Of the many comforts that have sustained me in 2020, poetry and friends top the list. I take the opportunity of free time in winter vacation and the more random opportunity of a sense of time’s end and beginning, to reflect on a few books that have inspired, consoled, and sparked expansive thought for me this year. These books are special too in that I consider these poets friends, which humbles and gratifies me as I benefit from re-reading and studying their exquisite work.
So here’s to the Poets! The Friends! And Everyone Else! May we heal from the traumas of 2020. May those of you who have lost find solace. And may we do better in 2021. I hope you enjoy my mini-reviews.
love, loss and the enormity of it all
In her premier poetry collection, love, loss and the enormity of it all, Kelly Catharine Bradley presents us with an intimate tour of moments real and imagined that make a life, capturing delight, pain, and above all palpable gratitude for it all. Bradley’s passion for nature with references to the moon, sun, fog, clouds, foxes, wetlands, and snow weave throughout her studies of family, motherhood, and romantic love threading the pieces together. Reading this collection feels like meandering through woods with a dear friend with a big heart, taking in important reflections on life seen through the lens of grace and hope, despite being at times heartbreaking. As she writes in “always (been) there:” “...felt changed grew // to soar with my herons”
Bradley’s poetry surprises, at times reading like short, enchanting children’s fables; at times short stories that encapsulate all the crushing responsibility, wonder, and sorrow that can define adulthood, and at times raw and sparse verse with meanings implied as much through poignant use of white space as powerful imagery. Bradley pulls from memory, reality, and the spirit world, at times well-capturing Magical Realism, always in accessible terms and symbolism. A beautiful book of sixty-seven poems published by FootHills Publishing, love, loss and the enormity of it all is a collection I return to repeatedly and always gain something precious from the experience.
Sing Silence, by Le Hinton is a crushing, sensitive, profound, illumination of the brutality and sorrow of slavery seen through the lens of brothers, fathers, grandsons, great great great great grandsons and, unlikely though it may be, the cotton plant for whom one develops deep sympathy. Here I quote from “Interview with Cotton (Part 1/Dreams).”
“Sometimes I’d dream of being a beautiful
bouquet delivered into the arms of a young wife. Or I’d imagine
having my petals scattered across silk sheets,...
“I never wanted to be picked for money,
damned like tobacco. I never wanted my white bolls
to be turned into green money, to be the reason
for blood in the fields…”
All that follows before and after that excerpt is equally powerful. Hinton makes the horrors and legacy of slavery human and present in a way no history book can.
With titles like “C Minor Blues,” “Melody,” and “Everything Reminds Me of Jazz” scattered throughout the collection, Hinton intertwines wonderful musical imagery throughout beautiful poems! Reading Hinton’s work cannot be rushed. I tend to read one then stare out the window for a long reflection, then read again, in turns holding my breath and having my breath taken away. And the poems stay with me, often coming to mind as reference points to life. This is necessary poetry by one of the greatest contemporary poets, if not poets of all time. Overstated? Get his collection, Sing Silence, and I’m certain you’ll agree.
The Unbeckonable Bird
Pamela Murray Winters spotlights music, childhood, memories, and dreams in her collection The Unbeckonable Bird. With sights on reviewing this book for months now I expected to focus on her poetry about music, always some of my favorite verse and she does it well. She highlights artists such as Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Dave Carter, Joan Baez, Oliver Schroer, Liz Phair, Mark Sandman, and Pete Townshend, sometimes highlighting a moment, sometimes grasping the feel of music. But with a new cover-to-cover read of The Unbeckonable Bird I’m surprised to be every bit as enamored with her poems that recollect childhood, speak around religion, and her sincere, gorgeous lines of love. I’d like to pull out some excerpts to illustrate her treatment of these themes.
From “Hoisting the Pretend Sail:”
“Later I learned that my favorite home was away.
My favorite songs came in tabletop jukeboxes
“in bus stations en route to the tombs of unknown cousins.
My favorite candies were the ones you broke with a hammer…”
“I grew up in a faith without saints,…
“...I’ve learned how to find them: by their
dull-smooth goodness, or their trees
“strung up with little epiphanies,
or the smell of orange. They are not
ghosts, but they hover…”
“...Not for perfect knowledge, dark chocolate, the skeleton key
“would I give up the weight of this hand upon my thigh,
here in the sunrise of our senescence, an ocean
that gets its blue from mystery, it’s salt from souls…”
The Unbeckonable Bird is full of this style of urgent writing and beautiful imagery. I keep opening the book, wanting to quote more. Instead, I’ll suggest you seek it out. It’s a hard one to keep on hand, to not loan out or give away as a gift, because Winters' words want to be shared.