Like crackling icicles,
your brittle sword-branches
rattle in the small breezes
of thick warm nights . . .
—EMIL A. HARTE
Maybe even our real names, in a way, are pseudonyms.
In 1937, during her final attempt to circumnavigate the world at its equator, Amelia Earhart spent eight days in Miami to repair her Lockheed Electra. This last “stunt,” as she called it, would be a test of grit and hubris, something never before done by woman or man. One month later, 22,000 miles into the trip, she would disappear.
Mythological and yet resolutely human, Earhart was a feminist whose heart beat for humanity, however estranged she was from a normal, terrestrial life. This story is about two little-known things about her: her time in Miami, and her poetry.
In 1921, Earhart was a yet-to-be adored aviator when she submitted four poems to Poetry magazine under the pseudonym of Emil A. Harte. One of them was about her newly discovered passion for flying. Harriet Monroe, the founder of the esteemed journal, wrote back to “Mr. Harte,” saying the poems were “unusually promising.” But, she added, they were “not quite—as yet.” As in, all of them were rejected.
Earhart was both unusual and promising from a young age. Born in 1897 in Atchison, Kansas, in a Gothic mansion, she was the progeny of Puritans and pioneers, and her defiance was a precocious trait. When sledding down Kansan hills, boys in her town would ride lying down while girls were supposed to assume a more “ladylike” pose, but Amelia, perhaps recognizing the aerodynamic advantage, disregarded the gender norm. This may have saved her life: one day, while catching speed down a hill, she realized she was fast approaching a man with a horse-drawn junk cart, but plucky Amelia was able to zip just barely between the horse’s legs (as she told it). Had she been upright, her head would have met the horse’s ribs.
Earhart’s family, of means and Victorian tendencies, moved around a lot. Her father struggled with alcoholism, and young Amelia, who was raised much by her grandparents, is described variously as a loner, frail yet daring, and a tomboy. Muriel, her sister, said the two of them were taught at home for a period of time, during which, she describes, “We omitted geography almost entirely from our studies, but we reveled in poetry far beyond our years.” Later, Amelia was sent to an all-female finishing school in Philadelphia, where she was meant to learn the rites and graces of high society. She was kicked out for walking on the roof in her nightgown.
(Published in the Miami Rail, March 2016)