Poet of the Week Archive: July, 2005
July 5-10, 2005: Pamela Uschuk
What I find myself puzzling over most in Pamela Uschuk's poems is the speaker's perpetual astonishment at being alive, at being in the world and able to participate in this existence. Camus speaks somewhere of his surrendering completely to the taste of a peach; he calls that man "who is afraid of joy" a fool. Pamela Ushcuk, in her poetry, is far from being afraid of joy. She is not naive, although she is vulnerable. The process of aging bothers her. She is also perfectly aware of the folly of trying to impose one's will on another and of the consequences of human brutality. But she always finds her way back to what she loves: the sublimity of the natural world above all, and, yes, even to what Schopenhauer referred to as "life's delicate child."
"Beauty," says Emerson in his poem "The Rhodora," "is its own excuse for being." Pamela, I feel certain, would agree. It shows in all of her poems, poems which constantly turn away from what is vile toward the beautiful mysteries: among them Ouzel, meadowlark, husband, fox, and Carolina wren. -- Dennis Sampson
Dennis Sampson's most recent collections of poems areNeedlegrass (Carnegie Mellon Press, 2005) and For My Father Falling Asleep at St. Mary's Hospital (Milkweed Editions, 2005). He teaches creative writing at Wake Forest University.
Good Friday and the Snowstorm Keeps Land
Developers from Clearing the Woods
Good Friday and ice storms, then snow
whirls its wet lace skirts,
buries the canoe, snow crocus,
leaftips of tulips and the machines --
a yellow-knuckled front-end loader,
dumptrucks and the jacked-up backhoe
that all week
have assaulted our woods.
Snow and its white lungs
wheeze like angry asthmatics
or Jesus come down from the clouds
to drive out the moneychangers, real
estate agents and landscapers from the forest.
Or so we'd think
on this Good Friday with its miracle of snow.
While the landlady curses weather, upstairs
the Abuela cooks Lenten lunch --
caldo de camarones,
fresh corn tortillas.
Muchas comidas y nieve, gracias a Dios.
All the week the woods have groaned, trunks
of saplings cracked, branches
split under the half-tracks
of iron caterpillars, the floor
of the climax forest trashed,
birdsong gashed from spring.
Now, peace at last.
Snow and the workers go home.
Snow and the silent white curve of the woods
waits for death postponed,
for resurrection's promise,
the rolling away of the stone.
Meditations Beside Kootenai Creek
Sometimes I become what I least desire,
old as bone, uncomprehending
as the memory of pain.
Perhaps dusk comes into a room
and a woman rattles up
out of my throat, her eyes
empty as candles set aside for the dead
who no longer care for such light,
her flesh gone to the birds.
It is then
in gray light, she tells me
my skin sags, my heart is incomplete in its beatings.
I haven't learned to love
as much as the stars
who are at least not cruel.
Then, as if in a dream of fire along a foggy ridge,
I walk out,
hands sprouting green flames,
eyes not blind enough from blue smoke,
and I hear
from its sad shadow in wet grass
the sudden up-cry of a meadowlark
and I believe I will never be alone again.
Listening to the wild applause of water
as it clarifies rocks we step across,
we hear what we'd name,
and over a silver patch of river, dim
in cedar shadows, the thick bilious
laughter of Ravens.
Walk in cold water.
Let it burn your feet.
When you dive into the stream
you float for a while, then try to
hold the current in your pale hands,
and I remember your fingers
like coals stoking my breasts.
Your black hair waves like tentacles
or a negative halo radiant in its aquamarine pool.
Like blind minnows, your fingertips
bump the smooth skulls of stones underwater,
and, for a moment, I worry you'll drown.
But you rise, streaming
a chandelier of water light
even our dark sides love.
Last night I dreamed of blood and beatings,
of giving away a bright red slip.
I tied my mother to a gypsy wagon and drove it West,
while her arms like kites
waved at passing weeds she blessed. Over
and over she asked,
If the eye is blue as beach glass,
will it see itself
leap to the bottom of the stream?
I watch a Water Ouzel now
whose name you won't believe.
It dips in and out of sizzling foam,
its thin yellow legs canny
on moss-covered stones I'd slip on.
I watch it disappear beneath white water
consuming itself above the bird
who emerges sky-gray, triumphant on the opposite shore.
Ordeal by ice --
I'd change my heart to ice,
suspend it twice in air
to sprout wings for the wind's care,
then cage it in the bones of flame
to unlock the twins from separate names.
Even as a young girl, I'd sit
beside a dry creek I'd wish was full
and sketch the Tanager, shading
black wings on its heart-red sides.
Sitting alone under the vast
loneliness of trees in that small woods,
I heard voices huge with wind
and the coming dusk that wouldn't let me go.
Who could I tell but the dead?
What name could I give passion?
I watched the way animals surprised the grass
then I pretended I was a lion
no one could kill.
Summer's demise --
Gemini rises just before
midnight in the southern sky.
Castor and Pollux,
from icy toe to icy toe,
I'd trace with a twin's eye for balance.
Even the dead must have this simple joy.
After all these years, what we come to,
wet branches beating our chests as we wade
to the other side of the creek.
