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


A new adventure! And the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France

So the Florida State University class is over– it’s been a really lovely three year contract teaching at FSU, two of which were spent teaching this class, “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves: Writing Creatively about Romani Culture.” I want to say thank you to all my wonderful students– it’s been a pleasure working with everyone and I will always hold this time dear. And thank you to the readers outside my class– it’s so cool and unexpected that y’all would join in to the discussion and I’m so glad that you did. I’m decided to keep the blog going and continue to post about and discuss Romani arts, culture, representation, and human rights. 

I’m very excited about my next teaching adventure– I will be teaching fiction workshops as a guest professor at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne in France! The retreat has been featured in Poets and Writers and has excellent reviews. The application deadline for applications is May 15th. I went on the retreat last year as a guest and absolutely adored it– I discuss how fate aligned my teaching spot this summer in my blog. We went on excursions to Chantilly, Paris, and Picardy; swam in the Château moat; practiced yoga every morning and every evening in the gardens; ate fresh homemade French food; workshopped out work; attended lectures on writing in our private salon; took art classes and sketched on the lawn… it’s a good thing. Obviously, I would like all the delightful and talented people I know to join us on this gorgeous retreat, so think about it. Click here for more information, a sample syllabus, tuition and housing, applications, etc. 

Thanks again for a fantastic semester and a rewarding 3 years– I’ll miss you all, and I’m also happy about what’s coming up in the present. Have a great summer everyone and kushti baxt! (Best of luck!) And maybe I’ll see you in France–

Tips for revising your poetry

Here are a few links to get you into the revision mood! Read them over and take some good advice.

5 WAYS TO REVISE POEMS via Writer’s Digest

“Re-seeing your poem” via Blue Island Review

“Common mistakes and tips for revision” via Richmond University Writing Center

“Breaking the line: an exercise in revision in poetry” via SOPHIA

“How to Revise Poems” via Sheila Packa

“Ederlezi”–song, “surrealist translation,” and festival

Today in class we listened to the song “Ederlezi” performed by Tatiana Eva-Marie (of mixed Romani heritage–like me) with the Haimana Gipsy Band in Paris. Since we’ve been doing Surrealist Word Games as invention exercises for our poetry, I thought the Surrealist Translation would be perfect. What you do is you listen to a song or poem in a language you do not speak and imagine that you know what the words mean. You can base your imagination on sound, association, or feeling– the goal is to create a song with new lyrics and it’s ok (nay, encouraged) if they don’t make sense. So if you don’t speak Rromanes, this would be a good one for you. Post your translations in your blog if you’re in the class or as a comment if you’re a reader.

After you’ve done that, you can read about Ederlezi on the Romedia Foundation blog and listen to other versions of the song. It’s very interesting!

Learning songs is a good way to learn another language because you know how the words are pronounced and you develop strong associations with the words. I’m learning to speak Rromanes since the language was lost in my family when Roma were persecuted in WWII. I’ve been learning this song and I really love it– it’s embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve listened to Eva-Marie’s rendition. Too many times. Like a crazy person.

Blog 9: Romani Proverb Poetry

And’e čhib naj kokalo

“There are no bones in the tongue” (Yet the tongue can speak hard words) –Romani Proverb

from We are the Romani people by Dr. Ian Hancock


Most birds, however, do have boned tongues. Image Source:

This week you’re reading “Chapter 14 Amari Čhib: Our Language” of We are the Romani people and selecting a proverb to use in your poem (due Friday). Your blog responses (300 words minimum) will answer these questions:

1. How do proverbs reflect the Romani worldview? What is their purpose?

2. Which proverb did you chose to use in your poem and why?

The Romani language is especially beautiful and idiomatic, and as a writer, I find a lot of inspiration in it. For example, to say someone died of a cocaine overdose you’d say “Cocaine ate his head.” From Ronald Lee’s Learn Romani: Das-duma Rromanes

And expressing affection is always interesting–

In Romani when you tell someone that you love him you might say, ‘I eat your heart’ or ‘I eat your belly.’”

