Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`When I Am an Old Woman' Poem Has Become a Global Phenomenon

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`When I Am an Old Woman' Poem Has Become a Global Phenomenon

Article excerpt

`WHEN I am an old woman I shall wear purple

"With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me."

Jenny Joseph bit off each word, relishing the crisp flavor of her phrases:

"And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

"And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter."

The British poet paused, pulling her woven blue wool shawl tighter against the damp California weather. Sitting before her at flower-bedecked tables arranged in the small warehouse was a rapt audience that included women in purple dresses, purple shirts and purple blouses. One even wore a large, floppy, red velvet hat.

Servers setting out platters of sandwiches and pouring wine wore bibbed purple aprons with the poem printed on the front.

Some guests at Elizabeth Lucas Designs, the Los Alamitos, Calif.-based greeting-card company with exclusive rights to reproduce the poem, had already purchased T-shirts, posters, plaques, oversized cards, tote bags, even soft-sculpture dolls resembling the purple-garbed old woman.

Soon, craft fanciers will be able to stitch Joseph's poem in the calligraphy version written out in 1981 by artist Elizabeth Lucas. The needlework will be in the spring catalog of Alida Industries.

And before the year ends, a Philippines-based marketing firm that floods Asia with products from U.S. companies will stock shelves with even more items, including ceramics such as coffee mugs, also reproducing Lucas' art work.

The poem has become an international phenomenon that amazes even its creator.

She cannot imagine thousands of women ready to shuck convention and run their sticks along the public railings "and make up for the sobriety of my youth."

The lyrical monologue that tosses society's standards into the dustbin "is a sociological thing," Joseph said, "rather like a song of the street."

The song is heard by all ages.

Fan letters come regularly to her home near Stroud in Gloucestershire, England. She recently received a book of photographs, each depicting a grandmother and her granddaughter, 8, in tableau for each line of the poem.

"The grandmother had made all the costumes, and they were quite nice. Imagine that!" Joseph said.

But most people who buy the cards, T-shirts and posters do not even know that the poem, titled "Warning," has an author. …

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