I am lucky in that I work at a college which often hosts people I’m thrilled to meet. Most recently I had the opportunity to dine with Enid Shomer, a poet/short story writer/novelist. During her visit to campus, Shomer spent time with our students, lectured, and gave a reading. What I came away with was the idea to try my hand at some persona poems. I have to admit that in the past I’ve been somewhat snotty when it comes to both prompts and persona poems. For some reason, I feel like the creative spirit must descend upon me; that I should not be “tricked” by prompts or pretending to be someone I’m not. But this is to my disadvantage, because I have to admit one of my best poems was written from a prompt, and I’ve just written a persona poem on Michele Bernardini, who was one of the first women to model the bikini.
Interestingly enough, Bernardini was a 19 year old French nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. And even though she received 50,000 letters (mostly from men) for her debut of the tiny bikini that Louis Reard designed, it took a few years and the starlet Bridget Bardot to make the bikini really catch-on. So I have empathy for Bernardini, whose name is spelled differently from one source to another, and who put herself out there, quite literally, to market an item that both my daughter and I wear without thinking twice. But bikinis were a big deal, and made (pardon the pun) a big splash in their debut into society.
I think Bernardini should inspire all writers. Not because she was good looking and half-nude, but because she was brave. She dared to bare. She walked out at a public pool in July 1946 to model something that she had to know would be risqué. And she did it with class. And that’s what we need to do with our writing. We need to be brave and dare to take risks. With a risk, though, comes the potential that our creativity may not be well-received, at least initially (if at all). It may take time to catch-on, just as the bikini did. So what I gleaned from Shomer and Bernardini is to go there. Bare it. Flaunt it. And be patient. I hope I can find more details on Bernardini. But, if not, I feel free to make them up as I inhabit her in my persona poems, imagining what she thought of the all the fancy French models who declined to model the bikini, and of those 50,000 letters she received….