–Sarah Carmona, a leading historian of the Roma in Europe, in the New Yorker

“The colloquial greeting ‘te xav tirre jakha’ (‘let me eat your eyes’) is a sign of affection and of the need for protection.” —PURITY AND IMPURITY IN THE TRADITIONAL ROMANI FAMILY by Delia Grigore: Lecturer Rromani Language and LIterature Chair Oriental Languages Department


Delia Grigore, Image source:

Delia Grigore, Image source:

In your poem, you can use the proverb as an epigraph or quote it directly, much like your ars poetica poem. Play with the metaphors, images, and double meanings in your proverb and see what you can do!

Blog 9: Romani Proverb Poetry

For this week’s poem (20 line minimum free-verse), you will select one of the proverbs that Hancock lists in the chapter 14 of We Are the Romani People. Proverbs fascinate me because they are culturally shared metaphors, figurative representation’s of a culture’s values, and sometimes (even often) they’re pretty good advice. 

After reading the whole chapter, which is full of interesting details about the Rromanes language, pick a proverb that resonates with you in some way. Maybe you like it or relate to it. Maybe you think it’s grim, beautiful, peculiar, funny, or true. Maybe you just like the sound of it, or the image it evokes. I notice that my favorites change depending on what’s going on around me. Right now I like, “There are no bones in the tongue.” The image is strong, and Hancock explains that this proverb gets its meaning partially from implication– there are no bones in the tongue (yet it speaks sharp words). I like the implication that speaking sharply is not in our nature– it’s something we’ve taught our tongues to do. That’s my reading of it today, anyway.

So when you write your poem, include the proverb in some way, either as a subtitle, a title, or in the body of the poem. Be creative with how you write about it– you can take the metaphor and run with it, you could make a character speak the proverb, you can make your own interpretation or explore the traditional reading, you might write about how you (or the poem’s narrator) relates to it, rails against it, it bewildered by it… whatever you do, dig into some proverbs and enjoy it.

To get you thinking, we have this week’s blog post, also due Friday April 5th. Take that proverb that you’re drawn to and write 300 words on what it means and what it means to you (those two things may differ or be the same), why you chose it, and what the proverb might reflect about Romani culture. I encourage you to research the latter and tell us about what you learned. 

Remember to leave at least one comment on a classmate’s blog by the following Sunday, and I encourage you to regularly check out all the interesting posts y’all have been writing. There are lots of impressive blogs out there! (I’m impressed).




“The wind doesn’t recognize whose wagon it blows over”

Blog 7: Romani Literature

For this week, I’d like you to select a poem (one of the assigned poems for this week, preferably) from Roads of the Roma: a PEN Anthology of Gypsy Writers edited by Ian Hancock, Siobhan Dowd, Rajko Djuric, and do a little research and analysis. Find out about the poet, the time it was written, and give an analysis of the poem. Remember that we can’t assume that the author is the “speaker” in the poem, unless it’s noted that the work is autobiographical. For your analysis, notice the metaphors and similes the writer uses, the patterns in the work, the rhythm, the images… and give your interpretation, supported by your evidence. 300 words minimum, due Friday 3/22. Remember to comment on a peer’s blog by Sunday night. Think of the comments as an opportunity to have an intellectual/artistic discussion with your classmates.

The interesting thing about this anthology is that it is anthologized by culture, and also by theme. These are all poems about Romani culture and history. So there are a lot of Romani writers who write about other things, but I wanted to use this anthology to teach because 1.) It’s a brilliant anthology, 2.) almost all the writers in the anthology are living writers, and 3.) art is a connection between people of all cultures, and a wonderful way to learn about the human experience–the things we share and the things we can discover about each other. Doesn’t that just melt your heart?

You can by the book through Herts or Amazon, for the readers who aren’t in the class 😉


Papusza, the mother of Romani literature ❤