Reaching for the slippery knuckles of roots
clinging to clay banks, we fall
into water we can see through.
Cedar perfumes our numb fingers
that finally hold musky bark.
How deliciously we shiver.
This is the journey the heart makes,
back through water, under stars
filled with the certainty of submarine light.
We count the times we've drowned to live.
When I climb ashore, you splash
water straight into the air at my feet.
This time I can love and shove away the dead.
You splash again.
It is that simple. I wait
for the Ouzel to come back downstream,
wait for its small piping,
your splashing already deep inside me.
Pamela Uschuk was until recently the director of the Salem College Center for Women Writers, in Winston-Salem. She is the author of three books of poems: Flying through Thunder: New and Selected Poems (New Delhi, London, Thailand: Sampark Press) and Finding Peaches in the Desert and One Legged Dancer, both published by Wings Press. In 2001, Wings Presswww.wingspress.comreleased her CD, also entitled Finding Peaches in the Desert,with musical accompaniment by Chameleon and Joy Harjo. She has written several chapbooks of poems, including Without Birds, Without Flowers, Without Trees (Flume Press Chapbook Award, 1990 www.flumepress.com),Blood Flower (currently featured online at www.thedrunkenboat.com/uschuk.html) and Heartbeats in Stones (New York: Codhill Press, 2005). Scattered Risks, a collection of poems centered in the Rocky Mountains, is due from Wings Press in September 2005. The first poem featured here is drawn from Scattered Risks; the second from Heartbeats in Stones after appearing first in the magazine Poetry. Both poems are reproduced with permission of the author, who holds the copyright. Ms. Uschuk is leaving the state this summer to make her home in Colorado with her husband, the poet William Pitt Root. There she will direct the Raven's Word Writers Center, in Durango, and launch a new literary magazine: Cutthroat: A Journal of the Artswww.cutthroatmag.com.
July 11-17, 2005: Paul Jones
Paul Jones is a Renaissance man -- master of the universe of cyberspace and poet of the material world. Paul takes time from his many projects for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his teaching in that university's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He takes time -- as he has always done -- for poetry. Paul was long a promoter of poetry through his excellent reading series at the Carrboro Art School from 1979 to 1988 -- a labor of love that built a large and loyal audience by bringing both celebrated and beginning poets from across the state, and poets from afar, as well. We heard readings by the likes of Robert Hass (who would later become Poet Laureate of the United States) and the then largely unknown but now renowned Irish poet Paul Muldoon, among many others.
A pioneer in promoting poetry in North Carolina, Paul is also a pioneer in his own work. His fascination with difficult Welsh forms dating from the 14th century has led him to experiment with American variations for our own time. The two poems, "Dividing Waters" and "Birds and Fishes" are from a series of seven poems, each corresponding to one of the seven days of creation. The poems are based on the number seven, with seven syllables per line, seven lines per stanza, and seven stanzas. They sometimes depart from the Welsh pattern of the Cynghanedd and the later Cywydd by eschewing end rhymes and couplets, and by subverting rhyme expectations with slant rhyme and interior sound repetitions. "Dividing Waters" uses clear end rhymes but varies the order of occurrence. Using these difficult forms, Paul has taken on (in "Waters") the rape of landscape, the rise of consumer luxury, the racist past, and the innocence of childhood: the colored waters, the rainbow hope divided, denied. In "Birds and Fishes," the creatures who came into the world before Eden, before human consciousness could make death imaginable and therefore true, are celebrated. They whose faith is action are paralleled with humans whose faith is reflection. It's a masterful turn. Paul's improvisations on an old, old form awaken old responses among the new. Like jazz. Like all good poetry. -- Betty Adcock
Betty Adcock is the author of five collections of poetry from LSU Press -- most recently the award-winning Intervale: New and Selected Poems. She lives in Raleigh.
Birds and Fishes
Because the world is willing
to forget what has crossed it,
the cold sea calls back salmon;
rocks glisten with their trying
to reach the potbellied moon;
we hear the tune of what will come,
the song humming near us yet.
The trees empty save one bird,
its head bare and raw as meat,
its dark wings held shoulder high.
Cold talk forged of cold words
would shield us, keep us behind
the brush jumble of our blind
while we watch the vulture eat.
Father, see the waters fold
as the stream unbraids, unwinds
having had its fill of loss.
Like a sail windblown to full,
this stream is set for the coast
where salmon leap and leave us.
We will never be their kind.
Birds and fishes came into the world
before Eden, before death;
so we pity these monsters
caught up in the current's swirl
Water or air. They dance stairs
over rapids, rushes and stirs;
action is their name for faith.
Our faith comes in reflection:
the clear mirrors of new ice
freezing all but the most swift;
the slowest held as if stunned
as if their rest were a gift;
the faster leap high as if
they could escape cold's malice.
What is here is without song
for them, from them. No vulture
celebrates the salmon feast
nor pauses to think it wrong;
what is offered and what pleases
draws the river to the sea.
What prayer could be that pure?
Our prayers start singing slow:
water seeping through the marsh,
the low rumble of the soil
settling in new furrows,
ice bridging the current's coil.
