Cultural Quarterly
Spring 2008
Volume XXI, Number 2
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Photo of Lucy Shulklapper
For Lucille Gang Shulklapper
the Words Keep Coming
By Stephanie Krulik

and poems simply come to Lucille Gang Shulklapper – the award-winning, widely published writer, author, poet, teacher and workshop leader – as she sits in her in her writing room.  It is the way she imagines her world that gives rise to her creative journeys – the red-tipped wing of a blue bird… the softness of a drifting cloud on a painted blue sky… the tips of her fingers as she catches the wind.

They come. The words come.  They come as fluently and easily, she says, “as ideas from my unconscious and burst forth in more forms than I expect. They symbolize what I imagine.”
Shulklapper imagines the words before she begins to write.  Her fascination touches the myth of Icarus, who needs to escape a labyrinth (to her, a symbol of life) in order to find out who he is, but flies too near the sun and falls to his death in the sea. In The Substance of Sunlight, poems and stories bound by this myth, she finds, “it all represents a journey with an unknown destination. Like my own destination.”

The destination is endless.  Encouraged by her father to write poetry and stories as a young girl, she replayed in her head the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, “who broke into himself.” she notes. As does she; and because she still plays the piano she still hears music in her poetry.

Poetry allows her to break out of life and write what she desires. “If a poem means something to you, you relate to it. That’s the importance of it,” she says.

Rhythm and Blues in the Nursing Home
In the dance of her mind her body curves
toward her husband, his name now forgotten.
her memory music starts, somehow preserves
the airy tunes as though wrapped in cotton,
she’s Ginger Rogers, and he’s Fred Astaire.
waltzing her through waves of white caps bobbing,
past the legless man slumped in his wheelchair,
past the shrilling phones, the muffled sobbing.

now, she can mouth gibberish, though her words
drown in violins, sink tipsy on floors
of waxed recall, like songs of mocking birds
from the murmured trees, in the gray outdoors.

one two three, one two three, Alzheimer’s beat
hammers her toes on her paled shoeless feet.   

The title is a clue to the poem’s meaning, she explains. The last two lines have a tune. Her poetry tells you who you are. Often, the meter, beat rhythm and cadence of a poem are apparent. Shulklapper is quick to add, “One of the hallmarks of a well-written poem is when you do not distinctly hear the rhythm. It is best to read it aloud at least two times. Every poem doesn’t have to be understood and not everyone will like every poem.”

Fourteen years ago she moved from New Rochelle, N.Y., to Coral Springs with her husband, a retired pediatrician.  That’s when the words and the poetry began again. Shulklapper left a 20-year teaching position with learning disabled children. She had given the district innovative teaching methods, 33 courses and a Title I program.  She wrote poetry for the children. She says, “I taught them to read. They were the poets when they read, because the poetry was in them.”

“Poetry has the ability to illuminate…everything,” she reasons. A prose poem:

Frequencies of Musical Notes
The drone in my heartbeat like a needle stuck in the groove of a long playing record piercing circles made in the way I dip dance like I have no right to tango your body and mine in sync across the floorboards synthesized amps trying to loud out the sharp point of passeggiata.  I want to play love songs rap sit in Preservation Hall remember smoky hotels where Jazz at Noon hammered me like nails to the sound system.  I want to replace the record with a tape but that too snaps and though I wind it back in place it plays only the unceasing voices so I buy a cd and insert it into the empty space but it always skips right over the music I never composed.   

To compose, to write poetry, Shulklapper says, “is an inner voice that nags until it screams at you, gets itself on the page and can then be heard.” Her voice is inspired by Chuck Wachtel in New York and Joyce Sweeney in Florida. Her work is found, among other places, in The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Orchard Press Mysteries, Common Ground Review and Poetic Voices Without Borders.

Shulklapper believes a poem, fiction, a mystery; all writing is never complete until someone identifies with it. Every word has to count, as in Out of Bed, Fred, her yet-to-be published rhyming children’s picture book about a big, colorful candy dragon.  And in The Tunnel, a soon-to-be-published poetry chapbook that re-structures the work of poet Pablo Neruda. “His couplets are the titles; my words are the poems. We are in a tunnel all our lives,” Shulklapper observes.

She is in her painted yellow writing room surrounded by published words: those of others and her own.  A close-up photo of the head of a chestnut-brown horse taken by her husband, Al, reveals a tear in the horse’s eye and a reflection of a fenced field across the way. Life.

Life is a reflection of a question.  Shulklapper says, “I believe that inherent in every poem is a question and that the poet has this in mind when he writes. The answer only raises more questions.”

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