can carry you to the closest shelf of Ted Kooser’s books. Maybe pick up Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison, a collection of brief weather reports and poems written as Mr Kooser recovered from cancer treatment and struggled to find his way back to writing, each daily effort shared on a postcard with Jim Harrison, his friend and fellow poet.
Ted Kooser’s writing is unpretentious, which is to say that Regular Folks, a club in which I proudly hold lifetime membership, can feel just fine about not knowing their assonance from their elbows, if you know what I mean. Bring your workaday self to any of his collections. Settle into his beautifully crafted observations and, like me, you may see that there is nothing more touching or more beautiful than the mundane.
So, a favorite poem… How about this one for making the ordinary otherworldly? I am in awe.
Cloudy, Dark and Windy.
Walking by flashlight at six in the morning, my circle of light on the gravel swinging side to side, coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow, each watching from darkness this man with the moon on a leash.”