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Ann Darr, 87; Aviator During WWII, Poet

Ann Darr, at left as a pilot, when she flew in simulated strafing missions, and at right with her daughter Deborah.
Ann Darr, at left as a pilot, when she flew in simulated strafing missions, and at right with her daughter Deborah. (Family Photos)

In the mid-1950s, she began focusing on her poetry.

"The poems I write and read help me to handle the feelings that would otherwise shred me," she once told an interviewer. "Poetry may not have saved my life, but I can't imagine a life without it."

She taught at American University and for the Writer's Center in Bethesda. A 1976 Washington Post review of her book "Cleared for Landing" called her a "poet who is unafraid to take risks. . . . When she succeeds, she succeeds brilliantly, as she does in many of the poems in her third collection. She has a keen perception of the darker side of things."

Among her nine books are "St. Ann's Gut," "The Myth of a Woman's Fist," "Riding With the Fireworks" and "Confessions of a Skewed Romantic." Contained in "Flying the Zuni Mountains" is a play she wrote, a series of monologues based on the stories of women who were in her flight group.

In her 70s, she had a romance with her old flight instructor when he called from Tucson. She also toured Western Europe on a river barge with other artists, writers and musicians in a troupe called "Point-Counter Point." Mrs. Darr wrote to a friend that after that adventure, she wanted her tombstone to read: "Late in life, she ran away from home and joined the circus."

When the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was dedicated in 1997, she attended and heard a woman who served in the Navy during World War I speak. "When Frieda Mae Hardin spoke, reminding us she couldn't vote when she signed up, saying to the young people, 'Go for it!', we were almost ready to serve again," Mrs. Darr wrote.

She moved to Chicago last year, when Alzheimer's had impeded her ability to live alone. She flirted with the men in the nursing home, and when her daughter Deborah offered to read her to sleep, Mrs. Darr pulled from her bedside table a copy of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues."

Her last wish seemed to come true. As her family took her remains to Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Ill., they noticed five statues of elephants. As it turns out, those statues mark the boundaries of Showmen's Rest, a plot of 750 graves of circus performers.

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