|You found the heart; now find the agates.|
If your life’s love wants roses and violets in February, he or she best not live in Michigan. No, not true. Roses and violets can always be had if you know where to go. Look to a florist shop or flip through greeting cards, if that’s the way you want to go. Popular culture, traditional stuff -- what was it that English prof called it? I forget. The comforting, the familiar, the lulling.
Lulling. Lullaby. “The cradle will fall”? Before words have meaning, the baby is lulled by rhythm and music. Sound. Movement.
This morning I turned the pages of Poetry in Michigan, the beautiful new book from New Issues Press, wondering if it might possibly contain the kind of love poem associated with Valentine’s Day. I didn’t expect and didn’t find such a poem. But I did find stunningly beautiful lines, both in the text and in the many pages of full-page art. Robert Fanning’s “What Is Written on the Leaves” is more a funeral elegy than a love poem, and yet its litany of farewells spoke, to me, of the beauty of life and this world.
Of the season, let go. Of the ache to shape and make meaning,
let go. Of the hand in the dark, moss and worm, the awful gnaw.
Of the docked tongue, the root-clenched heart. Let go trunk mold,
branch rot. Of the green shoot that sprouts through your death,
being born, let go. Of quietude of a peace so deep,
of the changing light—of the euphonious chorus
of children, let go....
From this quiet, dark, woodsy beginning the poem builds slowly, urging the reader to let go of all manner of human responses and questions, as well as moods of nature, each one specific and familiar, until the last line lifts off the page and vanishes on the breeze, leaving calm in its wake.
In the middle of “Aerial View of Warren, Michigan, by Jim Daniels, a poem that compares the houses of his boyhood neighborhood to the little green look-alike houses of the Monopoly game always in play then, the poet gives us this stanza, one that made me smile in recognition:
We stood on stoops and called each other out to play.
We did not trust doorbells or any closed door.
Anyone with a piano or a dog of recognizable breed.
Teresa Scollon appears in this anthology, I’m happy to say. “July Fourth,” a poem recalling her father’s appearance in the parade.
We agreed it’d be good for the town to see
you. Stories had you half buried already,
and we were all so broken, panicked
but not saying so. And you relished the joke
of a sick man running for office, so Irish
in its blackness—nothing funnier than disaster.
So before he died, there were laughs and smiles and “that mile and a half of public sun.”
I like Scollon’s identification of her father’s parade event as “so Irish,” Daniels’s image of suburban Warren as a place where “a dog of recognizable breed was suspect.” Because before we can “let go” of all these moments, these memories, the feelings they hold, we must experience them, and do we ever fully experience anything we don’t hold in memory? Alison Swan recalls a lifeboat in the dunes, Jim Harrison a day of walking through Michigan woods, Diane Wakoski “the rain forest of old kitchens.”
Susan Blackwell Ramsey, in “Neruda in Kalamazoo,” imagines the poet Pablo Neruda in a Kalamazoo coffee house, skeptical of poetry or love’s possibility in that town, until a trio of random images changes the potential of the scene. Austin Hummell writes about ice, under the deceptive title “Look at the Pretty Clouds,” in ways that bring ice to the forefront of a reader’s attention. Not hard at this time of year, to think of ice, but you think of it differently with this poem reverberating in your skull.
“Is the world too close or too far?” That’s a line in “Holding,” by Mary Jo Firth Gillett, and doesn’t it capture one of poetry’s perennial questions? I am happy to meet Judith Minty again, with “First Snow,” and have a visit with Jack Driscoll over “Houdini.”
Then there are the images, the works of art that grace full pages opposite many pages of text. Painting and poetry, realistic and abstract, each one invites long exploration. David Grath’s work (two in this volume) I know well, of course, and Ladislav Hanka is an old friend of ours, but others are new to me. One artist whose work I am thrilled to discover in this book is Karin Wagner Coron.
|Karin Wagner Coron|
And many more, of course.
My subject heading this morning comes from a popular song, but I admit I use it tongue-in-cheek here, realizing that not everyone’s idea of the perfect Valentine gift would be something as “challenging” as a book of art and poetry. Many people, I know, are frightened by the very word ‘poetry’! (They’ve told me so.) I would do away with that fear, if I could, but we’re all different. So if your Valentine, the love of your life, wants roses or a gold watch or a new snowblower or chainsaw instead of poetry, then do, by all means, give your love something that will thrill his or her heart. I’m only presenting an option. And remember, there are a lot of colorful pictures in this book, too. Actually, it could as well have been called Art and Poetry in Michigan. That would have been my title.
True love takes many forms. It does not, however, take a holiday. It isn't afraid of a little snow, either.
|Sarah on Tuesday morning|