Caroline Kennedy and Me: She Walks in Beauty

I grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts -- birthplace of John F. Kennedy. Their family home, just outside of Coolidge Corner had become a museum by the time my family moved to town. The fact that I lived in the same town, that my father had hung a photograph of President Kennedy in his small study, made me feel that this was a family not that much different than my own. Some of my earliest childhood memories include watching Caroline and John-John with their parents on my family's black and white T.V.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was the first time I learned about death, the first time I saw my parents helpless, left without words to console me. I remember watching the funeral - my eyes focused on Caroline and her brother. I was four years old and I already understood how brave Caroline was, how strong she was in the face of this impossible nightmare. Perhaps because I was so young, I felt connected to the child that was Caroline - and her little brother whom I most certainly loved in the way only a little girl can. It's a bit embarrassing to admit this some 40+ years later...

I've now been a Peace Corps Volunteer, held a summer job at the Kennedy Library in Boston and worked on behalf of international human rights. I've written poetry because I believe in a world better than the one before us now -- and I can't help but wonder how much it all has to do with that one photograph in my father's study; the one brave little girl holding her brother's hand at her father's funeral.

So when I received a call from Jamie FitzGerald of Poets and Writers asking if I'd read for the book launch of she walks in beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems, selected and introduced by caroline kennedy - I was thrilled. Now that I'm reading the book, I am even happier. Elizabeth Bishop, Nazim Hikmet, Constantine P. Cavafy (a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy's), Sappho and Anne Sexton are all here. The genesis of the book (according to the book copy) is that when Caroline Kennedy turned fifty, a few of her girlfriends sent her poems as a way of celebration. That these poems pay tribute to the human experience.

Each of the book's sections: Falling in Love, Making Love, Breaking Up, Marriage, Work, Growing Old, Death, Solitude, Friendship, and How to Live (as well as a few others) are introduced by Kennedy in a friendly, down-to-earth voice. It's as if she sits down right next to her reader, offering us a way to live a meaningful life. That sounds a bit too grand - and at the same time - very simple in the way that a friend might offer advice on how to deal with love or with parenting or to offer support during a divorce.

At 7:00 PM on Sunday, April 17th, I will read from she walks in beauty along with my dear friend Kathleen Flenniken and local poets Jourdan Imani Keith, Rebecca Loudon, and Coleen McEllroy at the UVillage Barnes and Noble. We will each read a poem from the anthology and then a few poems of our own. The event is sponsored by Poets & Writers


  1. Oh, it's so good to know this story about you, how it all comes together--your work, your world view, your poetry! (I'm similarly affected by the Kennedy family and remember intensely the sadness, confusion, and urgency of the assassination and funeral as part of our family's life as well as our country's history.) Have a wonderful reading. And thank you.

  2. Wish I could come hear you read! Thanks for this lovely post and the heads up on this new anthology. Must get a copy :).

  3. A lovely backstory, Susan, and a thoughtful review. Best wishes for a wonderful reading.

  4. lovely indeed, and well done - what a treat it must be to be asked to read in this context. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thanks for the post, Susan. Lovely to read your personal reflections.

  6. Congrats, Susan! I am so bummed I was unable to take part in this, but will be thinking of you while I'm at my writing residency. Many good wishes for the evening!


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