Welcome to the Antrim
House Seminar Room. Click on the appropriate link below.
1. Consider titles—of the book, of its three sections, and of individual poems such as “The Way the Dark Opens Out into Light,” “Falling,” and “Stone.” Look at the titles of your own poems and find one that might be more suggestive, simpler, or less obvious.
2. For you, how do the book’s epigraphs relate to it? What epigraph or epigraphs would you choose for a collection of your own poems? Try ordering a group of your poems for a chapbook of 15-25 pages.
3. Consider line breaks when reading the poems in Stumbling. In what ways do those line breaks help to add meaning, interest, or resonance to the poems? Find one line break you find particularly interesting. Now go through one of your own poems to see if different line breaks might improve it.
4. Do you consider “Beach Song” a fitting first poem? How do you interpret the last five lines of the poem? (Note: a “waterbottle” is a sort of “sea grape” found less often these days than when the author lived in Bermuda .) Now try writing a poem in which you and one or more people in your family are pictured in a pose that typifies relationships and situations in the family, or a poem in which you guide us to a place that was especially important to you as a child.
5. What clues lead you to an understanding of the situation in “Photograph”? (Note that the photograph in question is the one that appears at the beginning of the book’s first section.) Try writing a poem based on a photograph of you as a child, perhaps pictured with one or more members of your family. See if you can imply more than you state in the poem, perhaps some sort of family dynamic.
6. It is interesting to look at “The Short Way to the Beach” from at least two points of view: a) its relationship to the book’s title and overall theme, and b) its use of form. What is the essence of that form? You might want to read a formal translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Robert Pinsky’s, for instance) to see a rather famous use of the form. Do you know what it is called? For another use of the same form, read Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Now try your hand at this form, perhaps in a poem that describes a child’s perilous journey, short though that journey might be.
7. Consider the ending of “Souvenir” in which a “gentle sway of blue” vanishes “into the flowered meadow.”What, for you, is the psychology of the child’s act?What leads you to that interpretation? Try a poem of your own in which a child (perhaps you, perhaps not) performs an act inspired by the same sort of feeling present in “Souvenir.”
8. “My Father’s Heart” is breath-taking in its combination of strong emotion and strict form. It is good to read the poem at first without attention to its form, then allow that form to become more evident on additional readings. How would you define the form? Now compose a poem of your own using the same structure, perhaps a poem in which you depict a relationship with one or both parents.
9. In "Solace," the author uses another strict form--a canzone, which repeats five end words in a complex pattern--as a way of exploring her father's life in the context of a scientific theory. How does the use of this form enhance this exploration? How does the author vary the end words and what is the effect of that variation? Think about a scientific theory that connects in some way with your own experience, and use that as a metaphor to explore your experience. If you are feeling adventurous, read about canzones. Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms, edited by Philip Dacey and David Jauss, has a clear explanation of the form and some good examples. Now try writing a canzone. You might want to keep in mind that forms like this one often lend themselves more easily to story-telling than to philosophizing, although like all rules about writing, this one is made to be broken.
10. The sonnet is another form used frequently in Stumbling, although the author favors loose sonnets marked by slant rhyme and syllabics (in which each line contains the same number of syllables), rather than meter and full rhyme. For examples see "The Summer I Decide Who I Am" and "Snake Song." Some poems of fourteen lines, also in syllabics but without a strict rhyme scheme also have the feel of a sonnet, as in "The Way the Dark Opens Out into Light" and "The Harbor." What is gained by the different uses of the sonnet form in these poems? Try writing a poem in free verse. Then revise the poem into fourteen lines, then into syllabics, and then into slant rhyme, following either the English or Italian sonnet rhyme scheme. How do these revisions change the poem? (For a survey of sonnet forms, slant rhyme, etc., web-search “Poetic Forms.”)
1. “The Envelope” (p. 17): What is the envelope? Is it one thing, or many? What is the role of the sun in this poem? What are the qualities of light in the poem?
2. “Driver’s License” (p. 57): What do you think of the ending of this poem? Does it fit the rest of the poem? Are there serious elements in this very humorous poem? If so, what is the effect of balancing humor and seriousness?
Try writing a poem (or story, essay, letter, dialogue…) in which you describe some particularly frustrating experience. Consider mixing the humorous and the serious, and see if you can incorporate a general truth in your writing, as Hall does at the end of “Driver’s License.”
3. In “Autumn Roads” (p. 65) Hall juxtaposes seemingly unrelated ideasthe arrival of fall and the Roman invasion, cracked acorns and cracked skulls. In fact, her poems are full of abrupt changes or contradictions. Find some other examples. Do they work?
Write a poem in which the first section moves in one direction, and the second section in a completely different direction. This could mean a shift in style or form, or a chance to explore an issue on which you are divided; for example, two sides of the self might address each other as in a debate or dialogue.
4. “Red” (p.59). Usually it is a small thing that brings back memories of our childhood, in this case an abundance of red cars (and, later, an abundance of black-and-white television ads). What brings you back to your childhood or to a time when the world seemed very different? Concentrate on specific details that are personal to you. Draw connections between memory, the world you lived in, and the things that trigger memory involuntarily.
Write a poem describing a memory and what triggers it. Remember to involve the senses, presenting details of what you saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted.
5. Consider Hall’s thoughts on children and parents in poems such as “Seed Sack” (p. 7), “Parenthood” (p. 8) “The Aperture (p. 9),”Conversations with the Dead” (p. 14), “Kansas, Sunstruck” (p. 16), “Envelope” (p. 17), “Red Moon” (p. 26), “Fowl” (p. 45), “Matthew at Thirteen” (p. 47), “Our Last Winter” (p. 49) and “The Pool” (p. 50). What elements do you find in the poet’s attitude toward children and parents? Do you see any ambivalence or contradiction?
Try composing a poem in which you reveal your own attitude(s) toward a parent, a child or a sibling, perhaps focusing on a single incident or a series of related incidents. Bear in mind that ambivalence is often the hallmark of truth and that it is usually better to be specific, to show rather than tell. Don’t be afraid of anger. Or of love.
6. After reading “A World Infested by Potential” (p. 4), write about a childhood event or series of related events arousing strong emotion in youfury, joy, frustration, jealousy, regret, love…
8. Read the series of love poems on pp. 31-44. What sorts of attitudes towards love and lovers does the poet reveal? Do you agree with her?
Try writing about a) an apparently slight “love-moment” which speaks volumes, as Hall does in “You Out There” on p. 33 orÊ b) about a rendezvous, as in “Raspberries” (p.31) and “Grass” (p. 38). Another possibility: write about a lust or a crush, as in “Courting the Muse” (p. 34) and “Crushes” (p. 37). Or write a letter/poem to a lover, ex-lover or would-be lover, as Hall does in “Letter to Japan” (p. 44). Good writing is always honest writing. Whatever you write, try to be as honest and forthright as all of these poems are.
9. “In Praise of Swimming Pools” (p. 51). Here, Hall delivers a eulogy concerning one of her favorite sites. Do the same for a place or thing you relish.
10. Write a “persona poem” as Hall does in “Weddings” (p. 83)that is, a poem in which you speak in the voice of someone else. Assuming another’s personality and voice, as Mark Twain did in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and J.D. Salinger in Catcher in the Rye, is a good way to get out of a writing rut or undo writer’s block.
11. In “Gradually” (p. 97), Hall may be writing about an ex-husband. What makes the poem so moving is the degree of empathy it shows. In a poem about someone who may have hurt you or with whom you have had a falling out, see if you can achieve the same sort of empathy by imagining yourself into the life of the other person.
12. What do “Driving” (p.99), “Turn” (p. 100) and “Ice Cream Cones” (p. 102) tell you about the poet? Do other poems in the book show a similar quality or qualities?
Write a poem in which you describe behavior in yourself that typifies you. It is probably best to focus on a particular incident or pattern of incidents.
13. “Still Life” (p. 104). Write a poem in which you or someone you describe is “released from the slicing of time” and exists for a moment “between what was and what will be.”
14. What role do diamonds play in “Swimming through the Perseids”? What would you say is the theme of this poem?
Write a poem with a similar theme, perhaps one describing an event from your own life.
15. “Amy Lowell” (p. 109). Poems like this based on the lives of literary, artistic or cultural celebritiespeople who have lived “on the edge”can allow a writer to explore the sort of extreme behavior or startling event that throws light on the true nature of life. Try writing such a poem, perhaps doing some research to bone up on the life of a celebrity who intrigues you.
1. This is one of those rare poetry collections that reads like a novel. Each poem builds on the one before it, so we urge you to read the book straight through, from start to finish. In the end, it will be interesting to consider the ways in which the title might be construed.
2. “Setting the Record Straight” (p. 13) is, in one respect, a “catalogue poem” in the tradition of Walt Whitman. You might want to try your hand at a poem that catalogues a variety of things or events. How about a “how do I love (hate, fear…) thee, let me count the ways” sort of poem?
3. “Intimacy” (p. 17). Just as this poem begins with a quotation that the poem contradicts, you might compose a poem that begins with someone’s statement then takes issue with it. The statement might be a saying of a parent or teacher, a line from a song, something overheard in conversation, etc. It should be a statement that infuriates you or rouses some sort of strong emotion. Let ’er rip.
4. “Light” (p. 18). Try a poem in which you describe the early stages of a love when all is bright and shiny, perhaps a first rendezvous or meeting, a first getaway, etc. Play with the possibility of sustaining a metaphor, image or theme, just as Pinegar plays variations on the theme of Light.
5. There are many ways of rendering a portrait. In “Portrait” (p. 20), Pinegar can’t get past the beloved’s eyes, because he once said, remember us this way/to your last breath. Think of a portrait you would like to write. What specific memory (or memories) and details intrude on the rendering of your portraitmaking it both spectacularly true and not a whole picture?Ê Consider writing a portrait of someone you care or have cared about: parent, grandparent, child, friend, lover, spouse, et al.Ê Consider writing a whole gallery of portraits.
6. “Where There’s Smoke” (p.30) is an example of the use of synesthesia to create unexpected images. Imagine describing sound visually or what music might feel like. If you could hear color, what would it sound like? Write a poem in which your senses respond in unexpected ways to the world around you.
7. Pinegar writes about the power of imagination in poem after poemthe power of imagination to heal, to transform, to create a new reality by imagining it first. Look at “Imagination” (p. 31), “Before the Longing” (p. 52), “Your Death” (p. 54), “Distance” (p. 72), and “December’s Dying Light” (p. 79). Consider how imagination functions in each poem, how it shapes the poem, how imagination might also shape the life of the poet. Try writing a poem in which you must imagine somethingthe presence today of the mother or father, sibling or child who died many years ago; the child you didn’t have; the path you didn’t take.
8. The reader may not always be able to make the distinction between what Pinegar calls imagination and what she might call metaphysical reality. In many of the poems in the second section of the book “3:00 a.m.” (p. 67), “Arrival” (p. 70), “The Distance Between” (p. 71), and “Explanations” (p. 74), for instance, her interpretations of mystical events, seem literal. Pinegar would say that most of us have what amount to mystical experiences, and that we dismiss them (or shroud them in silence) because they defy logic and explanation, because we are afraid we will be thought crazy. Try writing about some experience you cannot explain in any conventional and/or scientific way. Or write about why you cannot write about it. If you do not believe or remember, try imagining such an experience and what that might be like.
9. The Physics of Transmigration is a love story, but it does not follow the usual prescriptions that Hollywood and the media generally set forth, since the love she describes does not end neatly with “and they lived happily ever after” and since she asks questions that we are not accustomed to asking: What if love is not so much about what we receive but about what we learn about our own capacities to love?Ê What if love is a multi-faceted adventure of the spirit? What if love always enables us to be more loving, as long as loss or fear of loss doesn’t cripple our capacities to be generous? Try writing a poem about what a “lost” love, a recalcitrant child, an impossible family member, a former close friend taught you about your own capacity to love. Make an effort to write your way past whatever barriers you might have constructed to mitigate the pain of loss or disappointment.
A few thoughts....
When I was first called upon to give poetry readings, I would often preface the poem by explainingrather defensivelythat the poem was true. It happened. I could prove it. Part of the reason for this habit was my misguided notion that, if the poem were true, the audience could not criticize it. For how can you criticize the truth? I was dumb, of course. You can criticize the art of a poem. In fact, feel free to criticize the fact of it, too, if it's boring, or tasteless, or boring. Or boring.
The other reason for telling the audience my poem was true was because my poems are true. I've tried writing poems about paintings or about subjects suggested by books on writing, but they have always been bad poems. They come out sounding flat and composed. And I don’t get the “high” from writing them. If it's someone else's idea for a poem, I’m like a toad attempting to suckle a mourning dove. I can't adopt it. Once I tried writing a play, and all the characters sounded like the same personme. They were all talking to each other, and it was like one actor holding forth in front of one of those department store three-angled mirrors. Same person, different angles. Boring as hell. I might be a narcissistall this writing about myself and my lifebut I rather think it's that I lack the ability to invent. I can paint a real scene or recount a real situation, but I can’t create. I record. I transcribe my world.
Sometimes I condense or combine the literal truths. In the title poem, “Report From the Banana Hospital,” I have changed two names. Also, Dr. Grimakis is a combination of a nurse and a doctor (who, hopefully, have found new careers). Sometimes I have added a detail, like the hooker's little dance at the end of the poem. But she did say what I wrote down she said. Milton was there. And the beautiful Cuban pianist. And Henry. I did take the bus home because I had no money. I did do a stint in the looney bin. I did have to fend off Milton. I did, I did, I did.
I wrote "The Banana Hospital" because I wanted to record that experience in my life. I keep a diary (day-to-day stuff), and I keep a journal (ideas, opinions, observations), and I write down any dream that might provide me with a helpful insight if only I could figure it out. I have a writing compulsion. One morning a few years ago, public radio hosted an interview with a man who spent his time recording his lifeevery minute of it in minute detailso that he no longer had time for anything else. He wrote and wrote and wrote, with no time to live or work or even think too much. This sounds humorous, maybe, but the man obviously had a sickness. I warn myself about this, so I won't end up in the booby hatch recording how many swallows of coffee it took me to get down how many little blue pills at what exact time in the a.m. and what the weather was doing when I swallowed them.
Anyway, all this is to say that "The Banana Hospital" is true, critique it as you will. When I finally got through the depressionfive years after it had begun and about a year after my hospital stayI felt a messianic zeal to educate the world about depression. While I was depressed, both a relative and one friend suggested that I enjoyed my pain. Another told me I must "Get over it." And I see how a healthy person could want to say these things to someone who seems to refuse to see that life is so beautiful. What I was wanting to do after I came up out of the darkness was to climb up on a soapbox and give a speech. But what would I say? And to whom? Describing depression and despair is impossible because despair and depression are indescribable. Even the great William Saroyan in Darkness Visible could not capture it. Several years later I decided to make a record, a poem about my hospital stay. I decided to make it humorous so that it would be palatable, and also because it was humorous. (I can see Woody Allen being me.) Friends have told me I did not succeed in this, but I rather think that is because they know me and feel bad about the whole affair. I think if it were about someone they didn’t know, a fellow named Ralph Roisterdoister, say, they might grin now and then.
I guess if I did get to make my speech about mental illness now, I would tell people that the cruelest adage in the world is, "God does not give you more than you can bear." Because, of course, some folks are given more than they can bear. And they crack up, or swallow ant traps with a quart of gin, or murder the plumber. It's not a character flaw that we do not prevail at all times. Everyone has a breaking point. Everyone. And so we must have compassion and tenderness for those who break. And if you want to point to a person who’s been through hell and has come out of it intact, and if you are inclined to say, “But, see! He bore what got dished out,” remember that he has just had not reached that circle of hell that would break him.
There. See. I would be a terrible mental health speech giver, because beyond saying that everyone has a breaking point and therefore we should be compassionate towards those who have reached theirs, I have only this to say: The human spirit is an incredible thing. It can subsist on so very little. It can come back from the dead. It can also leave you absolutely.
Wandering back to my theme of True Poems, "Lucy Dancing" and "The Seal In the Wave" are the only "untrue" poems in the book, though the men in "The Seal in the Wave" are certainly men I have known. And the seal is living with me now. I don't know where "Lucy Dancing" came from. A true aberration. Do I contradict myself?
So my poems are a selective record of my life and what I've seen. My depression lasted from 1978 to 1983. It was in 1983, at the age of 43, that I started writing. I wrote, in part, because my fine therapist had said that the dreams I wrote down for him were well written, and that made me feel I could do something beside make a plausible meatloaf. And I wrote in part because coming out of the blackness into the blindingly beautiful world made me want to write and write about it, in terms both black and bright.
Many of the images which inspired the writing of these poems are well known and can be found on the internet. Others are unknown and can be found here.
A NEW POEM (November, 2011)
The Old Man in the Mountain
And he’d been really something.
and people stood around looking dutifully up
My own father never got a chance
They say he’s ashes now
During his life he accumulated
And a Purple Heart and the 1949 edition
Now they’re both dust.
I try to imagine they’re both within me
The vacuum cleaner man
He spread gray residue on a sheet of paper—
I still don’t get it.
The salesman showed us
I almost bought the vacuum cleaner
What feeds on us is dreams
So I didn’t buy it, can you blame me?
THOUGHTS ON THE POEMS IN BARBARIANS IN THE KITCHEN
Author’s Note: This poem really is about my earliest memory: I must have been two or three years old. I had climbed up onto the sink in the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, taken out my mother’s lipstick and was trying to apply it to my own face when my grandfather caught a glimpse of me. He probably mistook the lipstick for blood and rushed forward to rescue me. Large and alarmed, he was a frightening figure.
What interests me about the memory are the themes of beauty and transformation and their link to danger.
Writing: What are some of your earliest memories? They are sure to have emotional power. Select one and try writing about it.
Reading: Does the child narrator’s misconception about the origins of the worms she sees after a rainfall reflect anything about her attitude toward life? How does her attitude differ from that of her friend?
Writing: If you are looking for a topic to write about, think of some of the misconceptions you had when you were very young; put yourself back in that frame of mind, and see what kind of writing results.
Reading: Notice that this poem begins with an open window and ends with an open door. Why do you think Connors structured it that way? Which parts of the poem are in the present and which parts are in the past? (How often we travel from the present to the past and back to the present, with sometimes a side trip or two into the future.)
Reading: What kind of legacy has the narrator received?
Writing: Think about family legacies and try writing about what you have received. If you are a parent, what kind of legacy do you think you are passing on? What legacy would you like to leave?
WE ARE CIVILIZED
Reading: What is the significance of the title? How does this poem relate to the previous one (“Legacy”)?
Writing: It’s a special challenge to write about the things that are not said, the actions that are about to happen, the things unseen that influence what is shown before us, all the borderline area between two states…but this is powerful territory.
Reading: Try to imagine what might have happened to the woman in the poem before the scene described and how it has influenced her approach to life. When she encounters the bear, she is afraid of it and yet there is an instant in which she recognizes some kind of kinship with it. What could this woman and the bear possibly have in common?
Writing: Try writing a poem about what comes either before or after the events related in “Hunger.” Or write your own poem about an unexpected encounter with an animal. Think about what the animal may represent.
ENTERING THE FOREST
Reading: What might the forest represent? If you are familiar with the motif of the Hero’s Journey in mythology or classical literature, you might try comparing it to the journey in this poem.
Reading: Much of this poem is about sleeping and dreaming. What else is it about? What is the significance of the first two stanzas?
Writing: This is an active poem. List all the verbs in it. Think of a scene or event you would like to write about. Start by making a list of possible verbs to use. Then write your poem.
BARBARIANS IN THE KITCHEN
Reading: How does this, the title poem, relate to the theme that Connors states is the impetus of many of the poems in this book? (In the Afterword she talks about the intersection of wilderness and civilization as an inspiration for much of her writing.) What is the source of the narrator’s ambivalence as she tries to get her children to interact in ways that are more acceptable?
A RELATIVE STRANGER
Reading: Have expectations, spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious, ever interfered with your ability to relate to someone else?
TRACKING THE BEAR
Reading: What kind of journey are this mother and son taking? What’s going on in the last two lines of the poem?
Writing: In this poem, the boy is compared to a bear. Think of a person that you would like to portray; what animal could represent him or her? If you want to write about someone, try working out the animal comparison and weaving it into your poem.
Author’s Note: This poem was written as I observed my daughter practicing leaving. As college and then adulthood loomed closer and closer, she practiced distancing herself from us. I had to practice the same thing. But when I looked at her, I saw someone terribly young, beautiful and vulnerable; thus the spring imagery.
MY SON TURNS TWENTY-FOUR
Reading: What would the poem be like if it were written from the son’s point of view?
Writing: Take a poem or story you are familiar with and retell it from a different point of view. It would be interesting to take a piece you yourself have written and rewrite it from an alternate point of view.
A HUSBAND’S REFUGE
Writing: What is your refuge? What about the people around you?
NO OTHER LIGHT
Reading: What is the tone of this poem? There are several polarities in this poem; for instance, intimacy and separateness. What other polarities do you notice?
AMONG THE HALF-GROWN
Author’s Note: This poem is dedicated to the students and staff of Sedgwick Middle School.
ANTHONY AFTER SCHOOL
Reading: Compare and contrast this poem with “Barbarians in the Kitchen,” “My Son Turns Twenty-four,” “Seizure,” or any other poems in the collection that seem to connect to it in some way.
Writing: This poem relates a failure in communication. The narrator meant to give one message, but it is not what came out. Have you ever had a similar experience? Or can you imagine one? Write about what you said and what you actually meant to communicate.
LOST, LEFT BEHIND, DISCARDED
Reading: Compare and contrast this poem to “Among the Half-grown.” Especially consider tone.
ANOTHER SCHOOL SHOOTING
Reading: In most of Connors’ poems, she uses standard punctuation. Why do you think she eliminates all but the final period in this poem?
Writing: This poem is a persona poem. You might find that writing in the voice of your subject is an effective way to find greater understanding of the person.
Reading: According to the poem, what is the girl battling? What is the mother’s response? Does this poem remind you of anyone you’ve met? Do you think the poem oversimplifies the mother, the daughter, and the situation? Compare and contrast this poem to “A Relative Stranger.”
Writing: Connors uses this poem and “Another School Shooting” to try to begin to understand some young people who have made negative choices. Think about the people or situations that worry or mystify you. Write for understanding.
GIVE ME TOMORROW
Author’s Note: This poem is dedicated to soldiers of every nation, of every time…and also to those who fervently work toward a more peaceful world.
PRESENT AND IN AWE
Reading: Relate the poem to its title.
THE WEIGHT OF BUTTERFLIES
Reading: What kind of stories are mentioned in this poem and why do people need them? If you were to paint a scene from this poem, what would it look like?
ODE TO SKUNK CABBAGES
Writing: Pick something common, something ordinarily overlooked: dandelions, chairs, or shoe laces, for example, and write a poem of celebration or appreciation on this topic.
GIANT BLOB OF SLIMY FLESH REMAINS UNIDENTIFIED
Reading: How would the poem be different if the slimy blob were identified?
Writing: Where do writers get ideas? The world is full of them. This poem and the next one in the collection (“Rare Albino Tiger Escapes”) are based on news accounts. When you read or hear the news, make note of interesting items that could become the basis of a poem.
RARE ALBINO TIGER ESCAPES
Writing: Think about that part of yourself that could be symbolized by the tiger in this poem. What would happen if you let it out? Write about it.
THE GREAT CIRCUS FIRE
Reading: This is a true story. What keeps it from being a simple recitation of the facts; what makes it a poem?
Author’s Note: The question above is one I struggled with while writing the poem, and I’m still uncertain about my degree of success or failure in transforming this true, tragic event into a narrative poem.
COWS STOP TRAFFIC IN WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT
Writing: Do you delight in the absurdity life offers so abundantly? If so, think of some examples and use them as a basis for writing.
In the Afterword Connors talks about an overriding theme that resonates in many of her poems: the intersection of wildness and civilization and the tension between the two. Identify the poems that you think most relate to that theme and explain why or how they relate.
A New Poem (crown of sonnets)
A CROWN FOR MEGAN
This is the crown that I will give to Meg
This crown’s for her to keep for when she reigns
With grace and warmth, in spite of all the pain,
She tells me with a smile and childish shrug
A life in which the king would not be drugs;
She leaves those battling urges to find a vein,
Straightening out this life she couldn’t contain,
He looked down and calmly took a drag
At times she tells me she is very tired.
But then she puts it away as an acquired
With Megan’s family hanging by a thread,
It’s just a miracle that they’re alive
A tale about some pain or some desire--
And once again she must take the lead,
She’ll show us, by example, how to live
This is the crown that I will give to Meg,
1. Why might the poet have chosen to begin his book with the poem "Geology" (p. 15)? Why is "plate techtonics" an apt metaphor for poetry itself? For memory? What other poems in the collection suggest "plate techtonics" of their own?
2. What major themes and motifs characterize the collection of first poems in "Local Geography"? Consider carefully the titles of each poem.
3. How does natural imagerymountains, stones, brooksshape the poet's early poems in "Local Geography"? What does the imagery suggest about the speaker of these poems? About youth?
4. The poems in "Local Geography" all seem to be about coming of age. What images of youth and innocence are juxtaposed with images of awakening sexuality and maturation?
In "Choosing" (p. 30) the poet carefully repeats several words,
images, and phrases. How do these repetitions link each moment in
6. Pick any one poem and analyze the line breaks. Why does the poet choose to end and begin his lines with certain words?
7. Many poems have a shift or a turn, moving the poem effectively from observation to reflection. What poems have a clearly identifiable turn? Is this turn toward the end of the poem, in the beginning, or somewhere in the middle?
8. The poet seems especially concerned with stolen moments and seconds, snapshots of time preserved delicately through verse. Why is poetry, in particular, an effective means of capturing these moments? Select several poems from the collection and discuss the ways in which the elements of poetryfigurative language, imagery, diction, line breakswork to underscore the importance of a particular moment in time.
9. Look closely at the four poems about the sport of squash: "Sunday Morning Squash" (p. 45), "The Grip" (p. 46), "The Serve" (p. 47), and "Inside the Box" (p. 48). Why does the poet find squash a particularly "poetic" game? How do these poems inform our understanding of the book's title, Inside the Box?
10. What kinds of things does the poet lament in the third section, "Lament"? Is there a tension between reality and expectation? What also might the poet be suggesting about progress?
11. In the poem, "On Getting from Here to There" (p. 69), the poet asks: "What will we discover then, when our journeys are complete?" But he seems more concerned with the nature of the journey than the destination. What examples does he give of journeys he seems to cherish? Why might these journeys be better, compared to the faster, modern means to ends?
12. Why might the poet have chosen to end his entire collection with the poem "Fire" (p. 102)?
1. Ekphrasis can be defined as a verbal representation of visual images. The Oxford Classical Dictionary says it is “the rhetorical description of a work of art.” Horace, born in 65 B.C., and a leading Roman poet, in Ars Poetica expressed the ekphrastic ideal of giving voice to painting and had as a principle, ut picture poesis, “poetry as a speaking picture and painting as mute poetry.”
The earliest examples of ekphrastic poetry focused on utilitarian objects such as goblets, urns, vases, chests, cloaks, weapons and armor, and architectural ornaments.
Select an ordinary object, a kitchen knife, a dog’s leash, an IPod, a hammer, mirror, clock, lamp, remote control. Write a self-contained description or interpretation of this thing. Write a poem where it is possible to “insert” the description in an appropriate place.
Note how this poetry collection is structured. How do the title and last
poem, “Tightrope Walker” suggest an overriding theme? How
does Idyll relate to Cold Rain and in turn to Tightrope Walker? How do
the three sections present a progression of thought and overall arc of
this book’s theme?
Historical background research was done by the poet in writing poems grounded
in such art masterpieces at Matisse’s “Dance,” “American
Gothic,” John Singer Sargent’s “Portrait of Madame X”
and the famous photograph “Migrant Mother, 1936.” How can
historical details create nuances in a poem?
a painting or photograph (not necessarily a celebrated one), and write
a poem in which you not only use close description drawing on all the
five senses to produce evocative imagery, but also invest the poem with
a “history” either factual or invented. (Study Madame X for
its sensual details.)
Consider the “persona” speaking in “Migrant Mother (Part
I)". What’s the point of view, tone, attitude of the speaker?
Find a photograph taken on a special occasion (birthday, anniversary,
holiday festival, vacation) and write a persona poem drawing from one
of the people pictured. What is this person thinking, feeling, hiding?
Make the voice distinctive enough to resonate with ironic meanings.
Notice the difference in voice, attitude, and outlook of the two mothers
speaking in Part I and Part II of “Migrant Mother.” Select
a picture of your mother, and write about her qualities from different
perspectives: of yourself, a sibling, her brother/sister, her husband,
Consider the “persona” speaking in “Neferiti’s
Missing Eye.” How would you describe this individual’s tone,
characteristics, goals, and fantasies? Assume the role of a painter or
sculptor and, write a poem in which the artist/speaker directly addresses
the subject or model being transformed into an art form. Try experimenting
with two opposite tones of voice; for example, the speaker could be in
love with the model in one poem and be angry at the model in another version.
Look at “Sonny on Trumpet in the Quarter” and how it melds
musical and personal themes. Select a musical form (classical, jazz, rock
’n roll, be-hop, hip-hop, rap, whatever). Taking the artist’s
point of view as your favorite song is being performed, write a poem showing
how it feels to bring the music to life. Use images that transform the
music into words.
Online there is a useful site to look at some 40 ekphrastic poems accompanied
by images. Ekphrastic Excursions is found at the site: http://www.dwpoet.com/poetassign.html
It is the creation of Prof. David Wright of Wheaton College and contemporary
as will as classic poets are represented. Include are W.H. Auden, Gwendolyn
Brooks, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hayden, Lisel Mueller,
Frank O’Hara, W.D. Snodgrass, Wislawa Szymborska, and William Carlos
For an exercise, look at Randall Jarrell, "The Bronze David of Donatello" and compare and contrast that poem with “The David” in this collection. Consider such questions as how the poets have responded to the figure in the sculpture, the history, re-creation of the art through verbal means. What is the point of each poem? Is it the same as the work of art? What’s the point of view of the narrators?
“Einstein, Man of the Century” was inspired by a Time magazine
cover. Depict your own Man or Woman of Any Century in an ekphrastic poem.
The subject could be a revolutionary figure, such as Ghandi, Madame Curie,
Abraham Lincoln, Mother Therese, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, or
some other historical/political/literary/scientific giant. Look closely
at minute details in a picture of the subject. Now decide on an approach
you will take as poet to write about this subject. Some ideas: give voice
to the subject through a “persona”; use the image/photograph
to examine personal issues; conduct a narrative conversation or interview
with the subject (what questions would you ask your subject?).
Art sometimes provides strong reactions. Look at “Woman in the Waves
(Ondine).” Select a painting of your choosing and write a poem focusing
on what feelings it elicits. What details in the artwork trigger them?
Various sources agree that the “original” classic ekphrasitic
poem was a description of Achilles’ shield in the 18th book of Homer’s
the Iliad. Some noteworthy historical examples of ekphrastic poetry are
W. H. Auden’s “Shield of Achilles,” Keat’s “Ode
to a Grecian Urn,” William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,”
John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” and
William Carlos Williams’, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”
More contemporary examples include Sylvia Plath’s “Colossus,”
and Robert Hayden’s “Night Blooming Cereus.”
some of these poems for their ekphrastic elements. Try writing a poem
using the form of one of these poems, but just for fun argue with the
poet you’ve read and present an opposite stance in your poem.
Additional poems composed since the book appeared:
While his dad snores away
We’re backed against the worn brick chimney,
He’s a different twelve than I am,
When the Camel burns down
A MURDER OF CROWS
My wife’s undisturbed sleep-sounds behind me,
The cacophony expands,
At the window now
Before I know it I’m through the kitchen,
when from my right
THE YEARS SPEAK THEIR MESSAGE TO MY MOTHER
We will allow you the story
how you’d speed up at the dead spots the streetlights couldn’t
how you’d see three, maybe four cars tops
how you’d turn onto Colonial,
Yes you can have that story,
and we won’t allow you to remember
Every book is the very best the author can create at one point in time. Mine represents thirty-five years of pretty steady study and Engagement in the craft of poetry. It is my unofficial New & Selected collection.
How do you approach a book of poems? I study the cover art which may be very pleasing in itself. I encounter the typography and overall production somewhat passively, I must confess, then advance to the back cover or fly-leaf blurbs. It’s nice to learn the names of certain friends of the author, and some knowledge of the contents may even be acquired. Biographical material about the author may be of interest, depending on our critical tendencies.
Next it may be well to scan the author’s book credits, poem acknowledgements, other prefatory material, epigrams, and notes to individual poems, perhaps, compiled at the end, so as to be oriented to their location and content once the actual reading begins.
Some readers may sample poems in the various sections of a volume. Being locked into narrative tendency, I find it best to start at the beginning. Infrequently I start at the end and work backwards. This may be out of laziness or contrariness. With more lyric poems it may matter very little.
Those obsessed by puzzles, games and mystery novels may try to figure the reasoning behind poem groupings in the sections of the book and the naming of these sections. They may or may not succeed. It probably will not matter. The groupings may be to some extent outside the author’s (or even the editor’s) consciousness. Like the poems, like our children for that matter, we do not own the books we write. They pass through us, but they belong to the world for better or for worse.
Typical of physicians and pedagogues, perhaps, I’m lecturing when I should be provoking my audience into thought. Well here’s a question: is poetry dead as some literati claim, I suppose, because it doesn’t fill stadiums? No, say others: it is taught more and better than ever before, and written more as well.
What makes poetry novel and irreplaceable in the creative arts? It follows tradition. “Old Friends” and “”Spring at Town Hall Bridge” are two examples. Yet new forms are created; see “Variations on a Riff by Eubie Blake, Dead Age 100, 1984.” More importantly, poetry expresses itself physically, a literary form steeped in sound and beat like music, but carrying the richness of human language and meaning. With great concision it conveys mystery and surprise. It liberates imagination from the shackles of story. These features will be found in prose fiction, memoir and biography as well, but there is something uniquely primordial in poetry that will never be attained in any other form. Poetry will live on as long as language survives.
I offer “Biking Remembered,” “The Architecture of Nine-Eleven” and “Mount Mansfield, Age Eight” as highlighting physicality, surprise and imagination respectively. You will find many more examples in this book. They are yours. Hopefully, they will touch you, and above all please.
“What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music.” Soren Kierkegaard.
According to the Kierkegaard’s definition, I am not a poet. I am a relatively happy person, in fact, more so than I have been at many times in my life, and am writing more poetry now than at any point save for my late teens when I churned out reams of stream of consciousness prose and poetry without stopping to consider whether or not it was any good. Still, “when in doubt go dark, and if still in doubt go darker;” has long been my fiction mantra and has been known to find its way into my poetry.
It is also fair to say that I am a bit of an accidental poet, as I devote more of my time to short fiction. This has led friends and students to ask me whether I consider myself a short story writer who writes poems or a poet who writes short stories. I answer honestly that I am at a loss to see what the difference is. All writing is a mixture of ego and inspiration tempered and humbled by grinding hours of revision and doubt. One per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration, as the saw goes. Be the task an op-ed piece, a short story, a poem, or essay the process, from what Richard Hugo calls the initial “triggering” to the final draft, if there is such a thing, is a solitary slog.
My friend, the songwriter and novelist, Bill Morrissey, points out that a musician may get ten or fifteen years to gather enough good songs for a first album, honing them over time in the clubs and bars while discarding the duds and polishing the gems, but once the album is released, faces the daunting task of creating another dozen songs in the next year for the follow up recording. In my twenty years in the music business, I averaged an album of new material about every five yearstwo to three songs a year if you spread it out. A poet who manages only two or three poems a year risks being forgotten between books.
For me, songs came in bunches, and I find that poems and stories do as well. What is important to me is to always have work in progress, regardless of the genre. I may work on new poems and stories the same day, or on revisions of each almost simultaneously. My greatest fear is to have nothing in the works. That is why I get up early most daysthe more hours the more opportunities to discover some “triggers.”
I find the prose and poetry processes to be similar. The main difference is that short stories begin with a character or characters, while poems spring from smaller moments, more concise visions. In this way poems tend to come to me like stream of consciousness or interior monologue, one spark leading to another.
Poetry gives me an outlet or opportunity that contemporary fiction allows me less frequently, and that is to explore lyricism. Contemporary poetry embraces vocabulary with a fonder zeal than contemporary short fiction. One need only read the vacuous slice of life prose that clogs the pages of the few national rags that still print fiction to see what I mean. For every wonderfully crafted William Trevor story in the New Yorker there are a half dozen dreadfully, self-indulgent, “frozen moments” of what is alleged to be an insightful look at contemporary life. It bores the hell out of me.
Working on poetry makes me a better fiction writer, more concise, more evocative, and from fiction I have learned the importance of structure, which, I believe, improves my poetry.
Lately, I have been trying to put to good use some advice I learned from Baron Wormser. He says that he often reads poems that seem unfinished, as if the poet were content to get enough of the job done to get on to the next thing. An emptiness is left behind. I am endeavoring to learn how to stay with the task to the end. This has sent me back to the poets who engaged me when I was in my teens and twenties: Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Blake, Whitman, Hardy, Yevtushenko, Frost, as well as to contemporary poets: Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Dennis Nurkse, Dzvinia Orlowsky, Ted Deppe, Jack Driscoll, Leslie Ullman, Betsy Sholl, Terrance Hayes, Brian Turner, Gerald Costanzo, Shara McCallum, Carolyn Forché, Kurt Brown, and Laure-Anne Bosselaar, to name a few. I have also been floored by John Stanizzi’s book Ecstasy Among Ghosts, which you can order right at this website.
In short, I am delirious to be here and grateful to Antrim House for allowing me into such a grand and accomplished family.
A new poem:
My dog gets as excited
Sandals, boots, flip-flops,
This is a portrait of Jocelyn Sloan painted by Ann Scoville when she and her husband Pete Scoville were in Rochester during the 1940's, when Pete was affiliated with the University of Rochester:
And here is a letter Jocie Sloan wrote to the editor-publisher of Geisha, during the days when he and she traded poems at 1250 East Avenue. In it are some interesting stories about her youth, and of course the spontaneous style of the letter is very Jocie.
I have noticed that some people shy away from the word "hospice" because of what it represents to them. Yet in reading to literally thousands of hospice patients and their family members over the past seven years, I have learned that they are filled with love and sometimes humor. Many openly share that love and hard-earned wisdom in the poems presented in Perspective.
The poems also provide an inside look at hospice life, in particular the work of nurses and volunteers. Hopefully this poetry collection will help attract others wanting to further that remarkable work, which is repeated at hospice locations everywhere.
The following are some new poems not contained in the book:
Propped against pillows,
I read "Just For Today,"
Sensing one more poem
I lean forward to hear
I gently hold her hand
She closes her eyes, sighs.
The street I was raised on
We children in Public School 108
The lucky ones like me had
And therein lies the secret
To love and be loved.
Since this is a seminar, I will treat the following as a lesson on where the poetry in this book came from. The only point that I am trying to make is that we should see clearly, within ourselves, the wellsprings from which our poetry comes. So I share what I have always known are the roots that form a basis of my approach to life and poetry.
I grew up in an affluent suburb of Toledo, Ohio, but I have few remaining ties.
If you should ask me where my spiritual home is, I would have to say the vicinity of the Ohio Valley around Steubenville. This is where both of my parents came from and where some members of my family still reside. It is the location of the “Erwin Place”my grandfather’s farm. From time to time poetry was quoted at the supper table along with discussions of politics, etc. One time I mentioned that I was studying Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” in high school and my grandfather could quote the key portions of it. Likewise, I remember a long conversation that my mother, grandfather and I had that stretched to 2 A. M. It ended with the two of them quoting “Gray’s Elegy”, “Horatio at the Bridge” and other old jewels of English and American poetry.
But home for me is not a place; it is who and what. Home is my wife, Janet, my family (both biological family and married-into family) and my old friends: some still here, some gone from sight.
Finally, it is in the words of the English language that I find a lasting home. I revel in the sounds, cadences and the rich tapestry of my language: the golden lode of flexible, free form, always changing everyday language of America.
At 72, I know that the souls I hold so close and I, myself, will soon travel down the swift river. But by this river I plant this book showing that I was here, that I loved life and mainly saw the light that dwells in its admitted great darkness. From my parents and other family, I also see it in a somewhat jaundiced or slant way. Here I lay my analysis: usually not of me or my feelings but of what I see in life and how I see it (always analyzing says my wife).
Part of what I talk about above is the subject of the book’s first two poems: “The Erwin Place” and “Words”. The poems following are as varied as a paint store. A number reflect a great joy in the material world around me (i.e. “New Milk”, “Drinking Glasses”, “Outcrop”, “Arioso”, Andromeda” and “Nightsong”). Some are about children and growing up (“Pockets”, “Rain”). Others are whimsical or slant views of the ordinary things in life (“Certainties”, “Leadership Skills”, “Medicine Cabinet”, “California”, “Cathedrals”). Still others are deeper, dark poems about major questions in life (“Birdfeeder”, “Funeral Parlor”, “Wand”). Finally, there are poems that reflect the darkness and injustice of life (“Empire State Building”, “Hart Island”, “The Summer of 1939”) and those that come out of times of personal pain (“Ad Astra”, “Winter Woods”).
All of these and others are a gift from inside me to the reader.
Joan Kunsch's Playing with Gravity and new work
Here are some scribbles for a seminar-in-progress, though in my opinion I sound like a ballet teacher pretending to know something about being a poetry teacher. I think that whatever I do in poetry is instinctive, not knowledgeable.
I know what it feels like to abandon myself, to get lost in the reading aloud of a poem mine or someone else's that I believe in and love and can capture an audience, but I don't know what to say about making that process happen. I have to let it possess me.
I want to help others to get closer to poetry, but can only say this:
read and write constantly, don't miss anything that goes on around you,
observe with energy and put your whole imagination into whatever you are
doing. Help others to find something of themselves in what you are doing.
And re-write, make your poem more direct, try to omit anything that is
not strictly necessary. Often the renovation of a draft is as exciting
a process as the initial writing, or more so. In order to rewrite, we
need the gifts of distance (in time, from the first draft); of an editor
or two whom we trust deeply; and
About translations… Translating poetry comes almost more easily
to me than translating prose. Perhaps that's not explainable just
a sense of the magical non-practical!
Interrelationship between dance and poetry: The best dance is cleared
of all unnecessary movements. There is a clear line, a certain momentum,
an elegance (unless the role calls for other qualities). Likewise in poetry,
all unnecessary words should be eliminated to dart straight to a mood,
a moment, a relationship, a revelation. I believe that poetry is the highest
form for use of language, and dance is the highest form of human movement.
As a choreographer, I have not often produced a ballet based on words
without music; however, "CantaNeruda" was one such work, premiered
in New York City and also performed in Binghamton, NY.
NEW PHOTO AND POEMS FROM JOAN
For Ilana and Moshe Siman-Tov
In a parallel dream or memory
(from Oslo, March 20, 2105)
Reflected on rain-glistened paving stones,
IMAGINING ALASKA IN ADVANCE
Up before first light
These are the most significant elements that influence my writing: a sense of connection with, and understanding of the natural world, and the numinous kinship I discover between "science" and poetry. I frequently draw metaphors from the world of nature. Attributes of its fauna, flora, and the dynamic interplay of life with environment provide me with subject matter directly, but also with imagery that I use in poems having focus elsewhere.I am not an urban poet, because that is not my habitat. My writing stays within the frames of reference that are real to my own experience of them. I am not a "feminist" poet, and one will only infrequently read a political poem among my collections. This is not to denigrate any of the preceding, but only to say that my passions lie elsewhere. What reaches deep into me is: the poignancy of transience, the excitement of nature's inventiveness and profusion of expression, the mutability of all beings, myself included, and the implications of relationship.
In this poem, I find a conjunction between science and poetic celebration:
ONE ATOM FROM GREEN
Leaves unfurled within my veins
Yet replace that atom
REVIEW OF THE BURNING BUSH from THE MIDWEST QUARTERLY (Spring, 2007 (Vol. XLVIII, No. 3)
From The Comstock Review
Other Nations (Wood Thrush Press, 1999) is Polly Brody’s excellent first collection. Its content centers around the poet’s “other career” as a biologist and ranges around the world she has traveled and visited during her life. Her second book, The Burning Bush (Antrim House, 2005), is a collection of essays and poems exploring the natural world in lyrical language and luminous vision. And her stunning third collection, At the Flower’s Lip (Antrim House, 2007), is filled with sensual, yet spiritual, poems which focus on the natural world. Amid poems of tree and flower, we watch a marriage unwind, a new lover tease desire from river, wind, and flower. And we are caught up and transformed by these earthy, transcendent poems that glory in the beauty of our natural world and our responsive, desirous bodies. Bravo! Now we have Stirring Shadows (Antrim House, 2009) with its poems recounting the darker side of the world and its peoples. She relates and contrasts these to the wonders of the natural world. She is a true visionary and a strong necessary voice in the poetic world.
MORE SAMPLE POEMS
Arlington National Cemetery
His ashes, urned,
Outstretched between them,
A senior officer at the bier’s head
His white-gloved palm strokes
The stretched flag glides slowly
Borne to the widow
Nagyanya and Nagyapa*
Spring candles flicker on our table
Refugee in our American kitchen,
I see again the tent stretched at noon
Sitting with me in sunlight grown mild,
Spring 1945—resurrected light
*Nagyanya and Nagyapa fled Hungary—1938
NEW WORK FROM POLLY BRODY
Now two years into my eighties, my body is clearly telling me I am no “spring chicken.” Arthritis in hips and low back murmurs constant low-level discomfort, which is quite a bit more than low level when I first rise from bed in the morning. I feel like the Tin Woodsman, needing a shot of oil. My mom lived until she was eighty nine. As she entered her eighties, she fretted over the changes she saw in her physical appearance: skin becoming wrinkled instead of firm (she called it prunish) and the appearance of spider veins on her slender ankles. She retained good eyesight all her life, but became increasingly hard of hearing in her last fifteen years. She resisted wearing a hearing aid. Indeed, I don’t wonder that the one she eventually purchased was an enemy rather than ally: why is an instrument made that has controls so tiny, and battery replacements so miniscule that arthritic fingers are unable to manipulate them? Mom and I were buddies, only twenty years apart in age. She lived in a country home and loved the world of nature. She and I were birdwatchers; often we strolled together through the nearby groves and meadows. We both delighted in the spring return of warblers, oriole, and tanager. Each April, we both sought to hear the clear ringing song of the Louisiana Waterthrush.
I walk once more with you, mother,
In this world until three days past eighty nine,
My mother’s mother died of cancer before
Now my once-taut integument pleats, sags, pouches,
In the quiet of winter, I had the opportunity to take an eight-week poetry workshop with seven other ladies. We met weekly at St. Michael's Church here in Litchfield. Jennie Mathieson, the pastor, kindly opened her doors to us and joined in the workshop as well. The thrill of writing new work was evident each week. Everyone embraced the assignments with enthusiasm and we all could barely wait for our turn to share. We were given prompts by Nancy Miller, our facilitator, such as "death", "work", "surprise", etc. along with sample poems by other writers to give us a bit of a push. Winter's drear seemd to disappear and wa-la! it is April already! Winter writing is a perfect way to celebrate the new year, new life and to give the winter blues a kick! Here is some of what I wrote:
Just when winter has quelled you
WHAT COMES FROM DARKNESS
Under snow slowly melting
Truman Capote said work
Heck, if we're honest, we ourselves, from time to time, carry on our own arguments with the things we believe, even though for x number of years we have built lives based on those very beliefs. My four Antrim books constitute a loose but disciplined conversation between what is (I hope) an open mind, my mind—a mind shaped by particular experience and beliefs—and the Psalms, a text regarded as sacred by at least two of the world's religions, Judaism and Christianity. A text I grew up reciting or chanting in hundreds of religious services before I chose to stop attending them.
In a way, my entire 150-poem Antrim sequence is an extended ekphrasis, a long poem reflecting upon and turning attention back to a singular collection of art: 150 really old, Middle Eastern song lyrics-in-translation (I cannot read Hebrew) for which we have lost the original tunes. More important than how to classify the sequence, the three-year process of drafting the poems—from Psalm 1 to 150, a poem a week—allowed me hear, learn, quarrel with, and be formed by those texts all over again.
Whatever you may believe, likely there's a tradition of art, literary or otherwise, that has evolved from the essential elements of your belief system. If ever a muse summons you to take up a disciplined conversation with the "sacred" art of your world/life view, I hope you do it. Here's how I approached the task, beyond setting the goal of a newly drafted poem per week. I commend the approach as a potentially fruitful methodology, whether what you end up writing is an extended sequence or a brief lyric.
Because an encounter with the sacred (whether the Upanishads or Origin of the Species or Dr. Seuss or Leaves of Grass) summons all of who we are to the encounter, I decided to lump my "all" into three "horizons" on which I would try to establish simultaneous attention and then bring that attention to the drafting process; the horizons being 1. my skin and all that moves therein (the good, the bad, the ugly); 2. my surroundings (natural, cultural, relational, situational); and 3. the ineffable mystery represented by and revealed in or through the sacred art.
The weekly process would begin on Sunday mornings with silence. Having marshaled my all (albeit never altogether wholly), I would then engage the week's Psalm, reading it slowly and, in the first day or two, again and again, journal in hand. I ruled out no possible direction for the emerging new poem. I worked with whatever I could collect by midweek and composed from the mess of imprecise thoughts and images something I could return to later when the drafting was done. Sometimes a poem's connection to its triggering Psalm was evident; other times, well.... On the best of weeks I'd have a draft saved before going to bed Friday night so I could give the project a rest on Saturday. Then on Sunday morning I'd drop into silence and begin again.
As a method, this may not work for you. Heck, reading the poems of the
sequence you may conclude that it didn't really work for me either. On
the other hand, the discipline was extraordinarily valuable. It not only
carried me over a major midlife career change but served to return me
to the beauty and struggle of my faith. Which, really, is not such a bad
SILK FIST SONGS
The primary genesis for Silk Fist Songs was losing a beloved father and older brother within a year and a half of each other, at age 88 and 57, respectively.
In 2001 the Towers fell, 2002 my father fell.and so began a year’s agonized deterioration of old age, heart failure, emphysema weakening him to a shrunken, emaciated fighter conniving, inwardly raging, and suffering against his own decline. He died exhausted in May 2003 five years ago.
While Dad sickened, the world outside swirled with anthrax scares, terrorism threats, and build-up to the Iraq war that staggered and demoralized us. At this time, my brother, Ken, a postman, hard-working father of two draft-age sons, suffered an intense recurrence of hereditary Crohns, an intestinal disease that had first flared up in (and almost took his life after) his tour in Vietnam in the late sixties. He steadily worsened through all of 2003 and 2004. Later, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died tragically of Crohns and colon cancer in December 2004.
Writing has been my “stay against confusion” since my post-college stumble into adulthood. My family was often subject matter. It was a bewildering corporate world I entered in 1973 and I was not ready. As a young person, writing helped me make a refuge and to negotiate the long process of developing a self against the pressures of an organization which simultaneously alienated yet, bizarrely, worked as a ground for much needed self-growth. I had to see myself challenged and mastering life. Writing poems was a way of strengthening and hearing my own voice. For twenty years, I wrote mainly with no audience but the silent witness in beloved books. When I left Cigna in 1991, I searched out other local poets and conferences and entered an exhilarating world of real life writing souls.
Five years ago, writing and mourning merged into “one art,” as Elizabeth Bishop says they do in her poem on the art of losing. I’d come back from a hospital or home visit with my father or brother teeming with overwhelming emotions triggered by seeing them in an ultimate way, under the aspect of eternity. Each moment together started to feel like the “last time.” Just being with them, I would live through a poem. I had to write it, save it, study it. I saw their essence in a phrase, a hand gesture, a reminisence. Memories haunted me; images, patterns from the past came to the surface to be relived.
Sometimes, unprecedented honest moments happened between us. Insights I could barely handle. Looking back on this now, I see it was a process of letting go, of reckoning up unfinished understandings. I needed to try to understand them before I could ever relinquish them (if I have). I also had to understand myself.
In this process, the past poured out like opening Pandora’s box: childhood, teen-hood, coming of age, love and marriage. What kind of girl was it that my husband found in 1966 when he met me? How did I get that way? How was I formed? By whom? Who was I now? Who would I become, without these men in my family, their supportive and challenging presences and voices? I felt I had to re-bond with them on some new footing.
“Life must be lived forwards, but it must be understood backwards, ” said Soren Kierkegaard. I lived backwards into time, wrote constantly, often in tears. A passionate momentum carried me. I searched memories, old photos, pulled out poems written long ago, revised them in light of the now wrenching experience of loss. Mourning has been the process of building a work of art that I hope is a testament to my love as well as a claim to my own character.
These compilations I drafted became the core of the book that Rennie McQuilkin helped me finish.
WEIGHT OF THE ANGEL
Over the years I’ve written many poems about my mother. In my forties, when I was attempting to shift from a long career in insurance to a life in poetry, I felt an inner clash. I was fighting her unspoken rules of “don’t risk, don’t delve, don’t be too different.” Poetically this drama began to coalesce around my mother’s vast, long-time collection of knick-knack “angels.” Symbolic totems, to me. One theme they suggest might be what Virginia Woolf called “the Angel in the House,” a name for a particular kind of ideal of perfect womanhood dear to the Victorian Era of which my mother (born in 1922) was a daughter. I wrote many poems trying to come to grips with this ideal, taking its measure, its full "weight" as legacy, both in terms of its hampering burdens and its positive gifts.
What follows is a series of thoughts on particular poems, accompanied by ways of approaching those poems and possibly using them as springboards for your own writing.
1. “The Cornflower Blue Dress” began with looking at old photos and being spun back into the past. This poem recounts a brief and subtle drama with two forces clashing in silence. Can you characterize each force and the nature of their conflict? What does the final image call up for you in your life? Review “Angel Walking.” It too began with a photo. How is it different from and similar to “The Cornflower Blue Dress”?
Idea for writing: Review old photos. Notice the clothes you were in. What were the subjective feelings of being inside those clothes? Describe those feelings and relate any memories that come back to you.
2. “Coffee,” “On Being Washed,” and “Crocheting” all hinge on step-by-step actions of a simple task. In each poem, what can you intuit about the inner character from the depiction of actions? What is revealed about the child/observer watching and selecting the details? What implications of relationship reverberate beyond the task at hand?
Idea for writing: Make a portrait or self-portrait by describing the step-by-step operations of a daily task. Include details that can be seen as idiosyncratic to the particular doer. Close observations may allow you convey the essence of someone.
3. “Grandma’s Solo” and “Of Sunday Gone” employ the form of dramatic speech using a character’s own voice. Intuit all circumstances out of which Grandma is speaking her “solo.” What conflict is at issue? Weigh her last words, “It’ll only be for a little while.” What meanings hover there, some known to the woman speaking, some not? In “Of Sunday Gone” what is the speaker’s immediate problem, state of mind, understanding of her state and coping strategies? How do your sympathies fall, facing each of these dramatic speeches? Each is actually a speech-within-the-poet’s-larger-speech. Discuss this “ventriloquist‘s” own speech in “Critical Monologue of a Daughter.”
Idea for Writing: Invent a dramatic monologue, employing words and style of voice from someone in your own life or from history. Let a one-sided conversation imply the circumstances of the scene, setting, and situation. Let the reader intuit the “players,” the emotions, and the problem guiding the content and delivery of this speech.
4. “Extra Gentle Tonette” is one of many poems that is written“in situ”—that is, it relocates a self in a place in the past and describes all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and muscular pressures involved in the experience. How many senses are drawn upon in this poem? Do the images conjure insights about the experience and the characters?
Idea for Writing: Put yourself back in a physical place and describe an experience there using details from as many senses as you can. Allow the reader to relive it with you and primarily let the sensory images speak for themselves.
5. “Odd Girl Out,” “Admission from Nowhere,” and “Love’s Way”: each poem turns on an intense emotional confrontation after long repression, wherein one character directly challenges another. In each poem, define the oppositions coming into stark encounter. How does each confrontation resolve? Can you think of similar “show-downs” in your own life?
Idea for Writing: Narrate an intense emotional “one-on-one” in your own experience or imagination. Use third person narration, or narrate by directly addressing the other party—and follow, as you choose to, the stages of the show-down to the resolution or non-resolution reached.
6. Many poems present close description of an object: “High School Theft,” “Ceramic Figure,” “Hip Hop Tree,” “Brother’s Accordion,” “Cross-Over Locket,” and “Her Bonica Rose.” Discuss the details and meanings each object holds. What part does each play symbolically within the larger themes and narrative progression of this book?
Idea for Writing: Find an object around the house, new or possessed many years. Describe it in detail. Let broader associations of the object flow out of the physical description, minimizing direct statements of its meaning.
Idea for Writing: Have you witnessed or felt a similar transformation
in a new setting with someone? Let details of the setting carry the discovery
of a perspective change.
Elizabeth Thomas's From the Front of the Classroom
In the act of teaching, I am also a student ready to learn, to experience new ideas, to meet new people. This is one of the thrilling aspects of my work as a poet and educator. It is also part of my creative process. Many of the poems in the book From the Front of the Classroom were inspired by young people I’ve met along the way.
I joke with students and tell them “More than being a poet, I am a supreme eavesdropper and people-watcher. I’m lurking and listening, always ready with a pencil and paper.”
“Will you write a poem about me?” they often ask.
Again, many of the poems in this collection are a response to that question.
“My Muse” is my favorite poem in the book (at least today it is). It started as a 10+ page free-write. I could have gone on much longer, but at that point the poem was beginning to make itself known. In the classroom, I frequently jot down comments the students make and included many of their voices in this performance piece.
I often use it in the classroom as an example of what the “art of eavesdropping” offers and enjoy giving it as an assignment “Go out into the world (take the bus, sit in a café, go to the park during lunchtime) and listen. Then write.”
The Milky Way pushes its light years hulk
From birthday to ceremony,
And the ducks cross Canandaigua Creek
RADISHES IN CHILDHOOD
Simplicity and clarity are the essential elements leading to statements of complex truths in poetry. I tried to incorporate in that little story of planting radishes the various and opposed conditions of bland fact, of loneliness, of fear, of magic and of love.
Pain waits atop its web; its prey can’t unravel.
The triolet form (in which a key line is repeated three
times) works well for communicating one point. The form proves that
what is true combines all the clarity of what is brief and the complexity
of what is obscure. “Travels” is about the fear of bad luck
finding one despite all caution. The best one can do is hope to survive
the inevitable collision with disaster.
Jim Kelleher's Quarry
I sometimes think I wasted my life trying to write poems. I wonder are the poems good enough to justify what I didn't do with my time and talents. I think I would have been good in a number of professions. And helpful.
Then I think I have been provided a certain grace, or solace, to bear with all else life brings, providing I honor the gift I think I have. Viz., keep trying and the waters of the sea will remain parted. It's certainly too late to turn back now, and at least I have stories to tell. The trick is: don't look behind you, and especially, don't look sideways.
You who send the gray geese high
A PROSE POEM MANIFESTO
The time has arrived to . . . break down the barriers of form between prose and poetry. – Walt Whitman
I believe in poetry that is equally welcome in barrooms
and classrooms. What better way to infect people with poetry than to
embed its music and spring-loaded thoughts in the ordinary format most
people use every day?
I begin with a line from Flann O'Brien, that greatest of Irish novelists and newspapermen: ”When it comes to poetry readings, I've always sympathized with an acquaintance of Myles na gCopaleen's, who, upon finding himself at a verse speaking bout, 'hurried outside and tore his face off. Just that. He inserted three fingers into his mouth, caught his left cheek in a frenzied grip and ripped the whole thing off.' Thus is monotony defeated and dolorousness assuaged …”
As one who not only has attended poetry readings but is guilty of reading his poems in public, I understand the impulse. But I don't plan to stop. Perhaps because I labor under a delusion common to my species: that I am not a bore. My poems, I may flatter myself, will amuse, provoke, delight, beguile and shock. (I will now put down my thesaurus.) And, after all, those who attended my readings were complicit in their predicament. Nobody herded them there.
I bring this up because I am now the proud father of my first book of poetry, a slender volume published by Antrim House and titled The Water Sonnets. And I will be introducing it to the world at a book release party at the Hygienic Art Galleries in New London.Which is apt, as many of the poems owe their settings to New London and the region, and many are reflections on my curious occupation: newspaperman.
Still, having written in happy obscurity for nearly 50 years, this feels a bit presumptuous, like one of those dreams where you find yourself strolling down Bank Street in your pocketless skin. I did not write my poems for this. In fact, even if I were never published, I would write still. It is a kind of sickness, this love of words, this need to shape them into small and intricate machines that you hope might live and breathe on their own.
It's wonderful to be - at last - a book. But poetry only lives in the human voice, and a book of poetry is a dead letter until you open it and read from it aloud. And so, I will be reading from and signing copies of my book at the Hygienic, and you, dear reader, are invited. If, however, you should come and feel the urge to tear your face off, don't say I didn't warn you.
Thank you for visiting my page here. Working on this book has been a terrific experience, giving me lots of joy and a deeper understanding of how to convey experience and emotion through language. I’ve been writing since I was a young teenager, as a way of working with the tumult that teenagers live! It came to me as naturally as singing, plus I grew up in a family that encouraged reading and respected language and the arts. "Write poems, but train to do something practical so you can get a job!”
I was inspired by some of my favorite singer-songwriters, such as Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, CSNY, plus the Beat poets, Sylvia Plath, and Erica Jong, to name a few. Some of the poems in this collection are brand new, some are pieces I began many years ago, but never really “finished” until push came to shove and I was ready to meet the opportunity of writing a collection. Joni Mitchell once said, “I write my sorrow, and I paint my joy.” Writing poems has always been a way for me to deal with sorrow, and transcend it. I hope readers can relate to the themes and emotions in the poems, and, ultimately, get a feeling of clarity, resolution, and joy in the process of reading them.
Thanks to my editor and publisher, poet Rennie McQuilkin, for understanding my vision, and sharing his abundant gifts for language to help me fine-tune the work so I could say what I wanted in the best way possible. And to my husband, John, who is so very kind and smart (plus handsome, just a bonus-ha!), yet still fun. He brings me happiness worth singing about! Also to Sandy Mastroni, the painter whose work graces the cover.
INTERVIEW WITH THE NEWS HUB
I last talked to poet Lisa Sornberger (The Huffington
Post) in 2013 when Gathered Light, her memorable collection
of Joni Mitchell's poetry was published.
Q We first talked when Gathered Light, your stunning compilation of Joni Mitchell’s poetry came out, how is that going?
Q How did the idea for Joni’s book come about?
A It came to me almost fully fleshed out on the first day of the year in 2011. Think the seeds were planted deep years ago, and finally grew at the right time. It’s a gift I won’t forget, as was the support from so many directions, including my family, writers group, friends, some of Joni’s friends, contributors. And to have the blessing of Joni presenting her words in the format of poems, as she intended them to be presented on the page, was and is a dream come true. Amazing what can happen sometimes when people come together with loving intent and gratitude.
Q You must have been worried when Joni’s bad health was in the news, are you in personal contact with her at all?
A Honestly, I felt shocked and terribly worried that Joni must be in unbearable pain, despite the best of care. Linda Grant wrote a piece in the Guardian that addresses the feeling of devastation around Joni’s illness most eloquently.
Q Tell us about your own poetry.
A Poetry has been part of my life since adolescence. I wrote a chapbook in 2003. Then, I had the opportunity to do a full-length collection with Antrim House and to work closely with the publisher and now CT Poet Laureate, Rennie McQuilkin. He is incredible person, poet, and publisher, and has created a press that has given many fine New England poets the chance to publish high quality books. As far as illustrations, I photographed a man and a woman sitting on a rock (Joni line quoted here) at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, for my chapbook cover. Right time, right place. And I used a picture of a painting I love called “Moongirl” by Sandy Mastroni for the cover of my book “Returning Light”. Brings me back to Joni’s stunning self-portrait on the cover of Gathered Light, which, despite color distortion and chopping, is still a thing of beauty. I love it when pictures and words kind of magically come together.
The most recent project to spark my creative interest is Consenses, the beautiful and inspired project birthed by Sally Taylor. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in Chain#9 last summer. What I love the most about CONSENSES is the way creativity and interconnectedness are celebrated, as artists spark off each other’s work, collaborate in many mediums, contribute to a larger vision, though each artist only gets to see one link in the chain for inspiration. Very inclusive, no artistic ego nonsense involved. It is well worth a visit to the exhibit at Martha's Vineyard, and if that's not possible, see the website: http://consenses.org/press-kit/.
AMAZON.COM READER REVIEW
A Beautiful Journey, April 20, 2009
The book was handsomely produced by Antrim House. Its cover by Rose Sigal Ibsen, another Romanian born artist with interest in Far East art, with its warm colors, sunflowers, and hints of Hebrew and Chinese calligraphy, offers a prelude to the poetry within. The invitation is unmistakable, in Vera's words:
I work silk and wool, embroider
The queen of periwinkle, daisies, trillium and wart
I love this book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves poetry.
As to the book:
I have climbed up and down around Middletown for close
to thirty years. I am not the same person I was when I arrived. I wrote
boxloads of poetry over this period of time, and I praise Rennie for
selecting a good batch and making sense of it. The collaborative editing
process was extremely helpful for me and allowed me to focus on a few
themes. There are rivers, birds, and riverbirds in these poems. There
is my growing family. And there is this town.
The poems in this book represent a selection made between
poet and editor. The selection was added to and trimmed much in the
way I edit my own poems. The poems look back over a period of time in
one place. They do not represent all of my poems of this period or of
As to my own writing:
As to being a poet:
When I was young it occurred to me once that I should
live my life in service to my poetry. It was a decision I later regretted,
but it gave me plenty of material. It was only a matter of time before
I learned that this was a difficult if not impossible proposition, as
much as trying to make a living off of poetry.
RUMINATIONS OF A WRITER
Writing poetry in 5th grade: what happens when no art classes are offered in school!
Later in the year, during the winter, when the darkness crept in early to steal the day, Mr. Allen caught me writing poetry when I was supposed to be studying geography. Since I was attending afternoon sessions, it got quite dark in the winter, as we didn’t get out of school until about 5:30 PM. I usually sat and looked out of the window after the advent of darkness. I thought seeing he headlights from the passing cars and the lights on the street was sort of magical.
I had taken an interest in Haiku poetry, and I wrote about what I saw and entitled the poem, “The Town.” I was so absorbed in counting the syllables to make it a true Haiku that I didn’t notice the teacher watching me until it was too late I had obviously been caught.
“I’m sorry, I’ll put it away,” I said, apologetically, hoping he wouldn’t tear up my creation.
He reached down and put his hand on my arm. “Wait,” he said. “Let me read it.”
I thought I would really be in trouble. “I said I was sorry,” I stated.
“It’s OK. That’s really good. Poetry. You know that’s really good,” he smiled. “You saw all that looking out of that window didn’t you?”
“No. It’s OK. That’s really good.” He smiled.
“It’s Haiku,” I said meekly.
“I know. It’s good. You’re not in trouble. Try to study your geography, OK?” he asked. He didn’t tell me, he asked me. I always studied my geography after that, and Mr. Allen never had any more problems with me.
Poetry followed me to college
Standing in my dorm room I glanced over at my typewriter. It was sitting innocently on the desktop that the college had conveniently provided, sort of nestled in a corner amongst papers and a few books. It had been my mother’s, as she had purchased it in 1967 for some reason or other, but not being the studious sort she had left it in a closet to gather dust for a few years. That’s when I came across it and claimed it for my own. I had actually been quite surprised that she allowed me to keep it, and it had been my own trusted companion ever since. Now it was 1980. Both the typewriter and I were beginning to show some wear.
I looked at it again. Words come out of that, I thought. Hmmm. Words. Words of wisdom? Maybe I could use this device to extract some knowledge from somewhere not usually accessible. What if, somewhere deep inside my psyche there is something like Carl Yung’s collective consciousness from which I could try to draw some answers? What if I could tap into some creative flow of knowledge, or at least delve into a portion of my brain that has up to this time been underutilized? Maybe I could crawl out onto the edge of my perceptual reality and get a glimpse from another realm of consciousness, or maybe I’ve been taking too many psych classes and I’m starting to get weird.
No matter, I thought. I had nothing to lose. I sat down at the desk and pulled the typewriter away from the corner where it had been sleeping. I placed my fingers on the keys and played a few notes.
Well, I certainly got a lot to think about. I looked down at the typewriter still sitting on the desk before me. Then I re-positioned my chair and looked at it again. It certainly appeared inanimate, but something had just breathed life into it. I set my fingertips onto the keyboard again and attempted to play something else melodious, but only came up with bad notes. Huh. Whatever it was is gone. Nonetheless, I felt as if I had just had a chat with a wise parent, and it made me feel better and much more confident. Then I placed my fingers on the keys once again. Suddenly I wasn’t in such a hurry anymore.
Tired of rainy weather?
A CHILD'S FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE WISCASSET SCHOONERS, 1964
It was a sweltering hot summer afternoon, as hot as it can get in Maine, and my parents, grandparents and I were heading home on U.S. Route 1 after being at a clambake in Boothbay. I was quite unhappy as I disliked seafood, especially clams and lobster, and wasn’t having a good day at all. On the ride home I had refused to talk and was staring out of the rear window of my parents Ford. That’s when I first saw them. . .
“Ships! Look at the old ship!” I exclaimed suddenly. “Look! Look!” I screamed, gazing longingly at the Luther Little with her tall masts and rigging still attached, imagining ghost sailors might emerge from the fo’c’sle at any moment.
“Quiet down,” my mother scolded, ineffectively, while my father cast a deprecating stare in my direction.
“Look! Look!” I continued to yell, and then, “Stop! Stop! I have to see the ships!”
“Let her see the old schooners,” my grandfather replied. “What harm can it do?”
Rather than allow a four year old to bounce and scream uncontrollably in the back seat my parents likely assumed it would be better to indulge me.
I couldn’t take my eyes off them----it was as if I recognized them. There was the smell of low tide, a hot summer breeze, seagulls and the schooners against the backdrop of Sheepscot Bay in Wiscasset. Finally my parents pulled me away and tossed me into the backseat of the Galaxie 500, my head hanging out of the window, longingly staring back as the car sped away. I watched the schooners disappear but never forgot them. I knew they were important, but I didn’t know why.
Photos of Wiscasset Schooner/s featured in the poem "Wiscasset Schooners"
The author with friends, the "haunted saddle," and wood
REVIEWS OF THAT DARK LAKE
The pervasive feel of Connecticut poet Don Barkin's first collection of poems, That Dark Lake (2009, Antrim House, located in Tarriffville, Conn.) is of a life lived in New England, trying to wring grace from a landscape at times harsh and from social interactions that tend to be attenuated.
Barkin grew up in New Hampshire, which is fitting since his poems, in their formal precision and introspective nature, might make you think of the great American poet forever associated with New Hampshire, Robert Frost. Frost was the preeminent poet of eloquent nature and laconic people, insisting that poems should have a formal pattern even when most of his contemporaries embraced various kinds of experimental verse.
That traditionalism lives on in Barkin's work, though it's clear he's also absorbed the other point Frost insisted on: American verse should sound the way Americans talk. Barkin has an enviable knack for marrying metric regularity with the rhythms of speech. His poems sound natural, which is why they are all the more effective when you realize they conform to formal patterns.
Frost famously said writing unmetrical verse was like "playing tennis without a net," suggesting that such a practice would be slightly ridiculous and pointless. Barkin isn't as vehement about form, but says it keeps his poems from flying off into more chaotic areas of thought and feeling.
But it's also the case that with poems so small and spare, full of perceptions about aging ("In Middle Age," "A Reunion,") and missed connections with others ("Our Marriage," "The Descent," "Out of Work") and self-conscious tales of parenting ("Evensong," "Sliding") and at times rueful, at times awed interactions with nature ("Upstream," "No Longer Tempted by Greatness"), the form leavens what might otherwise seem too much a slice of life, with views too baldly self-critical or diminished.
The tightrope walk of form gives weight to the feelings in the poems. While many of the poems here register a gloom familiar to New Englanders, there is a sense of mastery in the lines themselves, of getting the upper hand on one's own dark side by thinking of all "that made you suddenly quietly glad / for what you'll only just have had."
Frost was praised as a poet of philosophical consolations often found by contemplating nature and its creatures without undue romanticizing, but most of his critics point out there is a darker sense always lurking in his poems, an allowance that, no matter how precise our command of language and our human environment, there is something "other" in nature that has no sympathy for us.
Barkin's poems seem to accept that less hospitable world as a given of nature and of human nature. It then becomes the poet's task to find some point of acceptance or satisfaction, often through humor and a sense of scale.
Barkin, as a poet of quotidian life in 21st-century America, isn't making epic or visionary claims. He's putting a quietly lyrical spin on life with what might be considered a down-sized aesthetic, which is to say his poems, when I first heard him read at Yale's McDougal Center a few weeks ago, resonated with local realities.
Imagine Frost alive today and living as a family man, school teacher and poet in suburban Connecticut. Might not he sound a bit like this:
Nothing More to Say
I remember last fall when the first frost pricked the lawn,
I let my mower run for an hour in the shed
until it shuddered and quit, the last fumes gone
to heaven, the engine as good, or bad, as dead.
It roared and sputtered and even sobbed the way
people do when they have nothing more to say."
IN THE SEA’S GREY SUIT: THE POETRY OF DON
The misty mountains that grace the cover of Don Barkin’s
That Dark Lake suggest what lies within this collection of
poetry. It also bespeaks the atmosphere that pervades the sensibility
of this New Haven poet. Barkin’s work is divided into four sections,
each with its unique character, which at times creates a dissonance
that can be either welcoming or off-putting by virtue of their congruity.
The energy that underwrites the collection, modified, as it were, by
that darkness, is evident in poems like“Eighteen”:
It crashes through the rocks
Don’t get upset.
Sometimes Barkin constrains this rare prowess by letting
stringent rhyme schemes tie down his lyrical, even chaste gems of insight.
Fortunately this is not omnipresent, and many of the poems reflect the
sincere, almost affable ambience, of That Dark Lake as a whole.
The collection delves not just into human emotion but the everyday bustle
of life. Experience serves as root and cause of all artistic experience
in the world, that “lonely hour of the single light bulb,”
as Barkin frames it. Consider such lines as
In the weight of the great trees on the lawn,
In middle age you smell the end
Paradigms of innocence possibly lost suffuse Barkin’s
voice. In the smallness of things lies the greatness of reality, of
Being itself. And yet, the collection is domestically minded enough
to grasp the solace offered?—?as this collections offers?—?mental
creature comforts: a good book to pick up after a day of “rush[ing]
off, then com[ing] back…walking in too fast” and listening
to the “office women” gossip. It’s a book meant to
slow you down, to remind you that “out there / water flows somewhere
/ and the quiet people rule.”
POEMS NOT IN THAT DARK LAKE
Ambition, you cocksucker,
The roadside grasses quiver in
A Graveyard Tale
“Father”, “Mother”, “Susan”
She’d feared that as their child she
You are always advancing
At the Edge
You can’t take your eyes off the boy slumping
A Religious Illusion
And though the soul, I knew quite well,
Nothing makes me feel as alone
Why is it she can’t see that she and I
To a Teacher
"First, do no harm," they warn all new physicians.
Teachers too. For even at seventeen,
Though teaching texts are careful not to use
whatever clever lesson plans you make.
I love young women with minds like hounds.
The way that she looked down at her lap
Her shyness and mascara -- like a runner
A Peaceful Cemetery
She took her final illness in her stride,
They once wore faces puckered with concern
And losers, too. He stank and lived alone,
He lounges on the porch
Then he thinks of the dream
He does not want to go in!
Only, now her arm is warm on his arm.
Three Days of Rain
that He could leave us all for dead
Though now the clouds have exited
As I know clomping gloomily
Why She Went
I remember staring in a haze
I should have showed her tears when I
It’s just that breathing this dead air
and that the floor that loved her junk
“I g-guess I’d run a length of p-pipe downhill.
“If we were tools,” I mused, “what would
“And my wife’s a trowel covering up mistakes
Expect poison from standing water, warned Blake.
She’d flung her cigarette
I guessed a broken heart,
Hearts that I once broke
And now I had to ask
A thousand years ago or so
Filling my windshield suddenly --
down snowy roads as I wended
Dreams have all the answers
Though when you wake and feel
But somewhere deep within
that in the morning hour
I remember playing ball as a little boy
I remember Easter when I was only five.
I don’t know when I got this Eloise.
But nowadays I only want what’s new.
The small black boy
When my car comes toward him
All the stars in the sky
A stranger with a squinting face
I am sometimes asked why I chose an odd title like Gandy Dancing for my book. Well, for one thing it’s the name of the title poem. But where did that name come from?
“Gandy dancers” is a name given to men who worked on the railroad. Some research says they were nicknamed after the tools they used that the Gandy Corporation made. Other research disputes that as myth. Whatever the truth, in our neighborhood the hundred or so men who worked the rails were called Gandys. Their presence terrified my mother and the other women nearby on our country road a mile from the railroad station.
I was a little girl when we moved into the house my father built in Newtown. It was quiet there, the kind of quiet where all we heard was the sound of crickets and birdsong. It was the 1940’s and only one or two cars passed our house each day on a road now so busy with traffic that backing out of the driveway is dangerous.
I remember a pretty blonde teen named Cynthia walking past our house when the Gandys were walking to the package store at the junction of our road and Rt. 25. Cynthia swerved into our yard and Mom ran out and called her into the house. There also was nothing funny about our next-door neighbor Jewel hanging wash from her back porch and a Gandy who was lying underneath it making a crude remark. Jewel ran back into her house, locked the door, and phoned my mother and Wilma, another neighbor. Once again, we were all terrified.
When Mom said stink and breath and big hands and touch
she was warning me, a little girl, to stay away from the Gandys without
saying rape or other words that weren’t said back then. She was
scared and nights were the worst because my father was at work. The
Gandys would sit on our porch drinking from their bottles, singing and
cursing until they fell into a stupor, so she kept the bedroom light
down low in an effort to “hide.” She read stories to me
and my imagination flourished. Did I actually think of circus clowns?
Who knows? That’s where the poetic voice comes in. I do remember
that the men’s faces were often streaked with dirt and soot and
that I had met Emmett Kelley before our move to Newtown. As a child
I wanted a joyful life but that’s not what I got, and I didn’t
get happy circus clowns in my adult life either. I got the stinking
drunk, one of the men in the second half of the book. The Gandys are
a metaphor for all the men who impacted my life in negative ways.
REVIEWS OF GANDY DANCING
TO HEAR SANDY SERGIO PERFORMING ON YOU TUBE click here.
Sandy Sergio is a Poet in her Soul
Over the years, Sandy Sergio has been a teacher, wife, mother, and the head of two major nonprofit organizations. In her soul, though, she’s always been a poet. Ms. Sergio, whose father was Scottish and mother Irish, was raised in a family that was immersed in poetry and literature. “My mother could recite almost any poem written by an Irish or British poet,” she said. Often, her mother mixed those poems in with fairy tales and other nighttime stories.
Ms. Sergio grew up in Wethersfield and attended local schools until her junior year in high school, when her family moved to Hartford and she finished high school there. “I always wrote stories and essays,” she said, adding that she won first prize in the state for a humorous essay when she was 14. She earned a teaching degree from the Teachers’ College of Connecticut, now Central Connecticut State University, and wrote a lot of poetry while there. “It’s my worst nightmare that one of those magazines will resurface somewhere with all that young angst for all the world to see,” she said with a smile.
After graduation, Ms. Sergio taught English in Rocky Hill, first at the junior high school and later at the new high school. “I loved it,” she said of teaching. She fell in love with David Sergio, the music teacher down the hall, and the couple had four children during the next several years. There’s Stephen, “the adored big brother,” and younger sisters Gillian, Stacy and Lauren. She thought about returning to teaching when they were older, but decided not to. “I couldn’t figure out how to return to part-time teaching and keep track of all those teenagers,” she said.
Instead, she accepted a position as executive director of a fledging organization known then as the Glastonbury Mental Health Group, now InterCommunity Mental Health. “It was a very exciting organization,” she said. “It was founded by two families with young adults with serious mental illness. There weren’t enough community resources.” The families realized they needed someone to head the organization and offered the job to Ms. Sergio. “I was hired, not because I had a shred of experience with mental health, but because I was very active in the community and had a lot of contacts,” she said. “I established an office staffed by trained volunteers. We had a referral service and offered some public programs.”
At first, the organization operated from Ms. Sergio’s home, but before long the group realized it needed an office, preferably someplace “very Glastonbury,” she said. They rented space in the Welles-Chapman Tavern and sponsored programs with titles such as “Understanding your adolescent.” “We downplayed the other elements,” she said. Inter-Community Mental Health, now based in East Hartford, established a mobile after-care clinic for chronically mentally ill people and has continued to offer programs for clients and their families. “I feel that was a really good thing I did in my life,” she said. In 1986, after 10 years there, Ms. Sergio thought it would be good to find another job and was hired to head the Hartford Courant Foundation because, she said, of her experience with non-profits and her ability to see what they could accomplish. “It was a wonderful job,” she said. “I got to know all the great people in Hartford’s non-profits.”
She retired as she approached her 65th birthday and soon after joined the Thread City Poets in Willimantic. “It meant driving 45 minutes on Route 6, but it was worth it. They’re my major writing group,” she said. “A writing group is important. You can try out something and hear what people say about it.” She’s also a member of the Connecticut Poetry Society. After a good bit of work, the self-described “card-carrying old lady” called Rennie McQuilkin, owner of Antrim House, a publishing house in Simsbury, and founder of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, to ask about the possibility of publishing a book of her poetry. She said she chose Antrim House because she admires the way they publish “well crafted, artistically done” work by New England poets that is “written to be read, understood and enjoyed.” Mr. McQuilkin told her to submit five pages of poetry. “Then I had to wait,” she said. When the call came, it was good news.
Antrim House recently published Ms. Sergio’s first book, My Daughter Is Drummer In the Rock ’n Roll Band. It’s a compilation of more than 60 poems grouped into three sections, “Old Lady Gone Bad,” “To Dare Love,” and “All That Remains.” The first section features such titles as “Ring Ding Girl in a Linzertorte World,” “You Will Be Notified When We Have Located Your Luggage,” “Old Lady Gone Bad” and “When Wearing Purple Isn’t Enough.” The second section includes “Honoring My Mother,” “Forgiving My Mother,” “Near Encounter with a Queen,” and “I Never Know Whose Sister Is A Lesbian.” The final section, more serious than the first two, includes “Memento,” “I Read of Your Death,” “My Sister’s Wings” and “The T.I.A.”
There are some autobiographical elements — one of Ms. Sergio’s daughters actually is the drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band — but she cautions readers not to read too much into the poems.“This is not autobiography,” she said. “Don’t think this is my memoir.” Mr. McQuilkin, who worked with Mr. Sergio on the poetry collection, said he met her when she was working at the Hartford Courant Foundation. “She was enormously supportive of my organization, the Hill-Stead Museum’s Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, which was co-sponsored by The Hartford Courant,” he said. “When she retired from the foundation, I followed her with interest in her new role as a fund-raiser for Curbstone Press. At that point, I didn’t know her own poetry and didn’t realize that her interest in poetry was far more than a professional one. It was, indeed, an intensely personal interest, for Sandy is a superb poet in her own right.” He described the book as “a delicious mixture of mood: the sad poems contain moments of wry wit, and the richly humorous poems contain deeper undercurrents.” He added, “This is a book for all seasons of the heart.”
Since the book’s publication, Ms. Sergio has gotten several invitations to read her poetry and talk with readers. “I love to visit, love to talk with people about their ideas of poetry,” she said. “I feel that poetry is a form of communication and I don’t want to talk to myself.” She also enjoys being on stage, especially with her husband. “I like to perform. I enjoy reading and I’ve been told I do it well,” she said. “And I have the advantage of David, who likes to perform with me.” When they perform together, Mr. Sergio plays piano, interspersing tunes with his wife’s reading. The effect is stunning.
When she’s not writing poetry or performing it, Ms. Sergio is a gay rights activist and a member of the Glastonbury Coalition for Sensible Growth, a community group that focuses on development in the north end of town. She encourages others to try their hand at writing poetry. “Everybody doesn’t have to be Wordsworth,” she said. “There are different levels of success and quality. But if someone is serious about it, there are ways of learning and getting better.”
Here's a Sergio poem that says what she's about as a poet:
Go, little book,
from “Envoy” by Billy Collins
Here’s what I can tell you about my poems.
I write about those things that arrest me,
I count on the poems to be emissaries.
Thus I would not suggest laboring to parse my collection
To read Dick Greene's marvelously opinionated opionions on poetry, visit his blog at www.greenefuse.blogspot.com.
Some Early Reviews of Explorations
Richard Trousdell, professor of theater, University of
Massachusets, Amherst: "I just received your beautiful book. How
wonderfully designed it is, that splendid cover, your picture with the
poem on the back, the type face so elegant, the whole thing just speaks
of your spare, eloquent style. I can't wait to dip into it more fully
and frequently, but its very appearance speaks for you wonderfully.
I'd certainly see to it that the Times Literary Supplement
gets a review copy. Meanwhile, sincere congratulations on a marvellous
Connie Wanek, Duluth, Minnesota, poet and winner of Library
of Congress fellowship, among other prizes: "Thanks so much for
your book, which came in the mail a few days ago...I'm enjoying the
poems very much."
Betsy Loughran, author, Belchertown Massachusetts. “I haven't thanked you properly for your book. It arrived just as I was in the last throes of getting my book to the publisher… But still I'm best at the poem a day. Two that I read this morning were "Life and Death" and "Pullman Memories." I agree that life is more interesting than death...So thank you. I will enjoy dipping into the book with my morning coffee for the next several weeks.”
I like and try to write poetry that’s clear and accessible and evokes for the reader the feelings that inspired the poem. I don't care for cryptic, obscure or highly ambiguous poems or poems in which the feeling is buried under layers of intellectualization. I subscribe to Wordsworth’s dictum “All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Like most aphorisms, this exaggerates, but the core connection of poetry with feelings is true for me. For my taste, too much contemporary poetry subordinates feeling to intellectual display.
For the most part I have favorite poems rather than favorite poets, but some of the poets I particularly like are Antonio Machado, Ferlinghetti, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Garcia Lorca, Hart Crane, May Swenson and Tony Hoagland. I also particularly like a series of poems called “County Lives” by the Irish poet and novelist Dermot Bolger, and Rilke’s Duino Elegies, not a model of accessibility but extremely evocative. Similarly I like Eliot's early poems and the “Four Quartets,” also not particularly accessible but wonderfully evocative, but I don't like ‘The Waste Land,” which I see as disjointed and unnecessarily obscure. And I like early Pound, but not the Cantos.
A few of my favorite more or less well-known poems, in no particular order: James Merrill's "164 East 72nd Street," Auden's “Look stranger at this island now,” Browning's “Home Thoughts from Abroad,” Hopkins’ “The Windhover,” Donald Hall's “The Name of Horses,” Bertold Brecht's “Concerning Poor B.B,” Dylan Thomas's “Fern Hill,” Elizabeth Bishop's “At the Fishouses,” and even more her less well-known “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore.” Maybe that'll give you an idea of my tastes, or maybe it'll just confuse you, but you will find, if you don't already know, that all these poems combine clarity with feeling.
“The art of poetry is not to say everything.” Servius Maurus Honoratus, 4th century Roman grammarian
"Of the many definitions of poetry, the simplest is still the best: 'memorable speech.' " W.H.Auden
A Few Provocative Opinions
We consider some poetry great not despite our inability to understand it but because we can’t understand it.
Poetry critics love the cryptic. It gives them something to interpret.
Writing poetry is so popular because it’s the only form of writing in which you’re not likely to be widely criticized for incomprehensibility.
Poetry is the only form of writing in which ambiguity is considered a virtue.
The dominant mode of contemporary poetry is studied incoherence.
Contemporary poets devote a good deal of intellect to making their work incomprehensible.
If poetry that can mean something different to every reader is good, isn’t the ultimate poem a blank sheet of paper?
There’s an arms race among contemporary poets to see who can be the most arcane and solipsistic.
Poetry today is a form of intellectual machismo.
Contemporary poetry seldom delights. Reading it is more often a form of forced labor.
The trouble with much poetry today is that it tries too hard to convert emotional experiences into intellectual ones, and succeeds too often.
Contemporary poetry, like serial music, has alienated its audience. It represents the triumph of theory over experience.
With post-modernism they’ve squeezed all the joy out of poetry.
It isn’t the form that makes a poem. It’s the feeling.
The essence of poetry is feeling. All else is ornamentation.
The problem with contemporary poetry is that it’s become an academic discipline.
Beware the poetry-academic complex.
Many contemporary poets think they live in a gated community. Actually they live in a ghetto, and have locked themselves in.
Exaggeration is one of the most common faults of bad poetry.
It isn’t rhyme that makes a poem.
Some poets hear music in their heads. In others’ you’ll hear the grinding of gears.
Poetry is the art of the implied.
In poetry, connotation is everything.
Taste in poetry is like taste in food, essentially arbitrary.
Ultimately what we like or dislike about a poet is his worldview.
Poetry is a narcissistic business.
Dreams have always played a vital part in our lives and in our culture. Ancient peoples didn’t have to be told about immortality. They knew absolutely that there was life after death, having had lengthy conversations with their dead relatives, who appeared to them in person – in their sleep, of course. What better time for a ghost to get your full attention?
I was told, as a child, that ghosts were just a figments of the imagination. But figments can be powerful. Sometimes they come back even when we’re awake. The year I retired, I attended a seminar given by Olympia Dukakis and three other actresses about the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was held prisoner in the land of the dead, escaped, and returned wiser and stronger. I was in my feminist heyday, and the seminar was life-enhancing. But all the while I could hear the voice of my disapproving mother, a very conventional lady who had passed on more than a decade before. My poem “Haunted,” the longest in the book, relates this experience. It begins --
“Sometimes she comes up and sits on her gravestone
But we love our dead mothers, even when they berate us. The relationship never really dies. The poem ends –
“My mother’s breath is still in the room,
God, how I miss her.”
“Try to remember every small detail,
“Sometimes it is impossible to remember, upon awakening,
Picture the room in which you fell asleep, then slowly
Some dreams are so crazy that you laugh at them afterwards. But your dreaming self takes the events quite seriously:
I really should have done something for Marielle,
She was riding around town on a bicycle,
I was driving from place to place,
My last visit was to Cynthia.
I kept walking through the place, looking
That old green car was as big as a prehistoric turtle.
I‘d walked before and I could walk again,
Just then Marielle came by again on her bicycle,
The prosthetic didn't fit very well,
My cell phone rang, and I knew
Maybe I could sue that nice garage man
An open letter from Professor Regina Psaki, 12/24/11:
Dear Mr. Steinzor,
But for the record, I love it. You had me from the first, or maybe the second, strophe. Of course Dante the poet is to readers what Virgil was to Dante the pilgrim, but you telescoped those two moments into a repeat journey through the changed landscape of inferno in a way that is both familiar and surprising. I enjoy how the narrator, knowing Dante’s poem, is surprised by some of Dante’s putative reactions, as the pilgrim is by Virgil’s. I love the changes you ring on the affection that grows in the Comedy between Dante and Virgil. And I enjoy the interleaving of different moments of the poem, as your grandfather / Cacciaguida figure coming in “out of place,” or the Geryon figure, or the unseemly but compelling quarrel.
Often I give students the option of modernizing the inhabitants of a canto or a circle; you (like Sandow Birk) make excellent use of immediately recognizable figures like McCarthy and McNamara, Stalin and Hitler, or anonymous but recognizable characters like the pedophile in Canto V. You do a brilliant job too of modernizing some of the sufferings and horrors; I love the juxtaposition of original Dante (souls confessing to Minos) with the more mechanized system suitable to the sheer volume of souls to process. And the sci-fi / fantasy image of the anus mundi, and the white-hot genitals attached to nondescript bodies indistinct from their surroundings. What underlies those single clever, delicious moves is a deep sense of both the continuities between the Middle Ages and the present, and the alterities of event, circumstance, and conception.
But I’m making your book sound servile to the poem, an inside joke invented as a parlor game for Dante maniacs. Of course it isn’t. Writing compelling narrative poetry is no small accomplishment, especially these days, especially with this weighty monument anchoring the verse. Your verse form, your registers, your vernacular, are strongly independent; you make Dante answer you and us; your descriptive ability is engrossing and astonishing. To say that I see much of Dante’s technique in it (and many of my favorite moments in the poem) is to pay the highest compliment; loving the poem as you clearly do, you’ll understand that. And as you mention in the notes that you came to know Dante through his poem, you let the reader know you. You describe yourself as an agnostic Jewish Buddhist American; I'm just a big old atheist plain and simple, one for whom Dante's complete cosmology / theology / poetics makes sense of the world even when I cannot share his belief.
I’m going to be thinking and talking about your book with students and colleagues for a long time, and I can’t wait to see the next installments. I’ve already dog-eared the pages of favorite passages. Some are favorites because they are beautiful adaptations of Dantean tropes: “In northern Maine and Minnesota, I’ve seen golden-brownish halos veil the rumps and flanks of moose.” “A dozen might ring around you, reader, and still this page would hide its letters.” Some are lapidary in the way you come to terms with the role of Beatrice in the poem, and of women in general: “You know how my religion flows from my love of a woman as from a clear spring.” “But you—I mean, your age—perceives more broadly what is flattened when a man denies what’s due to women.” I love the transparency of “I learned at last that this place lays claim to us all because we are born desirous and ignorant beyond renunciation or denial.”
So thank you from my heart for sharing your work with me; I will be looking forward to the continuation, not yet mentioned on Antrim House's website.
Review from SEVEN DAYS
Dante’s Divine Comedy — that poetic tour of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise written in the 14th century — never seems to get old. The latest proof is the new video game by Electronic Arts, Dante’s Inferno.As in the poem, the game’s Dante character and his guide, Virgil, travel down through the nine circles of Hell, hearing sinners’ stories and witnessing their horrifying punishments. But — this being a video game — Dante is armored like a Greek warrior and can choose to absolve the shades or slash them to bits. If that raises your literary hackles, you’ll appreciate another, rather different, Dante-inspired release: the book-length poem To Join the Lost, by Seth Steinzor of South Burlington. This achingly personal, contemporary version of the Inferno is both truer to its prototype and more daring.
And, while Steinzor recapitulates many of Dante’s unforgettable images — murky, boiling pools from which faces and fists eternally erupt; lines of sinners plodding backward, their heads rotated to face over their buttocks — his poetry enhances the journey with succinct, striking language. A lot of sensory ground is covered, for example, in the single verse pair, “We rose from fetor to the fresh stinks of a / hardpan beach in clotted darkness.”
From To Join the Lost
[Dante:] “Nowadays, the majority find their spots
FRONT COVER DRAWINGS BY SETH STEINZOR
There is much power in simplicity and, in my poetry, I work to capture moments of emotion and awareness directly and succinctly. Though the first draft usually comes quite easily for me, I spend a great deal of time crafting and paring down the language. My work intentionally plays to the senses, especially the visual. To effectively touch the reader, I emphasize color and texture (“The Potter’s Hands” and “They Will Be Watching”), as well as rhythm, sound, alliteration and internal rhyme (“She Was,” “Chance,” “They Will Be Watching,”and “Friday After School"). As I have in “Worlds Removed,” “The Potter’s Hands” and “Friday after School,” I use the actual visual placement of words on the page to emphasize and/or echo movement and positioning in the poem.
I find my inspiration in personal experiences (“I Only Saw The Stars,” “She Was,” “The Potter’s Hands”); in stories I’ve been told (“World’s Removed”); in the news (“They Will Be Watching”); in the natural world and especially in the world of art (“Through Brussels To Breughel”). I am first and foremost an observer. I have a passionate love of the visual arts and nature. I have been known to spend hours exploring one painting and then writing about it or using it as a jumping off point for a poem. I find a sense of spirituality in the natural world, and I embrace detail of color and texture as well as metaphor in poems such as “Autumn Marsh,” “Late September” and “River Rodeo.”
I experience life very intensely: the joy, the sadness
and all of its confusion. What I'm striving to do primarily with my
poetry is to use the power of language, in an accessible way, to share
this intensity and in that process, make a deep human connection.
I'm including this poem about my mother, wishing it had
been created in time to be included in Shadow Sounds. It was
written out of my realization that parts of the past had become blurred
by the sadness of the present.
I Only Saw the Stars
While Daddy was excitement
you were safe
While he criticized
He was the chaos
The writing of poetry has allowed me to work through my relationship with this most influential person in my life. When I first began writing, I was filled with mostly negative thoughts which gradually morphed into an awareness of a deep love and appreciation for this charismatic and very flawed individual.
This same process is helping me “see” other relationships much better.You just never know where the writing is going to take you. May I suggest that you choose a person in your life with whom you’ve had a complicated relationship and just start writing down your thoughts. These thoughts can be in the form of single words, lines or phrases; it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t have to be pretty, just true. Walk away from and come back to these words, adding and/or changing as the mood strikes. It’s sort of like making a collection from which you can later pick and choose, piecing together the parts to create a poem. Don’t labor at this; just let the words flow out of you and trust in what comes forth. The first poem will make you think even more and will perhaps give birth to future poems as you explore the person and the relationship with internal language. In my case, sometimes months or even years have gone between these sorts of poems, but I usually get inspired to delve further into the “poetic relationship” each time I reread the original poem.
For me, writing is a very visual experience. I often feel that there’s a paintbrush, not a pen, in my hand. I’ve been told by art teachers that drawing is not about fine motor skills but about seeing, “having a good eye." I feel strongly that this is what good poetry is all about. When I’m out in nature, or anywhere for that matter, I bring my internal camera, especially the zoom lens. Of course, I see the gestalt, but I’m always looking up close, for color, texture, smells… I often end up zooming in more than once on what I’ve already zoomed in on. There are so many layers that we usually miss. I sometimes get a little bit carried away, seeing colors in things that nobody else seems to see. But it works for me and my work, and that’s all that matters. It’s key to trust in your perceptions.
May I suggest that the next time you go for a walk, and it could even be in your own backyard, you bring along a pen and paper and your internal camera and that you consciously look at things differently. If you see something interesting, don’t just look at it head on. Walk around it, look under it, touch it, breathe deeply and ask yourself if there’s more than initially meets the eye. Also, sometimes something that at first appears to be ugly, upon closer perusal is actually intriguing if not even beautiful in its own special way. There’s interest and beauty in the underbelly! It’s about opening yourself up to the possibilities. Also, don’t forget to look up and down, not just straight ahead. Try to imagine how something might appear to a bird or other animal with their different perspectives. SLOW DOWN!! I do most everything at a very fast pace, but when I’m out in nature, I very purposefully try to slow down so I don’t miss anything. Write any thoughts or observations down and save them. It’s fun to develop a poem from even a brief description of something you’ve experienced in nature, which is always ripe for metaphor.Here's a recent example of my own:
One of my favorite inspirations for poetry is art. Bring a pad and pen with you the next time you go to a museum, not just an art museum. Take notes on paintings or objects that interest you. Try to imagine what the artists and their subjects might be thinking, or you might want to put your own spin on an interpretation of what you see. Even better, “befriend” a special work of art and become a regular visitor. You will see something different each time you visit. I did this with my poem about Breugel’s "Kermess." I paid weekly visits for over a year until I actually felt that I was able to “crawl into it." This same technique can be used right at home. Find a favorite work of art, piece of furniture, etc. and seek out its nuances and its meaning to you. Just put those thoughts into words on the page.
Here's that poem about Bruegel's "Kermess":
Through Brussels to Bruegel
past lacy architecture
right into the painting
where I slip through cracks
animals mingling with men
I’m watching the devil cavorting
For me, there’s been a certain abandon and risk-taking in the creation of poetry. I’ve even had the gall to invent new words when I just couldn’t find the right one. I highly encourage this; there’s something exciting about contributing a new word to the English language. I’m sure that there’s another small child out there who’s also “knobbledy legged”. When you can’t find just the right word, then the one you’ll create probably IS the right one. Once again, trust in it.
