VIDA’s list of Twenty ‘Gypsy’ Women You Should Be Reading


Portrait of Papusza, the mother of Romani poetry

I’m so delighted to share my Twenty Gypsy Women You Should be Reading with everyone In honor of Roma and Traveller History Month,. Gypsy culture is vastly misunderstood and underrepresented, and literature is a beautiful way to discover it. You may not have heard of many of these writers before but they will astound you with their talent. Happy reading!

“And while I spend a lot of time on my soap box bellowing that Roma and Travellers are just human, as a storyteller and a poet, I will say that some of the most beautiful, dark, and hauntingly fantastic stories I’ve ever heard or read have been from Gypsies. It’s a MathildeVonThieleworld-view that outsiders would never be able to reach on their own, and I feel this poignantly as a not-quite-white looking girl who grew up knowing that, way back, her Gypsy ancestors sailed up and down the Danube from Germany to Hungary, working as dancers and fortune tellers in the riparian towns before the war tore everything to shreds. Their lives were not idyllic, but the stories my grandmother told were beautiful. I would hold them close to my chest when I was stoned at school, or given detention for “witchcraft and the evil eye” in a town where there were no Gypsies, where my mother and grandmother routinely referred to the Gypsy community (some abstract thing I imagined) as “they” instead of “we.” I worried about my “percentage of Gypsy” and whether or not it was enough to claim. The few practices my grandmother kept and passed down to me didn’t make sense until I began to research my own people when I was a teenager and realized that alienation is also inheritance. I found Papusza, the Mother of Romani poetry and an omen of exile and connection. I stepped into the river-mouth of my blood.”


My great-great grandmother Mathilde as a young dancer


Blog 7: Ars Poetica

We start the poetry unit! Writing ars poetica means that you use poetry to explore, define, or articulate the nature or function of poetry itself. It’s poetry on poetry. It can also be a poem about or inspired by a specific poem. So your job this week is to select a poem from Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Threatened Literature (Etd: Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, and Rajko Djuricthat inspires you and write a poem in response to it. You can use a line from the inspiration poem in your own poem, you could use a line as an epigraph, you could use a metaphor from the poem, write it in the style of that poem– there’s a lot you can do. Make sure to make it clear who you’ve been inspired by.

For example:

Title of poem, after Papusza’s “Extracts from untitled verse”


Body of the poem

lines of your poetry

“I have been left alone

like a fallen tree”


It’s clear who you’re quoting because of the title and the quotation marks. 


Title of your poem

        “I have been left alone/ like a fallen tree.” Papusza, “Extracts from untitled verse”

Body of your poem

lines of your poetry. etc.


A subtitle or an epigraph are other ways to attribute credit and make clear which lines are yours and which are the other poet’s. The style you use depends on the kind of poem you write.  Make sure to include the translator if there is one.

For this unit we’re writing four poems total– check the CPS for the assignment details. You are allowed to write one form poem and/or poem with consistent rhyme, but the other three must be unrhymed free verse. If you prefer to write all four as unrhymed free verse that’s fine. This week, you’ll write a twenty line (minimum) ars poetica poem to workshop in class on Friday.

For Wednesday’s class, read Papusza’s “Excerpts from untitled verse” and be ready to discuss it. She’s one of the most important Romani poets in history, considered the mother of Romani poetry. 

For Friday’s class, bring 3 hard copies of your ars poetica poem for workshop

For your blog, you need to analyze the poem you chose in 300 words or more and explain what this poem says or makes you think about the nature of poetry. The poem itself might not be about the nature of poetry, but in keeping with the ars poetic theme, try to pick something that inspires you to think that way about it. Due Friday.

Pointers for analysis:

1. What is happening in the poem?

2. What is/are the main metaphor(s)?

3. What are the poetic techniques the poet uses and what is their effect?

4. What kind of imagery and sensory description does the poet use?

5. What is the tone or mood of the poem?

6. Are there any religious, spiritual, literary, or cultural references? What are they? What do they mean in the poem?

7. And if there’s a word, name, or phrase you don’t understand or know, for goodness’ sake, look it up! You’ll understand the poem a lot better if you know all the words.



Bronislawa Wajs ‘Papusza’. Image source: