Some of the poems in Norah Pollard's first book present a compelling portrayal of her father, Seabiscuit's jockey. But more than that, they show her to have inherited his love and understanding of animals and appreciation of wilderness, which in her case takes the form of the tidal salt marshes and beaches where the Housatonic River flows into Long Island Sound. The scenes and denizens of this region come vividly to life in the poems of Leaning In.
Laura Hillenbrand writes, "In Leaning In, Norah Pollard has created a work of singular radiance, an elegant, truthful, resonant collection. It should be read, re-read, and remembered."
And this from poet Gray Jacobik: "The most heartbreaking poetry seems to require true heartbreak to inform it -- would there were a less expensive way to make art. The poems in Norah Pollard's Leaning In have spared her, and us, nothing of life's emotional and spiritual extractions. 'Essential Oils -- are wrung,' as Dickinson would have it. In skillful, compassionate, wise, and unflinching poems, we're reminded that the works that touch us most deeply are unself-conscious in their strategies, revelatory in their authenticity, and 'cost' the most to make. Fortunately, when we surrender to them, the rewards, as here with Pollard, are inestimable."
Ms. Pollard has read her work widely at venues such as Yale University and the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. She has recently recorded a CD of twenty-six poems in the book. Click here to read sample poems from Leaning In.
At various points in her life, Norah Pollard has been a folk singer, waitress, nanny, teacher, solderer, and print shop calligrapher. She currently works for a Bridgeport steel company. In 1983 she received the Academy of American Poets Prize from the University of Bridgeport, and for several years was editor of The Connecticut River Review. She lives in Stratford, Connecticut.
Other praise for Leaning In:
"Norah Pollard has translated a harrowing, yearning lifetime into imagery-rich poems of despair and wild flings. 'A dreamy stir of dust motes / and you'll sense the silent others in the shadows / attending.' Pollard gives us crystal fire dogs, racing horses, Narragansett dark, parakeets which are 'green pieces flying gorgeously / in twelve directions.' This is really splendid poetry from many years of writing with beautiful care." - Dick Allen
"I was not surprised to learn that Norah Pollard is the daughter of Red Pollard, Seabiscuit's jockey, for in her poems as in her life, she shares her father's wry wit, total honesty, and passion for adventure." - Rennie McQuilkin
The Boox Review (on line, 9/20/03) calls Norah Pollard’s poems “exquisitely intimate, deftly rendered delights” and says that they “not only illuminate the power of love but the power in truth as well.”
The cover of Leaning In was adapted from this watercolor of the Connecticut River by Norah Pollard's uncle, Eugene Conlon. He produced some twenty studies of the same scene under many different conditions. This one was painted in late spring.
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Whatever possessed you to climb that first horse,
clutch his barrel with your skinny legs
and, hanging on to mane like mad,
steal that crazy ride across the carnival field
when you were ten and new to horses that same day?
What were you conspiring with them later
when you stole into their stalls,
the dark horses immense, breathing
and stomping in the dark,
rubbing their muzzles on your shoulder,
their wet breath crismal on your neck?
Did you think you would marry them?
Did you think you would mount their
roan backs and ride out your life in circles
under Santa Anita’s big blue sky?
Did you make up your mind to become horse?
And years later during those golden races,
when you’d break from the gate
did you think of anything but the blood rhythm
of those hooves under colors,
the furious speed you governed with your hands?
Did you urge on your bay in tongues?
Down the homestretch, were you filled with sudden
love for the rider you were overtaking?
And later, in the shed-rows, with the grooms walking
the hots, rubbing them down,
in all that sweet smell of manure and hay and sweat,
what did they say to you, the horses?
What did the horses say?
Tell me about the horses.
If, some summer evening,
you were to come upon
my father’s bones
under the ferns
by the dark and languid
Ten Mile River,
you would find them small,
for a man,
and note that the skull
was beautifully shaped.
You would note, too,
the unusually long and
narrow bones of his hands
bound together by the black rosary,
the fine shreds of green silk tie
still caught around the white
spools of his neck, and
the hair, translucent when
they buried him, now
perfectly clear, luminous as
Many of his bones would show
old cracks and fractures—
his nose, ribs, one arm, a hand,
the hips, that terrible leg, the clavicle—
a chronicle of bad breaks
in a life of riding horses.
And then, if you were to kneel
and hold back the laurel and blackthorn
shading what had been his face,
you would find,
pooled in its socket like
a tiny lake among snow hills,
his glass eye,
eternally innocent of the wild, harsh,
and gorgeous world it had gazed upon,
It was blue and black and moved like a crack
across the baked orange earth.
It ripped towards the palmettos and
colicroot and its fat body
parted the tall grass like a Moses. Was gone.
Four, fubsy thighed, enthralled,
I run up the back steps calling “Snake! Snake!”
He opens the screen door. He scowls out.
He gets the spade from the shed.
I watch while he lopes to where I point,
the silver spade over his shoulder. He screams
“Aaaaaiguh!” and makes a demon face and
brings the snakesticker down and down and down,
grunting, “Uhhhh, Uhhhh, Uhhhh.”
He stomps with his kangaroo boots,
his thin body leaping and stamping.
He snorts, he growls.
He finishes the thing.
He turns and says, “That hairbutted snake
won’t bother you no more,” and walks to
the pignut tree to sit under its dangling mosses
and smoke a cigarette.
My mother calls from the backdoor.
I go to her. “Did he kill the snake?”
“No, momma,” I whisper, “the snake already was gone.”
She laughs and covers her mouth.
I sit on the stoop and puzzle over this man
who is my father,
who wears cowboy boots,
who screams like a cougar,
who dances on invisible snakes.
—for my father
They led the horses away.
They tore down the fences.
The wreaking ball brought down
the grandstand, the clubhouse.
They plowed under the track kitchen,
the tack shop, the bettors’ windows.
They burned the green barns.
When there was nothing of Narragansett
but a great empty space, the moon
glittered over it like a Vegas sign
and the wind blew dust across
900 acres to the Newport-Armistice roads.
The next day they paved.
Black asphalt covered the scent
of hay and the horse.
They built a drugstore,
a store for linoleum, and they
threw up subdivisions, aqua and mustard
and pink, whose mailboxes rusted
before they were sold.
Then they built a nursing home
where now the old jockey lay in a narrow bed.
He did not know where he was
so the irony was lost to him,
but he knew his wife would come
and wash him and light him a cigarette
and put the swatches of cotton
between his toes and pour him
a small cup of blackberry brandy.
Long nights alone, after the t.v. was
shut off and the brandy gone,
he’d listen for something.
All the long dark nights, listening.
One night a lean March wind
rattled the gate and his heart labored
in his breast and he rose up
for he heard what he heard—
their soft nickering and blowing, the thin
rustle of silks, the creak
of saddle and the tick
of hoof on stone.
And he left the bed and went out
to where they stood in the grasses.
He stood before them and
their breath fell on him like cloud
and he saw their great eyes pool the moon.
And the one waiting for him,
the one with an empty saddle,
was a bay.
He mounted up and they rode under the moon
and the wind flared the mane of his horse
and was hard and clean on his face.
The others galloped on either side, silently,
as if they were running on moss or flowers,
and he went with them where they took him
into the fields of night.
SWANS ON CHRISTMAS NIGHT
The rare full Christmas moon
lay on the far bank of the river,
fat, elliptical, quivering,
like the bubble boiling out from
the glass blower’s wand.
Along the coast, two green beacons
winked slowly in the windless cold
and the black river lay sleek and still.
They were just thereno dramatic
flying in on thudding wings
or gliding out of darkness into
the moon’s white wash
just there as I came down the hill
sleeping in the water,
heads pillowed on their own backs, or
holding motionless, looking
down into the water like long-necked
kohl-eyed, mooning girls
blooming white in the black night.
The swans rocked and slept,
the moon unmoored, drifted high,
grew smaller and brighter,
and a thin thread of cloud raveled across
the dark and mindful sky.