Don’t worry about the making of the poem; just go with the flow. It can be, but doesn’t have to be, a lofty or wrenching experience. There’s much honing and crafting that’s gone into most poems that you’ve read. But they all began simply with spontaeous words placed onto the page. You can work with them, rearrange, add, subtract or just put them away and save them for another day. But first you have to begin the process by tuning your inner eye and collecting your thoughts.
Now go and experience the joy of creativity!
I have gone south…I mean really south, as in South America. Uruguay is my new country and Latin America is my new continent. It is a very inspiring place for writing and I am working on a manuscript that was on the shelf for three years while I was across the river from Antrim House caring for thirty-eight teenaged girls…but that is another book altogether.
The poem “Book Exchange” was written the night of my very first reading from the book Journeys. It was held at the Avon Free Library, and I was very encouraged by the turn out and the warm reception from the audience. David Leff was there and kindly offered to join me for a light supper at Abigail’s after the reading. I gave David a copy of Journeys, and in exchange he gave me his book of poems and photographs, Depth of Field. Once back home in my Westminster apartment the buzz of my debut was beginning to wane and I opened David’s book and literally fell into his beautiful poems. That moment inspired the poem I wrote that night. It was one of those rare occasions when the words simply flowed onto the page. I felt so fortunate to have met David and exchanged books with a famous local poet.
The poem “What God Gave” was written the morning before I was launched at the Buttonwood Tree in Middleton. I had been on weekend duty at school and Sunday I had been assigned to drive a van of students to the local church. At noon, when I should have been preparing my program for the 3:00 launch, I was compelled to write a new poem instead. I started the program with this new poem – even Rennie had not seen it – and after the reading a number of folks from the audience shared their own stories about a Catholic education. It was a great connection.
“La Corrida” is a poem wherein I am attempting
to justify the cultural importance and my own fascination with bullfights.
Friends accuse me of being bloodthirsty, but visiting my son in Spain
over the years, I have grown to love the spectacle and pageantry of
the corridas. Hemingway was inspired by them, too, and wrote
a whole novel about bullfighting. There is indeed something almost mystical
about Death in the Afternoon.
In a Grey Goose haze I fumbled for keys
Marking the patch on your jacket: EMT
Back home I fell into your poems
I lingered on sad regretting poems and
What God Gave
Intimacy is a word quite new to me.
The playing fields, the old slave cabin, the cloister,
The cloistered nuns who taught us were a mystery to be
"My dear girls, God has given us so many ways to
express and share our love.
Today when I see one of my lovely young students walking
And I think, "God has given us so many ways."
La Corrida Goyesca
Near Giza, not far from the sharply pointed pyramids and
There, in polished red granite vaults, are the mummified
The cult of the bull spread through the ancient world
Down the road, in the museum, Lykethos vases are scratched
Ancient Romans, on their altars, led bulls with gilt horns
to be sacrificed.
In the small town of Ronda, set into the gorge of Serrania
There, behind a tall wooden gate, within the sandstone
walls of the ring of
There are those who would do away with the practice,
A lone man in sequins, stockings and ballet shoes dancing
It is true that the bull dies in the end with the coup
It is true that this is a blood sport. There is blood.
The circle of the ring is packed with Spaniards who follow
The passes and moves, the flounces and turns, are choreographed
The horns of the orchestra blare as a young matador faces
a new bull
But when the red cape comes out, we know that the business
And then, with finesse, it is done and the white hankies
wave to the
A country needs heroes and tradition and blood.
We have our wars.
Death and blood in the afternoon in the pursuit of machismo.
Hands lightly on the shoulder, eyes locked and
two steps back, two steps forward, pause and
The anticipation of the meeting was prelude
A promise of shared words, images, hemispheres.
The sensuous overtones of tango and space closing
The lilting sounds of bandoneón and rhythms of
Rio de la Plata rough and relentless running along the
The promise of the meeting was not the only promise to
There is a grace in the fumble to shed inhibitions and
we knew it would be this dance in this place on this plane
Tango is at once a little gentle and a little rough
The music fades. The dancers disengage. Hands rest lightly.
Moving from Simsbury to Uruguay in 2011 offered an opportunity to experience a new continent and new culture. Montevideo is a small city compared to the booming Buenos Aires just across the Rio de la Plata. Beyond the city limits are flat plains of grazing beef cattle, sheep and small independent farms. Uruguay is the bottom of the world. The Southern Hemisphere, and, yes, the water spins differently down the drain!
Now, after four years, I am returning to the United States and although I have no real home or roots there it will become a place to rest, to write and to rediscover a different lost continent after thirty five years of teaching all over the world.
These poems are from a manuscript that includes poems
in sections: From the Rambla, City of the Moon, Farmington River Valley
Songs, and Journey ‘round my World.
I held you this morning and you left some tears
When you realized, you tried to wipe them off,
The days we spent together in the sun,
I will dream of batidos fresas and spilled Cola Cao
I will dream of watching a bright balloon swing into
I will dream of your face bent over, intent on a drawing
I will dream of your look of triumph after you climb to
I will dream of the sweet chime of your voice calling
I will dream of games and carousels, face paint, brushing
I don’t recall what made you so sad this morning,
but I want to
A honeybee joined me for tea.
Is he curious about the brand of honey
After sampling the edge of my cup and dipping
No way out.
I feel too distracted to simply allow his exploration.
I know I can crush him.
nor that my honey must have lured him
I take a jar and capture him against the pane.
Holding the jar at arm’s length I pull back the
My tea is cold, but now I have a poem.
Emily used the metaphor of a mail train from Tunis,
The jasmine vine is dense and winds through
First there is one – then wait – another,
or is it a third?
the straw that draws
The whirring is audible; the vision ethereal.
Suddenly they are gone.
The southern summer sun bakes the
Liberty Street through the Rear View Mirror:
Thoughts and Reflections
It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I started writing poetry – most of it “nature poetry”, some of it self-indulgent, most of it bad. But it was a beginning. It took a while for me to realize that the world didn’t need any more poems about daffodils, live oaks or fringed gentians. Besides, isn’t nature’s beauty found in cracked brick ("Factory Town") and befouled statues of soldiers? And then there were the poems of doubt and angst from self looking for self. Not what any reader needed (or wanted) – more cries from the chasm.
Life’s demands prevailed. I moved on to do other things. Years passed with marriage(s) and family. With the world getting to be too much with me, I went back to writing as respite, as a rest-stop on the uneven climb up the craggy ridge.
My poems are rooted in memory through the basking light of imagination. I see memories evolving with the passage of time, needing fresh translation, always reaching for something more, for greater meaning. I often look to the mundane and ordinary ("Snapple Bottle," "Love Note in a Plastic Ring") as a jump-off to another place. I don’t always know where I’m headed. That’s the adventure.
I believe that all poetry is a form of story-telling. Even lyric poems are stories; they’re narratives coming from the tortured web of yearning and desire.
I write about my fears as enemies with whom I wish to make my peace ("Slaying the Dragon," "Anxiety"). There’s something very liberating about it – the whole idea of creating distance from what bedevils me and finding new perspectives on it pulls me in unwanted directions, yet challenges me to overcome.
I write about people. I lean toward writing about the unsung, the overlooked, the strays wandering outside our marked boundaries. There’s so much to learn from what makes them so tenderly human in spite of the differences, and perhaps because of them. Empathy makes it possible to slip inside another’s skin, to listen in on the interior dialogue. I discover parts of myself through these encounters; they jostle my set notions, give me humility, help buoy up a soul drifting too close to the rocks ("Pipes Calling," "Aggie’s Office Visit," "Doomed from the Womb," "Neighbor Dorothea").
Some recollections haunt, sadden, move or mystify. I hang on to them, store them away for later perusal. What was it I really saw or heard? Was there a convergence of people, place and time that goes beyond coincidence ? A mystery yet to be understood? ("Bridie," "Neighbor Helene’s Visit").
“Life’s too important to be taken seriously,” said Oscar Wilde, one who knew sorrow and pain. Poetry doesn’t have to be hand-wringing in stanza form. It begs for a chuckle ("Little Jimmy Grayson," "Salute to Harry Coons"). Irony and humor are close bedfellows.
I have been working on my second book and would like to include a few poems that exemplify some of the above.
Only a Mother
A side-street lot all cracked tar,
This town, no better no worse than others,
The Swan and the Counselor
I could swear
Lulu was back,
To his podiatrist, the foot’s host of afflictions
Just as well suffer,
Wrong. He did try.
The Sweet and Low Down is a series of poems that
touch on both the sweets and lows of life. Each poem evolved out of
a personal moment or a bit of language. Some tell stories I heard or
know, and others emerged after looking at art, color chips or listening
to music. My husband took the photograph on the front cover. It is of
an avocado shed in Israel's Carmel Mountains, the area that just had
the terrible fires. The photo makes the shed look like candies or something
from a children’s poster. But it is a painted corrugated tin shed.
I think the photo too suggests the sweet and low downs of life.
DOUBLE VISION: MIRRORING WORDS AND IMAGES
Ut pictura poesis – Horace
Certain poets do possess pictorial talents. Allen Ginsburg,
for one, was an inveterate shutterbug. His photographs with lyrical
and sometimes elaborate captions were the subject of a scholarly exhibit
at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. during 2010, yet
the prints never found their way into his many volumes of poems.
Both an ekphrastic urge and comparisons of verbal and
visual work from before Horace’s time to the present demonstrate
myriad synergies between the art forms. Perhaps the taboo over pictures
in poetry originates in a belief that images are distracting or that
poetry and images ought to stand on their own. But if poetry is an art
revealed to the ear in time and painting addresses the eye instantaneously
in space, as Eighteenth Century German philosopher Gotthold Ephraim
Lessing maintained, their coupling suggests a potential partnership
offering readers an enlarged universe for imaginations to roam, a kind
of unified field theory of cognition.
Poetry need not circumscribe a picture and images don’t
have to hamstring linguistic power. If both beckon with sympathetic
stories that go beyond merely explaining one another, the verbal and
visual can engage in conversation strengthening and reinforcing their
Regardless of whether a picture is worth a thousand words
or how many megapixels go into a sentence, image and language resonate,
are amplified by their presence together. Marriages of words and pictures
are part of our daily experience in the prosaic realm of newspapers,
magazines and advertisements, both in print and online, where captions,
articles, and taglines are the common companions of photographs. The
combination confirms, as British art critic John Berger put it, that
“images of art . . . surround us in the same way as a language
Some of the poems in this volume were inspired by photographs
recently taken and some of the images were sought for a poem. In a few
cases, inspiration for the written work and the snap of the camera shutter
occurred simultaneously. One poem is specifically about a photo I took
decades ago, an exercise I can only describe as self-ekphrastic.
Photographs and poems are both a distillate of an artist’s
way of looking. Looking is a choice, and it’s a truism that we
tend to see what we look for. But what we observe and how we perceive
also depend on the tools we use inasmuch as they provide a rubric for
observation. Whether it’s a camera, hunter’s shotgun, binoculars,
fishing rod, or pen, experience bends to the implement at hand. With
my Nikon I’m more likely to find visual juxtapositions of texture
and light. A shotgun turns acuity toward minute and often invisible
signs of animal life, while binoculars lead into the distance. Fishing
rods attune me to movement—of water, insects and aquatic life.
A pad and pen result in more contemplative outlooks drawing connections
among diverse objects and phenomena.
Whatever my capacities, I’m a better writer when
I leave my camera behind, a better photographer when I forget about
my notebook and pencil. At the same time, I understand the world more
fully when I see with both.
Nick Harris writes in a variety of forms. Here are two recent short stories:
I came to a well. I was thirsty and in need of water. The aperture was made from rocks that looked old as I felt. They were rough, bonded with cement and supported me as I leaned over to view down the shaft. I could see water that reflected meekly the sun that shot down from above. The heat felt like arrows flung from a chariot as it raced across the desert. If I listened carefully, I could even hear the wheels grinding the dust but it was only the wind that blew past my sunburned ears. Otherwise, it was silent.
“Hello,” I called down into hole to gage its depth.
My voice was lost as it bounced down the stony walls as if it were falling. I immediately felt a sense of vertigo and stepped back. The archer above continued its assault and the sweat popped in glistening beads from my skin then running down in mocking rivulets. It rolled into my eyes, clouding my vision as I looked around for a pebble to throw into the orifice that now menaced me from below. It clicked innocently against the sides of the well as it descended. It would never again know the dry desert breeze, submerged in the mud at the bottom. I pitied it and yet knew that at the edge of any abyss I too was in danger. Who hasn’t felt the urge to throw themselves off when measuring a precipitous drop. It is as if some vile creature whispers in the ear to fall and one has to grip the edge much as a baby resists the drop through the birth canal while the viscosity of life calls it into existence. But, though a baby enters the light, the darkness below was calling me into certain death.
I was, by now, desperately thirsty with no means to extract
a drop and the sun pierced my exposed skin. I sat down, leaning against
the stones. I cursed the well and the glistening eye of water that stared
blankly up into the sky. My alienation was complete. I’d ventured
into the desert to seek a better understanding of myself and now found
that I was not worthy of my own company. I was weak and, instead of
a hidden inner resource, found an empty carapace through which a dusty
wind now blew, chiseling my bones and desiccating my mind. Instead of
an oasis, there were dunes of doubt and here I sat unable to plumb the
depths for a drop of moisture. My wife and children were just a faded
remembrance. Had they forgotten me? The wasted landscape said, yes.
Nothing mattered out here but for that elixir, that life-sustaining
blood of the earth that now rested too deeply to retrieve. I was now
called upon to reach deep into my withered mind to gain an advantage
over the bleak and baked circumstances that had encompassed me –
no, that I had freely entered. A snake shuttled across the dust followed
by another. Was the first one prey to the other or, perhaps, a potential
mate? Would she eat him after copulation as in some species of insect?
I imagined jaws opening upon head and working down towards tail. There
would no doubt be a period when the tail of the eaten would remain hanging
out of the mouth of eater as the snakes were the same size. The predator
would be exceedingly vulnerable as it slowly digested the skin, flesh,
and bones of the prey.
“The roots,” I thought, “must run very deep.”
The roots must have been many times longer than the vine
itself. They must have gone deep following the shaft down to drink of
what I was denied. They were beautiful, the little blooms, shaped like
trumpets. What wonderful music they made in my wilting mind and I smiled.
Like this little vine, I clung to the well.
THE DEATH OF JUNE MERRIMACK
The church had been built as an afterthought. It was attached
to the subdivision like the “amen’s” at the end of
Father Domenici’s Sunday prayers. He was a third generation Italian-American
who had taken to the Church partly out of a fear of women. He was close
to them and yet his mother had been a force for which he had few defenses.
She had taught him to tie his shoes but also to fear her. She would
readily cuff him when his less-than-noble attributes shown through in
his childhood behavior. Thusly, he grew up fast, only slightly resenting
his mother. Her churlishness and his father’s absence had set
him on a path in which he sought out acceptance through obedience. He
was only partly obedient to his fear. The other part was his need for
love. It was not that his mother didn’t love him, but that she
was single and had to split her time between her work and his five other
siblings. She had little time for tenderness though he always tried
to show her what she couldn’t show him.
He was the youngest with five sisters. They would tease
him for his slightly bucked teeth and he was heavier than most of the
other kids at school. When he had decided to commit his life to God,
the pounds had dropped off like so much guilt. As a child, he wanted
to please his sisters and had gone out for every sport practicable,
given his weight. But he was never a good athlete and this only brought
more shame to and recriminations from his sisters. He was soundly beaten
in wrestling and feared standing naked before matches to be weighed.
As he walked out to the mat in his singlet, he felt the eyes of the
crowd on him and imagined he could hear the whispers. His coach later
told him that he was on the team only as a joke, a kind of cartoon character
that brought levity to the rest of the team. They enjoyed watching him
He, as a result, poured out his feelings that no one would
understand into journal after journal. He would write until his hand
cramped. He avoided masturbation and this was the closest approximation
that he allowed himself. As a result, he felt attracted to and, at the
same time, tormented by the nubile creatures that surrounded him at
school as well as home. Every so often his sisters got a hold of one
of his journals though they weren’t so petty as to not return
them. But that would only be after exercising their glee amongst each
other. Once, they reported the contents of a journal to their mother
and were soundly cuffed themselves for being childish. They never did
that again and Domenici was eternally grateful to his mother.
“She may have only had the use of one arm,” he had said at her funeral, “but she lived to hold Christ up high as if she had the strength of Prometheus himself.”
He was fond of Greek mythology.
“And though bitterness could have fed upon her soul, like the eagle upon Prometheus’s liver each and every day, she was renewed by God’s love. When the fire of love fades from your hearts, remember June who, with the strength of a Titan, brought light into our lives. She has parted from us, yes, but lives on in our hearts just as the flame of this candle,” he gestured to the table beside him which held several candles, “lights this very room.”
* * *
As the line of cars snaked down the highway to June’s burial, a brush fire had broken out on the median and the dry Azalea bushes were all aflame. It was a thirty minute drive to the new veteran’s grave yard. Jim, her husband had been in World War II and so June could be buried for no cost. Jim, when his time came, would be buried next to her. When they arrived, the wind was blowing. It was early October and unseasonably cold. The family and others gathered in the small tent on the grounds of the new grave yard. There was no landscaping yet and various bulldozers and other machines rested nearby. Dust filled the air and the tent shook with every breath of wind. Father Domenici kept his words brief and a few others, including June’s daughter-in-law got up to speak.
“She was a generous soul,” she said, “and
she would talk to strangers as if they were old friends. June loved
He thought about the woman with the withered arm. Something had withered within him by her passing. He was more interested in life than he was in death. He rarely thought of his own mortality, entranced as he was with God’s love. It shined on his life with the magnanimity that his mother was not able to afford. It was unconditional, or so he thought. The requirements of his religion, the traditions and rituals, were to him a small price to pay for the sense of security they instilled in him. In fact, he liked them. He liked being in control. He imagined it was similar to dancing, though he had never danced with a partner of equal grace. He liked holding people’s hearts and minds in his soft hands. It was a control he never had growing up. He not only held June Merrimack’s soul, but she gave it up to him with a willingness that was almost sensual. And, though she was older than him, he felt a certain passion towards her that he couldn’t quite describe. But now, she was gone, at least in the physical. He tried to feel her presence as he drove past the burning azaleas. Then, it was as if they spoke to him; you have given her the keys to heaven and blessed her passage; you have performed the work that you were ordained to do; you, and no other could have comforted her family and friends and it was your steady and loving hand that integrated life and death into one seamless wave that now breaks gently on the tranquil shores of their grieving; they are better for her passing and, as in all things, there is a lesson to be learned: live well, die well.
* * *
Back in the rectory, Father Domenici pulled a bottle of
wine from within his desk. He always drank from a silver goblet he’d
gotten at seminary in Rome. He filled it to the rim. His eyes were tired
and watery and still had a bit of the dust from June’s burial
in them. He was glad his words had been so consoling on this cold, windy
day of sorrow. With evening, the wind had died down. He drank deeply
from his goblet remembering the youthful camaraderie of his fellow seminarians
in Rome. It was there that he learned of all the variations of Italian
wine and now he considered himself quite the connoisseur.
He remembered meandering through the streets of Rome on his Vespa, swallowing the thick air that came off the River Tiber. Surrounded, as he was, by thousands of years of history, he felt his life as palpably as he had the grip of fatalism which had oppressed him as a youth. Sometimes at night, he would dream of Mother Mary, always clad in a clean white robe and she would welcome him into her home and feed him bread, always bread. And it was good, tasting slightly of juniper and rosemary. He would watch her as she refilled her oil lamps that cast smoky shadows. The floor was always strewn with white and gray feathers and her light tread appeared to be as if she were walking on air. There was never anyone else there and they never spoke. He wanted to kiss her and wash her feet but her silence kept him seated cross-legged in the corner on the softest fleece of a sheep.
He put Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring into his small CD player. As he listened, tears formed in the corners of his eyes and then began to roll down his thin cheeks. The dust of the day was washed out and he felt renewed by both the wine and his tears. He had always been prone to tears in the face of beautiful music. It was his own genius reflected in the music that made him cry and though he had no musical talent, he knew it was his words that sang. He took his bible from the drawer and without looking at it, recited the Twenty-third Psalm out loud: “He restoreth my soul…Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
His lips lingered on these final words and he wiped his
eyes with a large handkerchief drawn from his back pocket. He liked
the feel of the pages between his fingers. He poured another cup of
wine. June had been a small woman and though she had one withered arm,
she carried herself erectly. He had often seen her face alone among
his flock. To be honest, her penetrating gaze upon him had at times
comforted him and at others disquieted him to his very core. And yet,
having learned the skill of introspection, he felt that she was in some
way placed among his parishioners to aid him in his search for eternal
truth. She forced him to look inward as he stood before them, exposed
as Christ had been exposed upon the cross, exposed as he had been as
a young wrestler waiting naked to be weighed. She had seen something
in him of which he was not even aware, he thought. He was still not
quite sure what it was. As their eyes would meet he experienced a fleeting
sensation of insecurity and then, as if willed by God Himself, he felt
the strength of his Father’s, the Lord God’s arms wrap about
him. His voice would rise up out of him across the crowded pews unto
He closed his eyes. His mother would have been so proud of him. He always sensed that she was oppressed by a guilt born of his father’s early death. He missed her now.
As the music ended on his CD player sleep came to him, the kind of sleep one sleeps after a long and fruitful day. He meant only to lie down for a few minutes. His handkerchief slipped from his grasp onto the floor. The empty bottle of wine by his lamp cast a translucent shadow against the far wall and from the wall of one of his arteries a small piece of plaque loosened itself. As his heart beat, it traveled up through ever narrowing passages towards his brain. He was dreaming an odd dream. He was young again in Rome. He stood in St. Peter’s Square and in his hand, a note. He was reading the words written in a woman’s hand over and over again. But they were in Italian and he didn’t yet know it well enough. He thought he knew what it said but he couldn’t be sure. There was a slight breeze that riffled the paper as the shadow of the obelisk moved across the crowded square. The obelisk had been silent witness to the Apostle Peter’s death and now rose up in his dream as if touching the white cumulus nimbi that wandered over a marine-blue sky. Death, in its many forms, had now taken the shape of a great stone monument. So much of it lay beneath Fr. Domenici’s feet as well. So many martyrs had died, and for what? What testimony do bones have? He had built his life on bones and yet through him these martyrs lived. They would live in his words and his communions and his parishioners. They would live in June Merrimack until she was bones too. Then there was a gust of wind and the letter fluttered from his hands into the crowd and soon, under their hundreds of milling feet, but not before his eyes caught the words ti amo scrawled at the bottom. I love you, they said.
AND HERE IS AN INTERESTING SERIES OF POEMS SHOWING THE REVISION PROCESS AT WORK
Remember this and this defend:
So fill it up and stock her well
I fell down to my knees and said,
The raven wrapped me in his wing
So up we soared into the sky
Remember this and don’t pretend:
I fell down to my knees and said,
Death who smelled foul and rank
So off into the gray-green mist
Remember this and don’t pretend:
So fill your boat and stock her well
I dropped down to my knees and said,
The Raven wrapped me in his wing
So up we soared into the sky
“Help,” I cried, but no one heard -
Into the ocean, down I fell
The third poem takes a more philosophical position that life is fraught with perils. The Raven tricks the boy again by luring him with the seeming position that life can be eternal but this time, the boy is more responsible for his own demise by seeking the impossible and knowing the unknowable. He is, in essence, punished for trying to avoid mortality. In this poem are echoes of Icarus.
On my desk, I keep a quote by Stanley Kunitz which best expresses why, in my sixties and seventies, I have turned from scholarship to the writing of poetry:
The poem comes in the form of a blessing —‘like
rapture on the mind,’ as I tried
This, my first book, is the product of many years of reading and teaching poetry as a scholar and of 15 years of writing my own poems. My graduate work in Classics centered on Greek and Latin lyric poetry; and the voices of Homer, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sappho, Catullus, Horace, Ovid, and Vergil have helped to frame my own work, as have the great English, American, and world poets. I think of my present work as the offspring of a long tradition, and I believe that becoming a poet myself is the natural evolution for one who has for so long had the voices of past writers in her blood and bones, her DNA.
For a long time I thought and wrote in iambic pentameter, and I experimented with many poetic forms, but free verse, where I choose the form of the poem to suit the meaning/message of the poem, works best for me. My collection is divided into seven arbitrary sections, but all are inter-related. “Generations” is built on family experiences and on stories of friends and leads naturally to “Voices of the Poet” and “Voices of the Wild.” The artworks that inspired me in “In The Galleries” explore the relationship between the voices of poetry and art; “To Green Again” looks forward to “Losing” and to “Lessons” and back to the previous sections. Throughout, I have tried to stay in the worlds of feeling and experience, of observation of the worlds around me, that ring true for me and that I hope will touch my readers.
Poetry has metamorphosed from object to subject for me, in that it sustains my emotional and my intellectual life: in the creation of a poem I find challenge and solace. I love the process of losing myself in the writing of a new poem, of finding the right words and images, of shaping its beginning and ending. I’ve learned to revise and revise! Throughout, I have continued working with and reading other poets on a daily basis. This daily conversation has helped me immensely in the development and maturation of my own poems.
In my book, the section entitled “Voices of the Poet” is preceded by an epigraph from "Ars Poetica" in Jorge Luis Borges’ collected poems. I want my art to both mirror my face and to reflect yours:
At times in the evenings a face
I want not only to be read; I want to be understood. I would like to give my readers a tip in appreciating my thoughts, because my book is a story, not simply a collection of poems. It’s the story of a mother and daughter connection, rivalry and the resolution of the friction and misunderstanding that existed between them.
