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Flourish: A Spencerian Definition

The following poem was written specifically for the Summer 2019 issue of Cultivating and first published there in June 2019. The enchanting photograph was taken by Debby Hudson and made available via unsplash.

Historical Note: Platt Rogers Spencer (1800-1864) is known today as the originator of the Spencerian script, one of the most prominent historical forms of cursive penmanship. Spencer was intrigued by beautiful handwriting from childhood, and reportedly practiced on leaves, bark, snow, and ice because his family was too poor to afford proper writing materials for him. As a young man, Spencer planned to attend college and study for the ministry. However, his prospects were sabotaged by his increasing dependence on alcohol. He began working as a teacher instead and soon married another teacher. With the help of his wife and a period of rural seclusion, Spencer eventually succeeded in conquering his alcoholism and became a prominent academic and advocate for temperance and abolition. Traditional calligraphers still study and use the Spencerian script and it is featured in the logos for Coca-Cola and the Ford Motor Company. 


It was for a Daboll’s Arithmetick that he walked so they say
twenty miles barefoot in the backwoods of Ohio, drowsing
in a leaky trailside barn, dining on one sparse raw turnip.
But what we remember are his letters, each line a flock of birds.

a noun: a luxuriant growth, showiness
         in the doing of something

a verb: to be in a vigorous state, to
         embellish with fanciful curves

people also ask:
         Why is Cursive not taught anymore?
         Why does cursive exist? 


When I awoke on the morning
after our wedding,
I donned a ridiculous hat.
At the port I peered out from under
a newfound ostentation
and six inches of white weave brim. 
It’s alright, I said to the
good-looking stranger
who wondered aloud about the
weight of the bags. 
My husband will be here soon.
He can’t have missed the strut
in my step, the way my chin
perked like a watered hydrangea.

Of course for a time Spencer abhorred himself.
Letters from him came seldom. Alone in his room,
he roved over red rejections with foggy eyes.
I have failed the Lord God he naturally thought
and drained still another bottle because at that point
                                                                     why not?

I think all elevators shafts should be window,
like the ones running through the bellies of
cruise ships. I want to always remember the
small boys dancing behind the glass,
obstreperous as orangutans in their high trees.
Each hand was a whirl of paper windmill
waving at the decks as they passed.
Each move an exhibition, a way of saying

watch me, watch me!

In Ashtabula County
some of the trees
remember him.

None of a widow’s ten
children can afford
paper, a slate or a pen.

But what is in us
must come out.
If you look closely

at each spot of smooth trunk
you might find a snatch
of his flight plans.

an adjective: foolish
         and happy and found

1 comment

  • Interesting!

    Diane Castaldi

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