Evening Poetry

In his latest collection, We Almost Disappear, David Bottoms expresses stoic tenderness toward the passing of our human lives.

The poems focus on the speaker’s memories of childhood and family, with many of the poems lingering on the narrator’s relationship with his father, his “old man.”

Toward the end of the book we see the declining father shuffling on his walker against a backdrop of the Chattahoochee hill country, while the speaker contemplates the under currents running through existence.

This collection narrates life with a reverential tone punctuated with the concrete imagery of everyday reality: a rusted truck, afternoon traffic,  a telephone that “shrieks in the middle of the night.”

The tender attention to the details of light and objects reminds me of a Vermeer painting.

The poems are shorter in length–only two are longer than a page. The verses lilt across the page in long lines that are often dropped or indented, inviting the reader to pause and savor the images and feelings.

What will stay with me for a long while is the strong sense of abiding love that emanates from these poems–a cherishing of family, nature, words and even dreams.

This love reveals itself through the inner monologues of an introspective soul who does not take himself too seriously.

Week in Review

Rickshaw, a photo I took in Great Barrington, MA

Rickshaw, a photo I took in Great Barrington, MA

There’s a fine line between excitement and anxiety – adrenalin can either make us soar, or gnaw at our innards. Now that I have week one under my belt, I’m feeling more like embracing the challenges rather than wanting to take a road trip and never come back. Thanks to all of you who’ve encouraged me. It means a lot.

I’d say the hardest part of this new venture is the commute. For the week of conferences and meetings I took MARTA, our transit system in Atlanta, but the trip took over an hour… .  I’ve decided to be one of the lazy polluters and drive into town, which takes only 30 minutes, and even less in the early morning before rush hour. I intend to record the poems we’re studying so I can listen to them during the ride. At least I drive a subcompact. Let’s hope the Hummers out there don’t squash me. Such brutes.

My English Composition class is full of polite, eager young men and women. On the second day I had them do a free-write in which they introduced themselves to the class as a sandwich. I wrote right along with them, which was fun. They’re each going to keep a blog for the class, and we also will have discussion forums. Lots of writing for all of us.

My literature course is  20th-Century American Poetry with Dr. Leon Stokesbury, a highly-regarded scholar and poet who knows his stuff. We’re reading Robert Frost first, a poet whose work almost all Americans have read starting in grade school. The beauty of Frost’s poems is their multiple layers – he truly was a genius. The professor told us that “Frost loved to play the role of the genius poet, the taciturn New England codger.” He said, “undergraduates loved it when Frost would contradict their professors. Frost told the students that when he wrote about mowing hay, that’s all the poem was about, it was right there on the surface.” But anyone who has read Mowing or any of his other great poems knows Frost’s claim isn’t true.

It’s obvious I’m going to learn a lot about writing in the poetry workshop. The professor, David Bottoms, has written several volumes of poetry, and is the founding editor of Five Points, a longstanding literature and art magazine. He guides us into a careful, critical reading of the poems, and maintains a respectful but honest tone. And he’s not afraid of giving praise where it’s due. I submitted a brand-new prose poem, and as soon as the copies circled the table I wanted to snatch them back. It’s my very first poetry workshop in a formal setting. I wanted to say, ‘wait, it’s just a joke! I have much better poems than that one, really!’ Too late. I’ll let you know how it goes after they’ve given me their feedback.

The other hard part of going ‘back to school’ is my age. Usually I don’t think about the number of years I’ve spent on the planet, and if I do, I’m extremely grateful for almost all of them, but when I see that some of my classmates were born the year I graduated college, I start to wonder what the hell I’m doing there. Is there something ridiculous about a middle-aged woman wanting to ‘be a poet?’ Isn’t poetry supposed to begin with the passion and longing of youth? Doesn’t narcissism prod the earliest of poems, and if so, what does that say about me? I just keep going back to the thought that I want to spend the rest of my life doing what I love. Like Polly in the film “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing,” I do it for the kicks.

Blogging sickness cured by 32 Poems

It’s January and I have blog-itis. Post election, post holiday blog-itis. I’m sure some of you have experienced this dreaded malaise, in which the fingers on the keyboard don’t know where to begin. My own particular life is very mundane, not dramatic, at least not on the outside. Should I write about what kind of salad I prepared last night, or how I cried after I took down the Christmas tree? Or how all I want to do these days is play Scrabble on my computer, read, and write driveling, whining rants in my journal, stuff I hope will one day be recycled and turned into a cardboard box?

I have been reading some great poetry lately. Next to my computer rests my first copy of 32 Poems, Volume 6, No. 2, published and edited by Deborah Ager, and I’ve got to say, it’s the best $14.00 I’ve spent on poetry in over a month. I’m not familiar with the names of all the poets included in this volume, but of course I recognized Billy Collins, whose tiny poem The Pencil is almost what I’d call a cameo, as it turns the very words of the poem into a metaphor in the quintessential style Collins is known for.

The name David Bottoms is also well-known to me, since he comes from my neck of the woods in Georgia. His poem, Walking the Floor Over You, has that Southern twang to it, with references to honky tonks, cotton mills, cowboys, and beer, a poem I can relate to, about a woman swinging her bony hips (although mine are curvy) who needs to hear the same song over and over. It’s a poem with empathy.

There is a wide variety of poems included in this round number of 32. There are sonnets, a villanelle, a prose poem, free verse, a poem about lymph nodes (gooey and very good), one about bats, diminutive, and another about pineapples.

The Toads and Thumbelina, Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales

The Toads and Thumbelina, Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales

The second and third poems, starring Thumbelina’s mother, captured my imagination the most. They are both modern sonnets, with slant rhyme, except at the final couplet. I love poems that mess with the rules. But even more, I love how the author, Bernadette Geyer, entered into a secret world and made it come alive for me. She went inside Thumbelina’s realm and painted the myth, as if on a miniature Flemish canvas in egg tempera, with all it’s dark, psychic power.

Yes, I think I’ll renew my subscription to 32 poems, in case anyone is wondering. What an exciting life. Feeling much better now.