The key to the story starts right at the cover. My thesis is that the cover portrait, painted by my mother, is a likeness of me. She may have done this at a sub-conscious level, for she had created a pastel of me at 12 which bears a remarkable likeness to the fully adult face one sees on the cover.
The Foreword is an exact reproduction of the artist’s statement on the back of the 18” x30” oil. It states her interpretation of her painting. She based her inspiration for the painting on a biblical quote: Matthew 6:22. Her title for the painting is "If Thine Eye Be Single."
The Prologue, next, is my answer to my mother’s challenge. Two poems tell the reader about some of my forebears, while in the next section are poems of identity, adventure and family connections/relations.
My hope is that the reader will become acquainted with the author’s life, so that by book’s end, you, the reader, will understand something of the poet’s emotions.
THE EYE HAS IT (Review by Brian w. Ford)
Along Route 9 west of Boston is a sign advertising two
establishments in a nearby strip mall: "Feng Shui" and "Chucky
Cheese." I've passed it half a dozen times, always with an internal
chuckle, and thought about making a poem or essay out of it. But I'm
not Michael Cervas; I don't have his eye or his passion for making poems
of what he sees.
I'm particularly reminded, by this sign, of one poem
in his new collection, Captivated. The poem is called "The
Darkest Hour." An instructional video created for the drivers of
school buses leads him in the tedious darkness of watching it to Saul
on the road to Tarsus, to Genghis Khan at the outset of his journey
to empire, to the candle-lit dark of a table where a relationship is
about to begin. At a certain moment of dawn or early evening, the narrator
of the video says, "the road will be dark" — a warning
Cervas turns into a promise. Whether it's the promise of day or the
promise of night doesn't seem to matter to the poet; his own setting
out can begin anywhere and lead anywhere, always following roads both
wholly his own and immediately recognizable when they've been pointed
out to the reader.
Cervas's own experience, from the house on Thorn Drive
outside Pittsburgh where he grew up to the nuns who taught him to the
squash courts of the school where he works, informs the collection from
beginning to end. The opening poem takes place in the woods near that
boyhood home, the final, title poem takes place in the landscape, three
hundred years ago, of the school where he teaches. The interior landscapes,
however, from the boy's mingled sense of safety and fear to the memories
and regrets of a son and father and lover to the responses of a European
traveler, range across the universe ("Sun and Moon, and Stars")
and into the "omphalos" of ancient Greece, Delphi (in a four-part
poem of that name). And always one sees because he saw, and thought,
and found words.
Cervas is capable of wild humor (as in "Super Sex
Breakthrough"), deep, private tenderness ("On Living in a
City Not Far from the Zoo"), and the wonders of world history ("Journeys").
Always what one is struck by most, whatever the subject and whatever
turns a poem takes from where it starts, is the eye for this painful
Eden we inhabit in all its cryptic freedom.
This book started with one prompt from a mentor, to write a persona poem. And that poem, was, I thought, different (for me) and maybe an all right poem. The problem was, one poem led to another. Another poem, another character. Soon I had eight characters demanding time and space, including Yogi Berra, whom I had to put on the bench (sorry, Yogi). These characters took control of my life. They carjacked me and took me to the West Coast, to Heaven and Hell, to places I barely remembered. Places I did not want to remember. And then another teacher said, “These are not persona poems – they are a novel in verse.” Well, she’s an eminent scholar, no one argues with her, especially moi. The next problem was: the voices in the novel became so loud, so insistent, they required a stage. Which entailed writing the damn book again, with directions and props. This from someone who never wrote a play before, and it probably shows. Except the characters all seem pretty happy with it. Maybe this is the best I will ever write because Mick and his crew allowed me to express all of their feelings, and I wasn’t writing about me (I think) so I didn’t hide or withhold anything. What I like most is they have their individual voices, their style. Of course this could mean I am a legitimate multiple personality psychiatric case. I’ve been called worse. The second thing I like most is the blurb which says this a drama of American voices. Because I always thought that’s what a poet should do: speak for people. And if they take him over like a burning bush and channel through him, okay.When the words explode from your soul like popcorn, maybe you’re doing okay. Okay, okay. The story works when the writer gets out of the way.
How do I write about what I’ve already written? Enough already -- I’ve been through that hell and back. Ah, but you’re just about to open my book as if newly discovered. So, I suppose, this collection of poems would benefit from a certain amount of smoothing out at the edges and some untangling of its hair. Let’s start with the visual poem on the cover. I wish I could lay claim to that, but the artist is my wife’s cousin, Erin Casioppo, and she can’t or won’t tell us anything more about the work than what we can uncover for ourselves. Good for her. With my little eye and imagination, I see a boat rocking deep at sea with passengers who have found their way overboard. This became the inspiration for the poem, "General Education and Others" (and the original title of the book). After reading the poem, you’ll notice I turned the passengers into the kids I teach, special education students in a private school setting. As I have watched the students float in the mystical water, a few things have become apparent to me: I have no ability to save them, my desire to “save” them has waned, and I’m not entirely sure they are in need of saving anyway. The more I thought about this, the more I understood that this metaphor extended beyond my teaching experience and informed my writing experiences. The kids I work with need “saving” as much as they need standardized testing. What they really need is an appreciative understanding that everything isn’t meant to be understood and that which isn’t understood can be just as easily admired. As I wrote these poems, both the ones directly related to my teaching community and those only nuanced by the interactions I have daily with special needs students, I tried to capture an essence of something I only tangentially comprehend and let readers come to conclusions that suit their own exigencies. Maybe that doesn’t help one bit, but maybe it will help to understand that I also believe poetry is about finding a truth, then perverting it with lies until they contradict each other enough to cancel themselves out, uncovering the original truth wrapped in a new light. In any case, I hope you enjoy and find the time to comment. In the meantime, here’s something new:
Since We’ve Last Talked
Since we've last talked
I have sinned
I have partaken in taking too much
I've blasphemed gods and mortals
I have loved myself
I've spoken out of turn
I have punctuated poetry
I have gently tossed pebbles
Have torn the wings off
Blown the candles
I have ached with want
But I said I would come back
Kathleen Dale's work has been included in the anthology
Malala: Poems for Malala Yousafzai, published by Future Cycle
Press, in remembrance of the one-year anniversary of Yousafzan's shooting
by the Taliban. Click here for the
press release: The book is available on Amazon, and all profits go to
the Malala Fund for the education of girls. In addition, a .pdf version
is available on the Future Cycle website.
THOUGHTS ON A FIRST DRAFT
When asked what his favorite poem was among all those
he has written, Ted Kooser smiled and responded, “the one I just
wrote.” And so it is, I suspect, with most writers—basking
in that glow we get (a bit like falling in love all over again) before
we take our most recent creation to our writing group, before its flaws
become apparent. And so I am succumbing to the temptation to share with
you a draft of a poem I have just written, though I know it will still
undergo revision, especially after I take it next week to Judith Harway,
Louisa Loveridge-Gallas, and Bill Murtaugh—my writing group of
many years. I suspect that there remain major problems with the line
But I thought it might be an interesting draft to share
because of how it came about. Several elements that had been occupying
my mind and imagination for several weeks suddenly coalesced in a dream
that woke me at 4:15 this morning, and I knew I had to write it down
before I could get back to sleep.
Like many others, I suspect, I have been fascinated by
the recent, so far unrepeated, experiment suggesting that neutrinos
can move faster than the speed of light. If the experiment is successfully
repeated, it would make time travel more than theoretically possible.
I knew that I wanted to include that reference in a poem, but also knew,
from past experience, that starting to write “about” something
dooms it to fail. So I was just waiting to see where it might “fit.”
I have also been cleaning closets and unearthing all sorts
of “time capsules” from my three grown daughters’
lives, including a note crayoned in green from one four-year-old stating:
“Mom, keep out foR the Rest of the yeaR. “
So those two recent events apparently worked together,
and with others, in a dream, the first result of which is below. Having
just completed my second chapbook, I was elated early this morning finally
to begin something new, something different. But just now, re-reading
it in the clear light of noon, I see that I’m still writing about
the same damn thing I’ve always written about and this time even
stole one of my completed book’s best lines!
Well, I guess many artists have lifelong obsessions with
the same subject matter—and maybe the subject, in the end, isn’t
the most important thing.
I am happy to participate in Antrim House’s seminar space, and wish I were in Connecticut with many of you to attend the many interesting events taking place near you!
I am a guest, and your friends
but don’t really know
watching all the life surge round
just to sort things into piles. But
sit in rows. With deep pleasure
But the ground-in grime of many youths,
the surface. So my eyes
from spent incense, and I almost
on a dais
my mother’s friend once
a girl apart in there.
torn apart before
So even in my dream I knew
even as I remembered L’Engle’s
back through mitochondria
the two of them treading through the depths
monster of the past responsible
And though I am alone, here,
to set things right, if only I knew
if only some faint neutrino from the future
POEMS FOR CONSIDERATION
Outflanked by Muppets, greying, stout, less
Still, Dancing Bear held steady to the waltz
Now fare thee well, dear Captain. Sails aloft!
They have become bionic, all on their own
as comfort, like the breakfast sun:
TAKE ONE MATURE BIRD, PLUCKED AND SINGED
Eight different chicken soups to choose from
Chicken Soup with Noodles:
Chicken Soup with Curly Noodles? Lots of little indecisions.
With Chicken Soup and Rice I might swallow
whereas Chicken Broth sounds hollow.
Toss out the Chicken Soup with Vegetables:
and better, better altogether to forget the thought of
Chicken Soup with Dumplings?
Best, by far, to stick with Chicken Soup
waiting at the bottom of the pot.
INSPECTING THE PROPERTY
reaching our poles to the sky, so knapsacked
Our skis as thin as the legs of deer, as fleet,
until our tracks stretched clean and long;
above our heads. We bit, instead,
just as some small animal had left proprietary drops
When I came back, I thought I brought
I hadn’t thought the dog would leave again, lost
and she is gone when I wake to the sound of guns
for the next shot, think of the dog, wonder
if she tastes the dripping weight of feathers. How
--from "Writing: the Sidelong Glance"
For reviews of Judy Kronenfeld's light loweering in diminished sevenths, see:
"Three from California," by Kristen Rae Anderson, printed in Alehouse Review, No. 4, 2010. http://rebeccafoust.com/Alehouse.htm
Review by Cecilia Woloch, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 2009)
Review by JoSelle Vanderhooft, The Pedestal,
Issue 48, 2008.
Here is what the author has to say about the book:
light lowering in diminished sevenths is an elegiac collection, dedicated to the memory of my parents. I think my theme has always been mortality—and death as “the mother of beauty,” to steal again, as I do in “The Emperor and Empress of Ice Cream,” from Wallace Stevens. As Billy Collins says, when you major in English, you major in “death”! My intense awareness of the shadow always hovering at the edge of our lives became that much more intense as I watched my parents grow old and die. I think the intensification came, in part, from the fact that they were Jewish immigrants from Europe, and took with them in their deaths, an entire cultural reality and way of being, especially since, as a totally assimilated American daughter, and a Californian for decades, far removed from the New York of my childhood, I contain so little—in some ways—of what they were. They moved to California in their old age and—as I say in a personal essay published a few years ago—they became, with their still-thick accents, “old world icons” at the temple they joined in their retirement leisure, to which I or my family very occasionally went as their guests; they were an “adorable ethnic kupie doll couple.” When they died, all of that vanished; my more than thin tie—through them—to any cultural practices at all—snapped.
That intensification also came from my having been an only child, a child who had once lived in incredibly close proximity to their lives and emotions, and in the very fervid hothouse of their lavish attention to and expectations for me; they were the universe for me, our tiny nuclear family (undiluted by any siblings who might have constituted a children’s culture opposed to the parental) seemingly eternal. That family was eternal, too, because death was never talked about or planned for--as I say in another personal essay. It was “an untouchable topic, like sex. Perhaps if it were not thought of or discussed, it would never happen.”
My father immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1934, the year after Hitler came to power; his older sister’s family was later killed. I knew this, but we virtually never discussed it when I was growing up, and my father did not know exactly where they died. Some years ago, on a trip to Berlin for his job, my son visited the Jewish Museum on a whim and discovered a book about the Jews of Duisburg, Germany, which listed every member of my father’s family, including the rarely mentioned eldest sister, her husband and children; my son photographed and emailed the pages. It was viscerally shocking to see those names I had never heard, along with my would-have-been aunt Paula’s and uncle Max’s, starkly linked to the dreaded places: Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz. Now, ever more consciously, I think of my father and mother’s long American lives, and my own being here, as miraculous historical accidents. But I wonder if, subliminally, I absorbed a sense of this with the very Bronx air I breathed as a kid.
Finally, since we are what we can remember, since memory is what constitutes us, creates our very sense of self, my awareness of the fragility of our selves, as well as of the entire histories we contain within us, was radically increased—mainly in an experiential and visceral, rather than an intellectual or philosophical way—by my widower father’s long descent into Alzheimer’s in the years before his death, which, as an only child and partial caretaker, I got to witness in the most intimate of ways. Ironically, his history was lost twice over because I could not share with him—because he could not absorb (or were he able to absorb it, bear)—the information about his sister’s family I now had.
My poetic “project,” as the current lingo goes, has always been to reach other human beings, on a very ordinary level—not, I hope, at all ordinary in language, but “ordinary” in terms of communicating—across the boundaries of fear and reticence—those human responses to our brief lives that I sense, in my heart, we share. While every person’s version of these experiences is shaded by their particular culture and the particular variety of that culture their families embody, I fully believe in that link. My task has turned out to be—as Cecilia Woloch says in her Calyx review of light lowering—to re-member my family, and to imagine and deeply feel, through that remembrance, the sorrows and joys of other families. The Fanti my anthropologist husband studied in Ghana pour libations to their ancestors so those ancestors are in some sense present at all important events. The Dia de los Muertos, the household shrines in many Asian homes, and in ancient Rome, all attest, as do countless other cultural practices, to that human need to re-member. To use a metaphor JoSelle Vanderhooft used in her review in The Pedestal: these poems are my stones laid on grave-markers; these are my pebbles commemorating my beloved (and even not so beloved) places and people, my past.
A NEW POEM (published in Miramar 3, 2015)
Maybe I wanted to invite in
I poured my water from the pitcher
WHAT IS POETRY?
When something important happens, whether it’s happy or sad, good or bad, many people want to share their experiences with others. If they are artists, they paint a picture. If they are composers, they write a new piece of music. If they are poets, they write a poem, which is like writing a song without any other tune than the music of the words.
Poetry is like all other arts – painting, music, story-telling – it’s a carefully crafted building. To please you, a poem must invite you in through the front door of its opening lines with the music of its sounds and rhythm, the fascination of its images. Something about the poem has to tickle your fancy.
Once you have entered the front door, the lines of the poem that follow must make you feel welcome. The words and images must be ones that give you a feeling of connection and attachment to the poem. Whether a poem is happy or sad, or something in between, it must help you understand and appreciate the story or idea that the poet wants to communicate.
This never happens with all poems for all people. Just as some find old master paintings or Beethoven symphonies boring, and other people find abstract paintings or musical compositions meaningless, none of us are going to like all poems all the time.
If inviting doors are rare, don’t be discouraged. Keep looking for friendlier ones. Somewhere, unexpectedly, one will open and fill your heart with admiration, and sometimes, delight.
after Philip Levine
There’s something that the healthy
The greatest pleasure in life
As friends of many years
Newton’s Law of Gravity, Amended
Maybe Newton had it right for physics
Are you and I not particles in the universe
I’ve done what you ask.
Newton was on the wrong track.
An enlargement of the cover image from Hidden Drive, showing the mechanism of the box car siding in detail. For more of Nance Van Winckel's artwork, click here.
Ginny Lowe Connors has been writing some very exciting new work. Here is a sample: a poem that appeared recently in Hill-Stead Museum's new journal, Theodate:
after Katsushika Hokusai
Bowing down to the huge wave off Kanaqawa
the fishermen look like spools of thread.
Ancient idea, life as a thread,
the fates ready to scissor it short in an instant
or years from now. His life hung
by a thread—stilted prose in a cheap novel
but the sharp, small snap that will break it
hovers in the reader’s mind. A poor man
leads a threadbare existence, but Gatsby,
lonely in the theater set of his life, wanting
to believe he was rich, tossed shirt
after silken shirt on the bed.
The fishermen in Hokusai’s Great Wave,
what of them? Not one seems as individual
as the towering wave with claws of foam.
And yet, spooled into themselves
these 200 years, the fishermen ride toward us.
Maybe that’s what life is: dollop of courage
painted over fear, a disappearance
into the self, that long ride, blue
thoughts, white—then a reappearance
in the strange tapestry of another’s mind.
To read another of Ginny's recent poems featured on "Your Daily Poem," click here.
For a splendid interview with John L. Stanizzi, go to http://www.combustus.com/13/john-l-stanizzi/
It's no easy feat, but Sarah Meneely-Kyder and her sister Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely have transformed family tragedy into a work of art.
"Letter from Italy, 1944," is an oratorio commissioned by the Greater Middletown Chorale that tells the story of their father's service in World War II and the disastrous effects it had on his life. Using her father's letters and diaries, along with her own memories, Fitz-Hugh Meneely, a poet from Guilford, captured his agony in words; Meneely-Kyder, a Grammy-nominated composer who lives in Lyme, set the words to music.
"Letter from Italy, 1944" will have its world premiere on Sunday, April 28, with the 80-voice Greater Middletown Chorale, five professional soloists and a full orchestra, at Middletown High School's Performing Arts Center. A compact disk of nine of the songs that comprise the oratorio is included in Fitz-Hugh Meneely's recently published book, also entitled "Letter from Italy, 1944." The oratorio itself is a work comprised of 24 choral and solo pieces.
Fitz-Hugh Meneely first wrote a poem about her father in 1978, but it was only after her mother gave her his papers in 1997 that she began to focus on telling his story in verse. When Meneely-Kyder read one of Fitz-Hugh Meneely's first poems about their father, she was so moved by it that she set the words to music. After she heard baritone Chai-lun Yueh in recital at Wesleyan University in Middletown, where Meneely-Kyder is a piano instructor, she knew she wanted him to perform the resulting song. In 2003, the song was nominated for a Grammy.
Nearly a decade later, Meneely-Kyder gave a CD of her compositions to Joseph D'Eugenio, the artistic director of the Greater Middletown Chorale. The following year, he programmed two of her songs for the chorale's holiday concert. On a visit to Meneely-Kyder's home in Lyme, D'Eugenio heard the recording of Chai-lun Yueh singing the song she had written about her father. Shortly after, he approached Meneely-Kyder about doing a major project combining her music with Fitz-Hugh Meneely's poems. The oratorio is the result.
A neverending war
John K. Meneely Jr., a graduate of Yale and Yale medical school, returned from service in World War II in April of 1945 a changed man. An expert skier, he had served as a doctor with the Army's legendary 10th Mountain Division, the soldiers on skis who had fought in some of the roughest terrain in Italy. One of Fitz-Hugh Meneely's poems, "Riva Ridge," takes its title from some of the division's most famous actions, the battles for that Italian summit.
During the war, Meneely's psychological discomfort had been clear to some of his fellow soldiers. A close friend had confided to Meneely's wife Delia that he was not sure Meneely was going survive the conflict emotionally, even if he survived physically. Often Meneely returned from the front in tears.
"Doctors saw the worst of war and they were often helpless to save lives," Fitz-Hugh Meneely observes.
The end of the war did not end Meneely's torment. Five years later, he was hospitalized for emotional collapse and even after he returned to his family near Albany, N.Y., he continued to receive outpatient psychiatric care for the rest of his life. He practiced medicine, he taught medicine and he medicated himself with increasing reliance on alcohol in addition to the heavy doses of barbiturates prescribed to treat his anxiety. Eighteen years after returning home from the war, he committed suicide.
Fitz-Hugh Meneely, now retired after a 20-year career with FEMA, used to call herself a "lunch hour" poet. That's because she used her lunch breaks, along with evenings, to polish poems for her poetry group. She is member of the Guilford Poets Guild and has read from her work in Madison and New Haven and at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. She says she cannot remember a time when she did not want to be a poet; she wrote her first poem for a magazine in elementary school. It was called "Big and Small," and as far as Fitz-Hugh Meneely can remember it began, "Some things are big; some things are small."
Meneely-Kyder said that by the age of 4 she knew she wanted to be a composer.
"I was already extemporizing compositions," she says.
When she was a senior at Goucher College, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed a composition she wrote for an independent study project. She has won Yale University's Rena Greenwald Memorial Prize for piano composition and has received grants for ongoing work from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.
Meneely-Kyder says the composition of "Letter from Italy, 1944," often cut into a good night's sleep.
"I would hear orchestration, sketches; it's all very evanescent. I had to get to the studio. I can't tell you how many all-nighters I had," she says.
Working together posed no problems for the Meneelys, whom the chorale referred to collectively as "the sisters."
"We were like two peas in a pod, I have total respect for Nan, and she has a musical background," Meneely-Kyder says.
The true value of the cooperation was not simply in the technical production of the score, but rather in the understanding it brought to both sisters about their father and his suffering.
"I submerged shock at the time of the suicide," Meneely-Kyder says.
"It has brought about a deeper love for my father - and my sister," Fitz-Hugh Meneely adds. "The writing was cathartic. I didn't realize it was happening but I was doing a lot more crying, but I was not anguished."
For the members of the chorale, performing the work is an equally moving experience.
"The better we know the music, the more emotional it becomes," notes Rick Holloway of Chester who sings with the group. Rick's wife Pat, another chorale member, focused on how "Letter from Italy, 1944," touches everybody, even those who do not fight in military conflicts.
"The universal experiences that are behind the work can't be denied - every family in America has been touched in some way by the wars we have fought," she observes. "I think the power of music to bring out all this emotion can be part of the healing process for the singers themselves, and hopefully through the singers and musicians, for the audience as well."
JOHN MENEELY WITH HIS FATHER, WITH MEMBERS OF HIS 10TH MOUNTAIN DIV. UNIT, AND AFTER WW II
John K. Meneely, Sr. w/ John K. Meneely, Jr. at 2 months (left), and at 2 yrs., 1917 (right)
John on porch, 1923 (left), John K. Meneely, Jr. and John K. Meneely, Sr. on Beach at Cape Cod, 1926 (right)
John at Graduatin from Yale Medial School, 1941 (left), John and Delia Fishing (right),
John Meneely at Kiska (left, John and Fayette Mosher, Italyl, 1945 (right)
John and Louise Henrick, Italy, 1945 (left), John in medical helmet (right)
Field Hospital, Italy, 1945 (left), Dr. John K. Meneely, Jr. in his post-war office (right)
FOR A COMMENTARY BY THE POET CONCERNING THE PUBLICATION OF HIS BOOK AND HIS YEARS AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY, click here.
REVIEW BY DANA ELDRIDGE IN THE CAPE CODDER (9/1/13)
We recently became aware that the son of a close friend has a touch of the poet in his psyche - actually more than a touch. Poetry usually leaves me with a sense that the author is somehow in touch with otherworldly senses; they see something not seen by ordinary mortals. But to my delight, this young man showed in his work (particularly, for me, the poems about the Cape) a side of poetry that touched me where I can relate. I can recommend his new book highly.
One of the gems in the little book is called “Drifting the Bay”, a selection I particularly liked. I hope you do as well. It speaks to the up-coming fall:
Past the summer’s end, I drift the bay
away from the changing waters and the day
that plunge and cool below the season’s flow.
The imperative is chronic, true and slow.
Delicate aster blossoms and salt marsh hay
bend in the ebb, and tentacaled flowers sway
to paralyze their drifting and pendent prey.
Quahogs bed, eels ribbon towards the Sargasso
past the summer’s end.
Scallops propulsing up the river array
acres of intent. I just float to display
my assent, while the jellyfish flamenco
and fencing blue crabs feint, jab, and know to go.
Distant fathoms pull, but I resign to stay
past summer’s end.
How easily I relate to that poem. Gregg is relating thoughts that I too have felt quite strongly and often. He relates them with a fluency that is both refreshing and somehow inclusive. I all but felt wet after reading this. I like drifting too.
The book is called “Small Gods of Summer” (www.antrimhousebooks.com). Author, Gregory LeStage, is a lifelong summer inhabitant of East Orleans.
Multi-generations of the LeStage family have come to their homestead on Pleasant Bay’s obliging waters, Gregg’s three children being only the most recent generation. His works plainly speak of an easy familiarity with our natural world and the waters that surround us and as such, are a delight to peruse.
REVIEW FROM ICONOCLAST #110 (February, 2014)
Poems from the New England shore depicting subtle changes of light, sea, and sand -- and the birds, fish and mammals who call the coast home. Against that backdrop, humans become interloping witnesses and minor participants. The endless waves of a timeless sea stir us with their prayer-like ability to inspire and soothe us. The photos are well chosen, matched with some poems. The book is consistent in its themes.
REVIEW FROM THE MAHON ABOUT TOWN NANTUCKET NEWSLETTER,
August 12, 2013
Poems of a Natural Order: Seascapes and Landscapes by
By happenstance this past June, I met poet Tom Mallouk at the Nantucket Book Festival. Although I had volunteered to write a series of author interviews with participating writers for local publication, Tom wasn't on my writerly radar screen at the time. I am happy to say he is now.
Tom's first poetry collection, a chapbook entitled Nantucket Revisited and published this year by Antrim House Books, came to my attention via my Bookfest weekend guest, Lisa Romeo, who also happens to be an experienced memoirist, and my writing mentor.
Lisa writes and hails from New Jersey, and Tom, who washes-ashore to Nantucket each August from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, were chatting like long lost pals in a corner of the Atheneum, after an author lecture. Lisa and I were meeting to cruise the "Authors Under The Tent", in the library's garden. But she couldn't wait and had beaten me to it earlier in the day. Among her local finds were Tom and his chapbook, the nomenclature given to a small literary paperback book such as the one he recently had published.
Lisa introduced me to her new friend, a psychotherapist with an unwavering passion for poetry, and told him briefly about my involvement with the festival and how she and I knew each other. Without a second's hesitation, Tom handed me his book and said "You can keep this, if you'll review it for me."
I blinked a bit. I love poetry - the rhythms, the cadence, the structure of the sentences. Poetry reminds me of the many layers of paint on a canvas that create a picture. And although I personally love to write picturesque prose, I know virtually nothing scholarly about poetry. I know what I like and what I don't like, the lines that can make me feel the instant sting of hidden tears or the crush of emotion in the center of my chest. But sometimes, I feel absolutely nothing.
Lisa, always the encouraging mentor and friend, prompted me to take the challenge, and Wyn Cooper, another guest poet and panelist of the Bookfest gave me this advice: 'Just tell us what you like. There doesn't have to be a reason for it."
Here is what I discovered after reading Tom's book: I don't just like his poems about Nantucket - I love them.
This slim book is fat with 36 pages, 21 poems and 9 photographs and has found a place on my bedside table probably forever (or at least when I am extra homesick for the island.)
Here's a sample, one of my favorites for the images it conjures. It is also the title piece, "Nantucket Revisited:"
"I've wobbled through the sandy ruts to the edge
of the bluff, this rusted bike tipped on my hip.
I've pushed that bike, through that deep, hot sand! I've seen that clear sea-glass like water! The poem evoked in me the memory of the sweet scent of Rosa Rugosa, sounds of gulls squawking overhead, and the pucker after eating a sour blackberry picked along the way.
This passage, from "Morning Prayer," is accompanied by a black and white photo of a lone swan, gliding on a still water surface and takes my breath away:
"In first light, fog muffles the tentative
There are lines so vivid ("Close to shore, a wave curls its lip...") and so distinctly Nantucket ("Plovers peck furiously at the sand just beyond the surf's reach") and so resounding ("Fly line cuts the crisp morning air, its whistle woven in the waves lapping at the hull.") that it is hard not to put my hand to my chest and lament the fact that I am writing this from my year-round home in New Jersey.
For me, Tom's poetry puts all the beauty and the essence of Nantucket in perfectly wrought sentences and lays them gently, softly, one by one, on the paper. His love affair with the island began in the late 70s, and he has been happily held hostage by the Gray Lady ever since. These poems reflect his visits from 1973-2013, capturing the changes in landscape, both natural and man-made, that he has observed during that time.
Tom and his wife, Eileen, rent "Snow Goose", a cottage on Hummock Pond every August. It is there he continues to render scenes of landscapes and seascapes with a sharp eye for finely wrought detail, penning them in a hand as fine and steady as a plein air artist.
"In my poems, I try to capture the essential-ness of Nantucket. That "something immutable," Tom said. "Though houses are falling in the ocean, which I see as a metaphor for all the changes from my first years on island until now, Nantucket has retained her spirit."
It's that visceral, timeless beauty which Tom has collected
between the covers of this book. Clearly, the poems offer us a glimpse
of his interminable love of the place, which, I think, many of us share.
Review from The Day (New London, CT):
AMY J. BARRY, Special to The Day
Deep River native Sara Ingram of is one of those boundlessly creative people. She is a dancer, choreographer and storyteller, and although she has been writing poems for many years, she's just recently published her first book of poetry, "Sounds of House and Wood."
In 2012 Ingram's job of 25 years as a public school teacher of the gifted and talented was eliminated and so newly retired, she found she had the time to start putting together a collection of poems she'd written years ago and poems she was currently composing.
A former editor at Globe Pequot Press in Guilford, she attended the Breadloaf Writers' Conference, Suffield Writers' Conference, and the Frost Place to hone her work.
Her book is filled with a rich tapestry of poems reflecting on love, childhood, a long marriage to her husband Peter, self-discovery, the seasons - especially the raw beauty of winter in New England - the natural landscape and the structures built upon it, life's spiritual ponderings, humorous anecdotes, and questions about those that came before us.
Ingram says she doesn't think it's so much the rhythm of dance that she picks up in her poetry but that "there's a big connection to having been able to study with lots of different people throughout the years who are artists in their fields. There's clarity, honesty, how you really feel, and most people I've worked with are of the 'less is more' school, so they've influenced a conglomeration of my life experiences."
Ingram has been described as "a tough searcher for truth who revels flinging convention to the wind."
"I do believe I'm trying to be truthful with how I feel," she says. "My poems are shorter than many poets, I try to work more with imagery."
Ingram says her favorite poet is Dylan Thomas and favorite poem by him is "Fern Hill," which has had a major influence on her work.
"I adore the beginning and ending (of "Fern Hill") and I think it might sum up my life, too. Modern poets I'm fond of are Mary Oliver; I like her Buddhist underpinning and simplicity. And Marilyn Nelson, our Connecticut Poet Laureate-I like poems that reveal African-American history."
Ingram says she tends to write more in the winter when it seems OK to hibernate.
"Lately, I've found my self becoming inspired in parking garages," she says. "Perhaps it is the limited view looking out that gives a perfect frame or focus…I admire Japanese haiku, leaving the reader with an unusual image or contradiction."
Books have played a huge role in Ingram's life.
Her mother was the Deep River librarian from 1949 to 1980 and her grandmother was the town's librarian for 25 years prior.
"I began shelving books, helping out in sixth grade," Ingram says.
"My mom read to me and encouraged me to memorize narrative poems," she says. "I continued doing this and acting them out as storytelling events as a member of the Connecticut Storytelling Center and the Connecticut River Poets," which, she notes, are currently writing poems to complement each exhibition at the Florence Griswold Museum.
Ingram doesn't plan to do a traditional reading at Essex Books but present her poems in more of an acted-out storytelling fashion.
"I've been super lucky in finding work and mentors who supported my love of literature and theater," Ingram says.
Review from Hearsay, Fall 2012, Volume 20.2 (by Rosalind Hinman)
Congratulations to longtime CSC member Sara Ingram on the publication of her first book of poetry, Sounds of House and Wood, released by Antrim House Books in July of this year. Sara is a life-long resident of Deep River, Connecticut, and her poems are New England through and through, as deeply rooted in its seasons and landscape as are the beloved trees that surround her home.
So many of the poems tell stories, little vignettes: of her childhood, her marriage, her journeys to self-discovery, the beauty and severity of New England itself. “The Butterfly Quilt,” tells of the quilt sewn for her mother’s wedding, later to become a special, caring luxury to enwrap a sick child, and finally hers to surround herself with warm memories. “On May Day and Mothers” finds her mother introducing her fourth-grade daughter to the May Day tradition of “flirting”! This poem and several others –“Harpooner’s Advice on Poetry Composition” and “Puritan Ethic” to name a couple – are delightfully humorous.
Winter is the season that appears again and again, with
its monochrome greys of trees and sky, its endless white snow; “My
heart harkens to the / plain face of winter. / Puritan maid: / no frills,
no color, no falsity.” And then the occasional, soul-stirring
sight of a cardinal: “I drink / tomorrow’s hopes / from
your flash of red.”
In addition to being a writer, Sara is a dancer and choreographer,
and there is a fine rhythm and musicality to her poems. Many are lyrical
and legato, but one at least, “Dad’s Small Change,”
choppy and staccato and – a rare instance – rhymed. The
effect here is to create a vivid image of this man who has lived through
some hard times and knows the value of keeping anything and everything
that might come in useful sometime.
Despite her wide travels – and there are poems set in Japan, Geneva, France – Sara’s heart brings her back to her home. These are love poems: to nature in all its variety, to Peter, her husband of many years (beautifully captured in many poems, but especially in “The Perfect Birthday Present”), to her parents and to God. Living her life where she does, her physical connection to nature is very present. When scraping and painting the old walls of the house that her grandfather built for Sara’s mother, his daughter, and her new, Brooklyn-born husband, Sara realizes she is the last of the family to do this task and senses the life in the wood itself: “These boards know how to drink and sing. . .these 1940 boards / speak of forests and greenery. . .they whisper board to board, and reaffirm their / promise to shelter the occupants of the / little white house in the green green wood.” For the book’s epigraph, she chose a quotation from Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill,” and several of her poems have similar elegiac echoes; contrasts of permanence and immutability with evanescence and temporality.
This lovely, slim book is a perfect fit for a backpack and can be carried along on a hike or a bike, ready to be taken out when a comfortable resting spot is discovered and enjoyed beside a brook or under the shade of a spreading tree.
REVIEW OF ANCESTRAL INTELLIGENCE
by Professor Guo Jian, Department of English
Reprinted from the March/April 2014 issue of World Literature Today
In this surprising collection of poems, Vera
Reprinted from an American Association of University Women Posting
IN SEARCH OF AUTHENTICITY
July 17, 2013
Maybe it was her offhand mention of a few of the languages that she is fluent in, or her dogged enthusiasm for finding truth in her research, or all of it together that swayed me: Vera Schwarcz is an impressive AAUW alum. With a keen ear for “what lies between languages” and the belief in “language as a life raft in times of historical confusion,” Schwarcz is a scholar in search of authenticity.
Currently the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies and director/chair of the Center for East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University, Schwarcz was a 1988–89 American Fellow. The fellowship, the first of several prestigious awards that she won early in her career, enabled her to “carve a more independent and authentic path of scholarship” and to feel “authorized as a woman, a scholar … to be an expert” in her field. “As a member of the very first group of American exchange scholars to China, many doors opened to me for research and publication. The AAUW fellowship brought great prestige and time for me to explore many voices, including poetry,” she said. Nuance of language and truthful historical inquiry have been salient themes in her research and writing over the years, and she is always “alert to what cannot be said in words,” an awareness that still does not seem to preclude her skillful articulation.
Initially a religion and French literature student at Vassar College, Schwarcz ultimately shifted to Chinese after participating in a seminar on Chinese history with Indian writer and philosopher Raja Rao.
I switched to Chinese studies because I still admired the cultural revolution and Mao Zedong. It took another decade of language study and China travel before I began to seriously interview Chinese intellectuals — survivors of atrocities that I still write about. They taught me to challenge my own previous understanding of China, or my truth of history.
This month sees the publication of her latest work, Ancestral Intelligence. The book delves into the culture of contemporary China and explores the work of mid-20th century Chinese poet Chen Yinke.
In Schwarcz’s field of study, what was true yesterday may not be true today. For her, one of the challenges of teaching and writing about Chinese culture and history is the need to admit, as the expert, “I don’t know.” In admitting uncertainty, however, Schwarcz proves her dedication to sharp critical reasoning and veracious research. She advises young scholars to “maintain a strong inner, personal life. Keep the strength of will to pursue the unconventional.”
Looking back on her professional career, Schwarcz strongly believes that when it comes to balancing family and work, “books get better, deeper, wiser if they come from an anchored place in one’s personal and intellectual life. … [It is necessary to] keep a space in one’s life that does not come from the academy.” In other words, find a way to go after the things that you believe are important, and do not be afraid to pursue them to the fullest.
As a longtime supporter of AAUW, Schwarcz continues to help empower women to pursue rigorous academic paths, just as she did. We are proud to have her as part of our community and look forward to her upcoming book.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Lauren Byrnes.
Comment from Kirkus Reviews:
A poetry collection that considers the splendor and significance
of wildflowers. Lilly’s previous book (A Prism of Wings, 2013)
was a collection of haiku on butterflies. Here, the poet focuses on
wildflowers with the same attention to detail that made her last collection
a success. Lilly has also published additional
Muses on small natural objects but produces big ideas.
KIRKUS REVIEW (Jan. 21, 2014)
Rich, compelling lyric poetry that bores beneath the decorum of civilization, revealing the elementally human beneath.
Few writers are able to use juxtaposition and irony as frequently and consistently and with still-startling results as Johnson does in this penetrating debut. Like his most obvious, almost overshadowing, influence, James Dickey, Johnson accomplishes this through meticulously rendered detail, a knack for subjecting his characters to psychologically trying situations and an evocative sensuality that usually prefigures loss. Most of his major themes and techniques appear in the opening poem, in which the child narrator describes with disarmingly counterintuitive, yet accurate, metaphors the inexorable rise of floodwaters: “a puddle that grew wide on the kitchen floor then / covered it, absorbing the hall and climbing, / as an old man would, or a toddler, the steps.” Beset by diluvial apocalypse and the ceaseless cacophony of “the yipping, frantic dog,” Mamma frets instead over social obligation: “My god, Gardiner, the violin. We left Phoebe’s violin. / You have to go get it, Gardiner. It’s a rental.” Under such pressures, the father reacts instinctually and violently, “raising the window, / the dog struggling in his hands, squeaking and gnashing at him” before “flinging the dog out”—a shockingly vicious move that nevertheless re-establishes calmness. Most of the remaining poems play on variations of these same themes, whether the context is a pas de deux between a rattlesnake and the startled hunter who decapitates him, then weeps, or the young spectator who can’t bear to watch the eroticized sawing-in-half of the magician’s assistant. Whoever they are—man, woman, child, Shakespearean character or Audubon’s gifted but overlooked assistant—Johnson’s narrators are insightful, quietly desperate, honest and driven by wild appetites. For instance, in an appealing panegyric to cigarettes, one narrator concludes, “I’m no more addicted than a word to its meaning. / Saying you’re addicted makes it sound like / you don’t want one. / But I do. / I want every one. / Every one I can get.” Johnson’s poems always sound as if they’re telling the truths that we can’t usually bring ourselves to admit. Ultimately, it is both high praise and mild criticism to note how strong the Dickey influence is here, for in the best of these poems, Johnson rises to such heights, but his own distinct voice never fully emerges. Even so, this is one debut not to be missed.
Tender yet jarring, cerebral yet visceral.
Pub Date:Oct. 1st, 2013
"Emily Dickinson's Gorgeous Nothings," a new poem by Phyllis Katz, has received the 2014 Oberon Poetry Contest award. The poem will appear in the Fall issue of Oberon, and she will participate in a reading from that issue in late September on Long Island.
SELECTION FROM A LETTER OF COMMENDATION BY SYDNEY LEA, VERMONT POET LAUREATE, 12.3.13
I want to thank you for the gift -in every possible sense of the word- of Migrations... If I seem a bit slow in my acknowledgment, it's only because I wanted to read (and, as it turns out, re-read) the wonderful collection before responding.
The book is not only wonderful poem by poem but also as what the French call a well-made book: it has a trajectory and a coherence that are enviable.The over-riding metaphor of the garden and gardening is deftly and subtly handled, and I find myself, as I go through the poems seriatim, moved, amused, comforted, saddened and enlightened, sometimes within the compass of a single entry. Brava. Brava indeed.
I am taken back to the births of five childen, say, by "Out of Fire," and to the labor(s) preceding. Needless to say, I was a mere observer, but even observation assures me ofthe accuracy of your rendering. A woman feels devastation, even "ruin" and lifelessness ... at which point this incredible miracle bursts onto the scene!
I am uplifted by "Morning," the joy available --if we will let it be-- in the flow of the ordinary. Similar uplift derives from "Rehearsal of Bach's Cantata ...."
The "Suggestions for a Long Marriage" are excellent suggestions.
I could go on and on, but will stop by saying that that "Mirror Image" poem about floored me: I look about at all my grown children, all of whom are still young enough that, happily, I suppose, they can't foresee all that the poem foresees. That is a real beauty ...among many beauties.
Rennie McQuilkin, whom I have never met, deserves all manner of praise from so many quarters, in this instance not only for choosing Migrations but for producing it so splendidly.
COMMENTARY FROM EDWARD SELIG
"Of all the many good poems in Migrations,
the one I like the best is Nestlings, where the varieties of declamatory
stress and rhythm against the underlying meter create dramatic (and,
in context here, ominous) compression. It's a bit like Gerard Manley
Hopkins, but in a minor key. Nature red in tooth and claw threatens
even the human toddler, whose parents had better catch and hold him
fast. I also like "Union Village Dam," which reminds me of
Frost's "Directive"; "Chickadees," which belongs
with Frost's sonnet "Never Would Birds' Song Be the Same";
the Dylan Thomas-ish "Weather Report"; the Yeatsian "Mirror
Image and Changes" (cf. his "Wild Swans at Coole"); and
"Tenacity" (Frost again, in spades). [Her] stuff is in the
traditional mainstream, to which [she] adds [her] own individual, reflective
and refined voice."
Much of my working life has been spent in university and high-school teaching. It was while teaching in the MALS program at Dartmouth that I met Donald Sheehan, long time Director of the Frost Place in Franconia and taught four courses in ancient and modern poetry with him. Out of our first class together in 1995 came a poetry workshop, I organized with Deming Holleran, one of our students in the course. The workshop, Still Puddle Poets, continues to meet monthly. We have published two Still Puddle books of poems. Teaching with Donald Sheehan, a remarkable man, who sadly died two years ago, rekindled my love of poetry, and I have now retired from active teaching so as to have time to write. A man of great spiritual strength, he always asked poets at the Frost Place to “find the unique beauty in another’s work,/ to value it as if it were our own . . . .” (See “Elegy for a Good Man” in my first book All Roads Go Where They Will, 2010, Antrim House).
I continue to be nourished annually at the Frost Place Conference on Poetry, and at workshops held each summer at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.
My new book Migrations is a collection of poems that are part memory and part meditation. The poems focus on life’s many changes and on the challenges of aging. I’ve just written a new poem on the theme of aging; it is unpublished:
We fatten for the cold, the way the swarms
© Phyllis B. Katz
82nd & York
Open to a day in April,
On the table, a bowl of tulips,
The happiness found here
On Buster's Bike
I hung on by the backs of my knees
It was hot and growing dark.
Buster put me down and carried
Until he joined the army
But even now that time
But now, among the thousands of images
Mine came suddenly today— the feeling
FROM "GREAT POETRY TO EXPLORE ON PINTEREST" (internet website):
"This recent publication is a genuine event -- great poetry by an outstanding modern poet." --Mary George
FROM THE BLOG PAGE OF SYDNEY LEA
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
At the post office this morning, I found a card signifying that I had a package too big for my little box. It came from a woman named Sylvia Petrie, with a return address to a town in Rhode Island I didn't know.
The parcel was heavy, and when, full of curiosity, I opened it, I was surprised to find a heavy volume, the Collected Poems of Paul Petrie, published by Connecticut-based Antrim House, founded by the gifted and indefatigable poet and– what? poetry missionary?– Rennie McQuilkin.
What a handsome volume it is, and how gracious of Petrie's widow (a painter and printmaker whose cover image is part of the collection's beauty) to send it my way!
Mrs. Petrie had written a very cordial letter, and with it enclosed a copy of one I had written to her late husband many years ago, in which I praised his 1984 volume, Strange Gravity. (The author had sent it my way immediately upon publication, as an unncessary but welcome thank you for having published some of its contents in New England Review, whose editor I was at the time.) I spoke in my note of the collection's wonderful mixture of "deftness" and "grace." By that, I am quite sure I meant how taken I was by this writer's capacity to use both the most constrictive sorts of formal verse and free verse with equal agility and to equally moving effect.
I mentioned too that I was pleased by his gift of the book to me, because, "as I'm sure you know, it can get lonely in the House of Verse, especially when, like yours and mine, that house is located out of the usual way for 'career advancement.'" I was vain enough to imagine, that is, that by being ambitious for my own work, as Petrie clearly was for his, rather than for its promotion, I might produce verse that followed its own star, that I needn't get hung up on being a star myself. Paul Petrie, clearly, was not obsessed with reputation; and yet he consistently produced writing that was, to my mind, far superior to that of many contemporaries who were, at least in their time, more celebrated.
Petrie's collected poems, as I say, make a large volume, and I won't pretend at ten o'clock in the evening of the very day when I received it that I have managed more yet than to browse around, which I have done at some length and with the constant, sure sense that I found myself in the presence of genuine mastery. In due course, I intend to go cover to cover, more than seven hundred pages worth.
And all this for free. Mrs. Petrie mailed me a book whose cover price is $40, and I paid not a cent. Let me, however, assure readers that so far as I have seen, both from prior collections I knew and from what little I have gleaned from this one, the volume is worth every penny of that and you'll do well to buy it.
I am grateful to Sylvia Petrie, and grateful that the world of letters included her husband's canon, into which I give the merest glimpse by reproducing a poem chosen more or less at random.
The Great Depression
Mid-day, mid-week, and father
and my aunt in the spare room weeping
Consultations– late-night whispers–
Long lines edging the streets;
More stews, more ham-bone soup
More hand-me-downs, more quarrels,
A LIFE IN WORDS by Elizabeth Rau
University of Rhode Island Alumni Magazine, May 22, 2015
Paul Petrie died listening to his poems. At the hospice in Providence, his wife, Sylvia, and their children took turns reading aloud at his bedside. Groggy from morphine to numb the cancer, the poet and former University of Rhode Island professor could still hear the song of his verse.
Always the hilltops take me,
The end came on Nov. 9, 2012, at the age of 84 and a short two months after he had been diagnosed. Sylvia wondered how she would go on, her world so entwined with Paul’s they had moved as one through 58 years of marriage.
The book, she says, saved her. She spent a year helping to edit his poems, which he had arranged just as he wished them published before he knew he was dying. The fruit of her devotion is The Collected Poems, a vast and beautiful 754-page love letter to life.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine called the poems astonishing, and Paul a writer of boundless energy: “Considering how little attention the poetry reading public—if there is such a thing—gave his work, his 70-year commitment was both miraculous and heroic.’’ And the poet Guy Owen, referring to one of Petrie’s earlier books, praised the poems’ sheer music: “The phrases that go on ringing and singing in the ear! My God!’’
The collection also tells the story of the Petries’ journey, from their courtship as young students in Iowa and travels in Spain, to Paul’s three decades of teaching at URI and happy family life in South Kingstown, where Sylvia still lives. “We were lucky,’’ she says. “We were so close.’’
He grew up in a blue-collar family in Detroit. His father worked in the press room of a newspaper and was an alcoholic with “eyes puffed and drinkshot,’’ which weighed heavily on the young boy. To make money, Paul delivered papers on his bike and worked in car factories, “Filing in through the low-arched gates/past the long vast looming buildings—/Spare Parts, Assembly, the gaunt/ Foundry’s mouth—and on/to Pressed Steel.’’
As a teenager, he dabbled in poetry writing, but he didn’t start to write in earnest until he arrived at Wayne State. Eventually, he landed at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with Robert Lowell, among others, and earned his doctorate in creative writing.They met at a table of graduate students in the cafeteria—Sylvia, a lively brown-eyed artist fresh out of Wooster College in Ohio, and Paul, a tall, lanky thinker with blue eyes and a mop of black hair. The poet asked the painter to go to a classical music concert. They fell in love quickly—and deeply. There were long walks by the river, Rogers and Hart in the music building, kisses in her room. Six months later, they were married:
Moon through the window look more lightly
The young couple and their cat, Goya, spent a year in Spain, then returned to America in time for the birth of their first child, Phil. They settled in Nebraska in a town called Peru, where Paul taught writing and celebrated the pleasures of fatherhood: “Like birds that tumble on the October air/ we roll upon the floor, unraveling joy/ like balls of colored twine. Against my face/ his face is soft and warm.’’
Paul joined URI in 1959, and although he enjoyed teaching, his shyness sometimes made it challenging: “Dry-mouthed, quick-beating heart/ I stand at the dark threshold/ of eyes/ and, smiling/ turn the knob.’’ His reward was sharing the “music, music, music’’ of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth.
Two more children came along—Emily and Lisa—and days in the orange-doored Peace Dale house by the woods were filled with laughter, Bach and Brahms, and readings of Paul’s poems. On Sundays, he’d watch his beloved New England Patriots. Sylvia pursued her painting and printmaking, even collaborating with her husband on two hand-printed books.
“I was a slow poke,’’ she says. “He was the worker.’’ On writing days, he rose early, ate a bowl of cereal and drank a glass of milk, put on his down jacket for extra warmth and went back to bed. He wrote, usually in a spiral notebook, until noon. He always wrote lying down.
He was haunted by the march of time and death, the only certainty. Yet he didn’t let it wear down his enthusiasm, his sense of awe at being alive. Death, in Paul’s words, purified all living things: the “wintry theatricals” of branches, “half-shut buds of flowers,’’ the crow as “one black, heroic period in a world of flow.’’
The goldfinches outside his door were fed well. His family was a source of inspiration. In his poem “The Outsider’’ he watches from afar through “black-limbed trees” to the lighted windows of his house. Sylvia is setting the plates; the children are darting in and out at some unruly game; the dog is prancing behind.
I shall run to those yellow windows and hidden peer in—
I shall wrap them in silken handkerchiefs
I shall sit all night in the moon,
for the past.
He retired from URI in 1991, but that didn’t slow him down. He was as productive as ever, adding to his canon of ten volumes of poetry and more than 400 poems in 100 literary journals, including The New Yorker and Poetry.
His illness was swift. A stabbing pain in his side brought him to the doctor. There were X-rays, and straight talk. Nothing could be done. The cancer had spread too far.
The night he died Sylvia read her favorites aloud, and then it was time to sleep. She lay down beside him. The room was dark. There was no gasping for air, no thrashing. His passing was peaceful.
“He was a wonderful man,” she says. “I think he felt almost a calling to praise life by ‘sounding the illicit heresies of joy.’ ’’ As expected, that philosophy surfaces in his work, “Poem for Joy.’’
“Page 649 in the book, stanza 5,’’ says Sylvia. He was a boy, singing as he rode his bike—hands free!—in the rain. Neighbors stared. The earth groaned. He sang louder, “both loud and clear,’’ until, through sheer force of will, he soared, “and the sea shrank back as he made the world.’’
"AN ENCHANTING BOOK BY POET DANNY DOVER"
from The Herald of Randolph
Poet Danny Dover of Bethel keeps a notebook into which he jots down thoughts, overheard phrases, fleeting concepts, or even snippets of dreams. And although many of those phrases never leave the notebook, others inspire poems.
“I sometimes think about an idea for days, or months, or even years,” Dover observed this week, in an interview shortly after the release of his first full book of poetry— “Tasting Precious Metal,” by Antrim House. (His chapbook, “Kindness Soup, Thankful Tea,” was published in 2006.)
Dover says his poems work better when he lets a poem lead him where it wants to go instead of when he deliberately tries to steer the poem to a specific conclusion. But after that instinct-driven poem is on the page, Dover takes charge. From that point on, he fine-tunes every single thought, word and line. He edits his poems “endlessly,” he says, sometimes for years, until the poem feels fully realized on all levels.
“I look at a poem that I’m writing as if it’s a piece of sculpture. First I get the rough shape of it, and then I sand and polish, sand and polish. Towards the end, every word has to fight for its life, to make sure the poem is concise and clear.
“I look at every syllable, for the sound and resonance of each line. I listen to the rhythm and cadence. I want the lines to naturally flow and roll off the tongue. I even look at the shape of the poem on the page. I do all of this, but I also want the poem to actually have something worth saying.”
Dover’s poems, in “Tasting Precious Metal,” reflect on the lessons and processes of loss and relationships, on the passage of time, on privileges of being alive, on issues of the heart, and on the universality of our lives.
His poems are not only beautifully written, but also packed with energy. They vibrate with physicality: the words first a lyrical dancer fluidly moving to soothing music, then, moments later, a muscled gymnast doing double somersaults in the air. Throughout his poems, Dover turns the stones of life over to see what is on the other side of each. And the gifts of what he finds there aren’t always predictable.
Poems in “Tasting Precious Metal” that enchanted this reviewer were many. They included poems such as: “Nothing is Lost,” “Cigarette,” “Recipe for Relaxing with Men,” “Virgin Mary,” “Shopping Days,” “Jesus of Comcast,” and “Letter to my Nose.” Occasional mysteries occur in Dover’s poems, such as the mention of “Herbert” in the poem “NYC 1956.” Even though the reader is not told who Herbert is, such small moments of mystery in Dover’s poems feel like the chime heard from a Tibetan singing bowl in a room just out of sight. Those moments in his poems merely remind us that life resonates with happenings we’ll never fully comprehend.
“Tasting Precious Metal” is one more chapter for Dover in a life that has included many chapters, from hitchhiking through Ireland to being a master pattern maker for Vermont Castings, a dulcimer maker and a photographer. He’s also played in the contra dance band, “Smash the Windows” and mastered the arts of surveying and of piano keyboard technology (Dover recently rebuilt the Steinway concert grand for Chandler Center for the Arts).
And, as a result of many trips he has made to Nepal, Dover has worked closely with two Nepalese children—Urche and Neera—to create life opportunities for them that they would not otherwise have had.
A Vermont resident since 1973, Dover and his wife Mary Swartz still live in the converted schoolhouse on Camp Brook Road that they purchased in 1978. As a student, Dover had not even liked poetry when assigned to read 18th-century poets, but he found himself smitten with the art form when he discovered the writings of contemporary poet Gary Snyder. That early discovery changed the path of Dover’s life forever.
“Tasting Precious Metal” may be purchased at The Three Bean Café in Randolph, the Norwich Bookstore, Sandy’s Bakery in Rochester, Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, or on line at antrimhousebooks.com.
The following is a new poem that that will be available in the June, 2015 issue of After Hours. "Ambiente" is based on experiences I had last fall during three glorious weeks of travel in Spain where history, mystery and art (among other things) are interwoven to produce a complex culture with fascinating texture. This poem is hopefully going to be in another collection I am working on about the theme of literal and metaphorical journey.
curl upward from café chatter
under a full moon competing
between stone buildings
I also know of Miró’s quest
flamenco’s clap, stomp and strum,
over the Albayzin, its dark rooms
This Sliding Light of Day - Collected Poems by Nicholas Giosa
(Book review by Carol Lewis)
Its title could have been How to Live by Love - A Do-It-Yourself Retreat. It is a study in living and dying; it invokes both the human and the divine spirit in a shared circle of love that holds many treasures. Dr. Giosa invites us to join him in his journey, and to recognize our own “transfiguration from shadow to substance”(“Shadow and Substance: a Journey Within” - p. 172) as we discover that “we are the sum of all our days” ( “Burnt Norton, Revisited” - p.144).
Suffused with the literature of Genesis, Homer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Hieronymus; the music of Mozart, the voices of children, warbling of birds; the art of Rossetti, Rodin, Van Gogh, Michaelangelo; and the achievements and symbolism of numerous historical and fictional characters all cited in Giosa’s well crafted poems, this book could present itself as a course in fine art. This Sliding Light of Day is divided into eight sections; they shine upon our purpose here on Earth - in a word, love. In his poem, “Instructions for the Last Hour” - (p. 214), the author speaks to this purpose - acknowledges a sweet foretaste of death and heavenly redemption in the music of Ave Verum Corpus;
“For the ear, a brief allowance:
From “Supplicatio ad Incipiendum” (a prayer for beginning life in this world) to “Motorcade to the Cemetery” (a wish for ending life in this world), his poems are filled with images of God and creation. In every chapter, he hides a “whispered shred of hope” for the reader to cling to, sometimes urgently, often surreptitiously;
“Reveries without rude awakenings?
We identify with all who are “pondering, note-taking, back-seat companions” to Time, who transports us from our conception to passage;
“And so it seems, Time measures the miles, the
The significance of the chapters in this book are unlike the ‘matter’ in “Whither Diogenes” (p. 92); they do not “neglect the fatal, final scene” that truly matters. Giosa’s sequencing of the eight parts of his book provides the “mis-en-scene” from line one for the “memento mori” in the poem’s ending, so that the attentive reader may follow a clear path. Within the pages of This Sliding Light of Day, imprinted with desire, fear, human failings, grief, nostalgia, love and truth, we follow the thread of hope. Hope as the other side of despair, as in ‘Prelude’, the only chapter with a single poem, prefiguratively entitled “Symbiosis”. We might interpret this ‘one-poem chapter’ as the Creator’s thought before the creation. The seven parts that follow appear to lead the one who shares the creation to a glorious realm of one’s own choosing. As written in the dedication, we are launched on a journey, and are let be …
Chapter two - ‘Gatekeeping’, is a family genealogy of sorts. Chapter three, ‘This matter of Being’, raises the question of man’s purpose. Chapter four, ‘Lamentation and A Prayer’ is an exploration of the duality of the human soul as in the opening line of “To Emily” (p. 81). Chapter five explores ‘The Seven Acts of Man”, and ruminates on our identity - “Keep me from anonymity!” (“Vanity of Vanities” (p. 97). The heading of chapter six, ‘In Praise’, touches upon the transiency of life on earth, and our gratitude for that life. For example, in “Orchestration for the Day” - p. 112,
“With allegro con brio
and when child-like, “get on with the renewal as they sing…a paean to the passing hour” (“In Passage” - p. 126.) ‘Reflections’, the title of chapter seven, takes stock of life as it has been lived thus far; “Do not chafe at what dwindling days may yet remain; accord each hour its proper place, its proper name.” (“This Realm of Time” - p. 147). The eighth and final chapter, ‘A Cadence of Age’ offers a way to accept the end of life as we know it, by acknowledging that the only thing constant is change, and best achieved in silence, because it is also suggests the value of listening, of the sound of quiet.
This extraordinary literary work invites us to be ‘in
communio’ - entwined as DNA, opposite sides of the same coin,
both alpha and omega - symbiotic entities, members of the same body
that represent hope and despair, sorrow and joy, sinfulness and redemption.
For those fortunate enough to receive its lessons with open minds, it
will carve memories of ‘leaning’ on the supporting ‘canes’
(“My Father’s Cane” - p.11) of fathers, mentors, fellow
poets, and other inspiring entities. Therefore, I humbly encourage readers,
as the recipients of the wisdom offered here, to continue the theme
of Nicholas Giosa’s glorious book of poetry, and remember to love
well while we live - and when ‘this sliding light of day’
(“But Soon” - p. 30) becomes a silent night, make that leap
of faith. “In this manner let us reap, in this manner let us pray”
(“Leap of Faith” p. 37). With humor, excitement and hope,
our last offering in the book’s final poem is reminiscent of Alice’s
Adventure in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, whose fictional character,
the Caterpillar, confuses Alice (who is constantly changing) upon asking
the question “Who are you?” Indeed, This Sliding Light
of Day offers insight into our own answer to this question, so
that we may, “with emergent new-found wings of ratifying lepidopteran
fancy, let the final exodus be made.”
KIRKUS REVIEW (April 30, 2015)
Altshul (Stumblings, 2013) brings a gentle wit and a multifaceted view of human existence to his second poetry book.
As the title indicates, one of the throughlines of this collection is the observation of nature—an earthy, figurative framework that gives the poems a common theme. The linked concepts of mortality, memory, sex, and cycles of death and rebirth run strongly through every poem, including those that borrow language from other fields, such as “Vodka Blues,” a rueful examination of a martini gone wrong. These topics give the collection an overarching viewpoint—that of a man reviewing his life. Despite a handful of poignant regrets (as in the affecting “Entreaty,” which keenly portrays his inadvertent role in the killing of a horse), the narrator appears to find the sum of his life to be on the positive side of the ledger. Readers who enjoy the work of Robert Frost—who’s quoted at the opening of this slim compilation—will find much to enjoy in Altshul’s work, as they have several points in common, including the recurrent stanza structure, the use of natural imagery, and the New England setting. However, Altshul leavens his work with a frankness about sex that Frost couldn’t get away with, and he often uses precisely placed profanity and a quick, gentle wit that always points back to himself as a figure of fun. “Patience,” for example, shows the narrator preening over his erudition while getting his facts wrong, and “Samarra, the Sequel” demonstrates how being helpful to the Grim Reaper can backfire. Warmly humanistic without wallowing in sentiment, wise without being world-weary, and readily tipping his authorial hat to his influences (including John Donne and Wallace Stevens), Altshul celebrates life by acknowledging its inevitable end.
Readers who appreciate a warm poetic voice would do well to dive into Altshul’s quick-witted, gregarious work.
AN OBSERVATION AND TWO NEW POEMS
Here are some verses I've coughed up since Singing with Starlings came out. I think they competently illustrate the emotional immaturity of their creator. In both he seems determined to take on the biggies– to prove his sexual superiority over Socrates, Shaw and Jesus, and in an epiphany of immense self-satisfaction, to make a preposterous show of octogenarian potency. In the first he castigates one of the lions of twentieth century American literature over the question of ownership of of a novel's characters after publication.
My analyst would cite these expostulations as evidence of unresolved oedipal conflict. As he has been dead for fifty years, no one will be the wiser.
My most trenchant observation about the writing of poetry
is this: after finishing every poem I am convinced that I will never
be able to write another.
I don't know what he had to do that for
I loved the brave and soft in her, the core
When your story ends, you shut the door.
She's mine now, Faulkner. I am rich, you poor.
You gave her to me Faulkner; I'm not sure
This book took 40 years to come to fruition. My beloved grandmother, and my namesake, was murdered in her bed by burglars in 1976, in Falmouth, Maine. The crime was almost random, though the killers had a very tenuous connection to my grandmother’s house. But mainly it was a crazy, drunken event.
My grandmother lived in a fairly secluded family compound in an upper-class neighborhood. And she was what the newspapers persistently called “a noted socialite.” Her death was a fearsome public event; if this crime could happen here, was anyone safe?
The perps were eventually caught, after much bungling by various police departments. My mother and I attended the entire trial, a painful, compelling, and ultimately satisfying experience. But very strange and haunting.
I actually began to think about writing a book of poetry about my grandmother’s death 7 or 8 years ago. From the Attorney General’s office I received a thick packet of crime scene photos, witness and police statement, autopsy reports and other related material. At the Maine Historical Society I was able to read many letters that my grandmother wrote home to her father when she was in college, and then as a young married woman in Cleveland. I learned about a part of her life that I’d known nothing about, and incorporated what I learned into the book.
Writing Restless Redhead presented many challenges. One was learning how to transform primary sources ( the police reports, my grandmother’s letters) into poetry. Another was imagining my way into her life, and death, at a level I’d never achieved before. And then, trying to imagine my way into the lives of the perps and the actualities of the crime. I had my memories of the trial to draw on, as well. I achieved a level of writing I’d long aspired to; my grandmother’s story drew that out of me.
The greatest challenge, of course, was emotional. Every time I read the poems¬–of course I have read them countless times both in the writing and revision(s) process and in the editing, and proofreading–every time, I cry. The pain, not only of loss, but of the hardships of my grandmother’s life, is now deeply engraved on my heart, and this book is a tribute to her courage, her elegance, and her strength, even as she confronted her killers and her death.
Left: the author's grandparents, c. 1964; Right: Nancy and Ben Holt, c. 1929, my mother Sally, and her brother Benjie who died shortly after this picture was taken..
Copyright ©2015 by Harper Follansbee, Jr
It’s been one of those springs
By June the vegetation
Polar bears have abandoned
During the day they collect
During the night the bears
The influx of bears has caused
A real estate tycoon, running
One Magnificent Simile
In “Sonnet 18” William
Of course, I didn’t appreciate
My editor vetoed that.
Finally, I conceived
While my poem is equal
My editor was right!
The Semantics of Surrender
Of uprooting the morning glories the previous
“Let them come,” I say, from my perch peering
Of crabgrass in August, or chickweed, common
Review from Notre Dame Magazine
Food for a Journey, Tom Gannon ’60 (Antrim House).
Life’s mutable moments sparkle in this autobiographical journey of poems. The former priest, teacher, lawyer and associate editor of America magazine, who turned to painting and poetry after his retirement from a long-standing law career, here captures images of life’s many scenes: the Italian grandmothers of his South Philly neighbors timidly retreating to the kitchen, the dying football coach receiving Communion and the immigrants hunting scrap metal in the trash of suburbia.
[The following is a poem written recently by Emily Axelrod.
It demonstrates her strong visual orientation and her love of the "small
miracles" mentioned above. RM]
Near another ocean
The fog is making a strong bid
"The photo is of Kevin Hogan and his faithful dog Ari - short for Aristotle. It's a lovely reminder of the relationship the author has shared with dogs, and animals in general, throughout his entire life.
His poem "A Lovelier World" from My Ríastrad is a testament to what this relationship can produce when the right dog adopts the right poet!"
Here is a recent poem by Kevin entitled "American spring":
A talk by Marge Barrett at the Montana Book Festival:
"How I Approached the Spiritual in my Memoir, Called: the Making and Unmaking of a Nun"
My story is a personal story, but also a broader story of immigration, of the typical American movement from rural to urban centers, of upward mobility, of the buried roots of the ‘50s lively exploding in the ‘60s in the Midwest, the fly-over heartland of America.
It is also a spiritual story. It begins:
I remember sitting on a gray metal folding chair, on the last day of the retreat, a Friday afternoon, with the sun pouring in the windows of the school auditorium. Those enormous windows reached to the ceiling. Light streamed in, as it did in the paintings of the angel appearing to Mary the Blessed Virgin, asking her to be the Mother of God. I was sitting in the middle of long rows of girls, listening to the Retreat Master. His words echoed in my head: “You were put on earth to make a contribution; God wants you to give something back; this is God’s purpose for your life. He saved us and called us . . . Now you belong to Him . . . ”
And, suddenly, I knew. Knew that God had chosen me. I wanted to cry out, “No. Not me. Why me?” I didn’t want to be chosen, but there it was. He had called me, and what was I going to do? I couldn’t say no to God.
My parents were models of good parenting; raising kids with initiative, creativity, grit, able to work hard to achieve goals, to contribute to their communities. My parents had high expectations for their children. In their own lives, they had overcome poverty, prejudice, personal challenges, loss.
Spirituality is tied in with my folks in both subtle and overt ways. For example, they instructed us in the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church for sure, but their instruction was much more centered on loving as a way of life. At one point, I tell about my mother’s reactions to her overwrought daughter, who after hearing the story in school one day of our Lady of Fatima appearing to shepherd children in Portugal, believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary was going to appear to her.
I hid behind the couch. I needed to plan in private. I figured I’d kneel down when she appeared, say, “Hello, Holy Mary.” I’d kiss her hands, place mine in prayer, fingers matching up. Would Mary speak? In Portuguese or in English? If in Portuguese, would I suddenly understand it? Another miracle? Would she wear the blue gown, the white veil, the tiara of gold or the crown of jewels? Would she smell like violets or roses or lilies of the valley? Would Mom know Mary was here? The living room would be transformed. The bright, bright light could even ignite the sofa and chairs and tables. I would have to scream “Fire!” Everyone would wake up.
Mom stopped ironing, looked up, said, “Margaret, come on out from behind the davenport.”
But I couldn’t come out. I couldn’t tell. I crouched in the corner, knees to chin, waiting. It grew later and later.
Finally, I peeked out from my hiding place. Mom was now working on my school uniform, my navy jumper, the black iron under her reddened hand smoothing out the white crumpled emblem of Our Lady.
“Mary’s going to appear to me like she did to Lucy,” I blurted out. “What?” Mom said. “Mary’s going to appear to me like she did to Lucy.” “Oh. . . ,” she said. Then, “Don’t worry. You’ll be all right.” She didn’t offer any advice, just continued ironing until very late. Finishing, she came over and took my hand. “Let’s go on up, honey, I don’t think she’s coming tonight.”
“I like to be connected,” I say in the book. I wrote about sensing the presences of early Native Americans in a state park in Marshall and of Babi Yar in Ukraine, a site of the Holocaust, which has always been a deep concern of mine. At one point in Called, I stated:
Suddenly, my hair stood on end. There was a dead man—a present-day dead man—lying at the bottom. Crumpled, head over chest, wearing something like a tattered lumberman jacket and worn boots, he looked like a large puppet. My husband ran down the side of the ravine and then up the other side, calling out, “Margaret, we have to notify the authorities.”
Standing on the rim, aware of the rain dribbling into the muddy chasm, the habitual beliefs of my childhood instantly surfaced. Surprising myself, I prayed. I prayed for this man who had joined thousands of others. I prayed for all those who had died, crossing over from darkness into light.
Toward the Hanging Tree is suitable
for use in secondary school classrooms. Below is a small sampling from
a Teacher's Guide that is available free from the author.
To request a free Teacher's Guide, contact the author at email@example.com.
Reading and Discussion
2. After reading their poems, contrast the attitudes of Francis Nurse and William Good, each of whom was married to someone accused of being a witch. Use details from the poems to support your answer. Why do you think they reacted so differently?
3. Write a persona poem (see persona poems) in the voice of someone affected by the witchcraft hunt.
4. Imagine you are one of the individuals who survived the witch hunt. You can select one of the “afflicted girls,” someone who was accused, a family member of someone involved, one of the magistrates, etc. Now imagine that it is 1702, ten years after the first accusations. Write a letter giving your thoughts about what happened and how you feel about it now.
5. In the poem “Israel Porter Observes,” he seems unsympathetic to the afflicted girls, who accuse others of witchcraft.
Martyrs or impostors, it’s hard to say,
• What does he mean by this?
• Other people in the colonies were accused of witchcraft. In one poem, Reverend Hale mentions Margaret Jones, a woman in the Massachusetts Bay colony who was executed for witchcraft. In Connecticut, Alice (sometimes spelled Alse) Young was hanged in Hartford. Rebecca and Nathaniel Greensmith were also hanged. As were others. This all occurred decades before the Salem trials. See what you can find out about early “witches.” Here are some links to get you started.
• What were the religious beliefs of puritans and were their attitudes
toward witchcraft and the supernatural shaped by their religion? Finding
out more about this can help you understand the mindsets of people in
Salem Village and surrounding communities. Here is one place to get some
basic information on the topic.
In Salem there are a number of commercially operated historical tours
which can be found online. Some attractions include:
Witch History Museum
“Witch House,” the home of Jonathan Corwin, who was a magistrate
at the trials
Memorial near the Old Burial Ground
A Reviewer’s Guide to Toward the
Hanging Tree: Poems of Salem Village
Ginny Lowe Connors and Antrim House Books present this guide as a convenience for reviewers.
Toward the Hanging Tree: Poems of Salem Village
The poems in this book are in the voices of people who were involved
in the Salem Witch Hunt. Individuals listed here are
Among the First to Be Accused
Among the Afflicted Girls (Accused others of witchcraft)
Among Others to Be Accused
Among the Bystanders
Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of two previous poetry collections:
The Unparalleled Beauty of a Crooked Line and Barbarians in the Kitchen,
as well as a chapbook, Under the Porch, which won the Sunken Garden Poetry
Prize. Connors also runs a small poetry press, Grayson Books.
(from the Newsletter “About Towne” )
Inside Salem Village: A Review of Toward the Hanging
Toward the Hanging Tree is a book of poetry. Considerable research went into the preparation for this book, but instead of recounting factual information in a poetic format, Ginny has distilled her historical knowledge of each person into poems presented in the voices of the individuals involved. Beginning in January-February, 1692, we are able to follow the victims, accusers, family members, villagers and even the hangman, among others through that dark year. Closing the book as the story ends, we are left with a sense of who these people were and a better understanding of the complex relationships and issues involved.
Ginny, formerly a colleague, has been a friend for many years. While not a Towne descendant herself, she has always displayed considerable interest in the people of Salem Village, a frequent topic of conversation at our summer get-togethers when I became active in Towne Family Association following my retirement. When I read early drafts of some of the poems, I was impressed by her ability to present each person’s voice authentically. Nothing prepared me, however, for the impact of the book once it was assembled chronologically. Rather than a collection of poems on a single topic, the book became a cohesive story, one which any descendant of the witchcraft hysteria, young or old, will find thought-provoking. TFA member and Danvers historian, Richard Trask, had this to say after reviewing the book: “This is a never-before attempted, delightful collection of poems relating to the entire story of the Massachusetts witchcraft outbreak in 1692. Through Ginny Lowe Connors’ poetic artistry merged with a solid research of historic facts, we glimpse the human heart’s response to terrifying events.” This is a book well worth adding to your collection.
Words on Paper: Piece of my Mind #3
I have forgotten most of what I used to know about poetic theory and the ideologies of the literary movements of the last four or five hundred years. I had a good laugh over the slapstick absurdities of Deconstructionism; otherwise, I have not bothered to keep up with the airy notions of the latest bullshit that seems to inform and inspire so much of the lethally boring poetry that is published these days in the likes of those Best American Poetry annuals and the journals that feed their voracious appetite for sterile exercises in the inane. Despite time’s erosive effect on my memory and on my ability to stomach the vacuous, there is one aesthetic principle I still have a firm grip on: Shakin’ your ass ain’t dancin’, and poetry ain’t just words on paper.
The most common compositional technique employed by those
contemporary poets considered by critics, and most editors alike, to
be relevant and serious practitioners of the art
This jaded, innovation-obsessed, bourgeois aesthetic
reduces language itself to a form of pornography. It is little wonder
that it also results in a poetry that is arrogantly unconcerned with
the reader and devoid of anything that might be likely to truly interest
or concern a genuine, living, breathing human being; in a poetry that
is, more often than not, impenetrable by the understanding of an honest,
sober mind, no matter how well-schooled it might be in the art of reading
a poem. Readers have a right to expect to be rewarded intellectually
and/or emotionally for reading a poem; they should not be punished for
it with a supercilious and contrived abstruseness. I couldn’t
say by what process it became a habit among some circles of the poetry
community – editors, critics, and poets alike, writing teachers,
and some readers for that matter –to consider obfuscation to be
a hallmark of poetic excellence. One gets the sense the thinking among
these people is that if the reader can have a good idea of what a poem
is about without studying it for hours and hours, if not, a lifetime,
then the poem is a failure. Could that possibly be the reason why the
audience for poetry has shrunken to the point where it consists of hardly
anyone but an incestuous circle of poets and literature professors?
Mad Dog Serves Notice to Postmodernist Poets
If it were up to me, I’d put you all up against
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