All that seemed impossible
sings as winter's wind turns harsh.
Memory, which may not hold so tightly to history, is often still true in the larger sense. The Park Road Shopping Center, the remembered location of this poem, was the first modern mall -- although we would now call it a strip mall -- in Charlotte in 1956. Brown vs. Board of Education was decided on May 17, 1954. To my young, and now older mind, the opening of the shopping center and the Supreme Court decision were concurrent. This poem is based on the number 7. Seven syllables per line, seven lines per stanza and seven stanzas for the poem.
Signs divided the waters
when all the creeks were rerouted
around the evangelist's
father's field and crops withered
as the shopping center sprouted
and red hills of clay mounted
in red dust and oily mists.
Even their hair was crimson:
men at break -- the setting sun --
their hard work clinging to them
made them all seem one red race
but too soon they were replaced
-- as if by some magic whim --
by clean careful concrete men.
What was to come next was grand:
a new J.C. Penney's store
with tiles that set departments
apart like pools of rain
that captured only one tint:
the boy's section was lime green,
the toys brown, sports blue and more.
My grandmother took me in
-- I think I was about four --
and the grand old man himself
held the door as in we poured
to gawk at the full shelves,
wonderfully uniform bins,
and the tall tight-lipped women.
Thirsty in all this outpour,
I looked for water fountains
and found two flanking a door
one shiny metal marked "White"
and a white one called "Colored"
new but with a dripping drain
still the colored one seemed right.
I stepped up for a cool sip;
one hand bravely on the knob
thinking I had made the slip.
With a rough yank, I was robbed
of my try for those colors
and shoved over to the other
by my silent grandmother.
But there the water ran red.
My lips looked like they had bled
a blood common to all kids;
the drips draining on the tiles
ran into the Young New Styles
section like Biblical curses.
I drank deep and almost burst.
I've always had a certain
Distrust of earthly beauty;
I would pull back a curtain
To show what was hid behind
As if that was my duty
To be the one not blinded
And to share that purity
Of vision, of purpose, but
When a cute couple came out
Of the surf onto the black
Sand beach at Santorini --
The waves breaking at their knees
Stalled while the guilty gulls shouted,
Winds whispered as they turned back
Like any silhouette on
A card tendering the cheap
Tenderness that turns creepy
(When the brain is set to "on")
And having been sold removes
The gold borders from "our love."
But they seemed to be above
That. To be, instead, 3-D
As if they could joke about
Their cliche while waves threaded
White foam between their dark knees,
As if wordless ecstasy
Was not just idiocy,
As if they might wade back out
Onto the exotic sand
To find a love so complex
And amazingly simple
That the old pull to touch hands
Becomes changed, charged like new sex,
Like falling onto the sand.
When we think, do we lose love?
Stop! The grit, cool night, and spray
All conspire to take away
Romance, to replace the tired
That seemed so new then withdrew
To something worn and well tried.
I pray they find a new way
To keep their Eden in view.
Who would not fall to desire,
Who has danced inside the fire?
Better a pillar of salt
That's seen paradise afar.
But angels with flaming swords
Cannot match the fear, the fault
Of growing trite, being bored.
Paul Jones, who did the first part of his growing up in Charlotte, is amazed that at his advanced age he can still qualify as a distinguished member of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. A graduate of N.C. State and of Warren Wilson College -- where he studied computer science and literature -- he is the director of ibiblio.org (a large-scale information sharing project) and is a member of the faculties of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-CH. Mr. Jones is author of the chapbook "What the Welsh and Chinese Have In Common." He is blessed to live with the lovely and talented Sally Greene, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, and Tucker Jones, a future cell biologist and Lego master.
These poems are licensed under the Creative Commons license.
Years ago when I met Betty, we discovered a good deal of common ground beyond poetry. We both grew up in rural settings and knew the realities of farm life, hunting, and the workaday world. We had religious families and an early church formation; and we had an interest in music, especially jazz (she has written beautifully about jazz), which we often discuss with her husband, Don, a fine musician and teacher. One thing that has made me immediately comfortable around Betty is her well - tuned sense of humor. She likes to laugh, even about herself. Once, when Debra Kang Dean and I were doing an interview with her for Tar River Poetry, Debra asked her about the possibility of Elizabeth Bishop being an influence on her work and Betty, laughing, said yes: "It's one of those things, you know, because poetry is a river; you jump in it and a bunch of it gets on you. From a lot of people!" In addition to the funny moments, there are serious and insightful observations about writing and living in that interview. Our conversations over the years have given me impressions of Betty's East Texas childhood and the pain of losing a parent, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer beauty and power of a poem like "Penumbra." -- Peter Makuck.
July 18-24, 2005: Betty Adcock
Peter Makuck's stories, essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in The Hudson Review, Poetry, and The Sewanee Review. Author of five books of poetry, he has edited the magazine Tar River Poetryhttp://personal.ecu.edu/makuckp/home.html at East Carolina University for twenty - seven years. BOA Editions, Ltd. will publish a new volume of poems, Off Season in the Promised Land, this fall. His second short - story collection,Costly Habits (University of Missouri Press, 2002) was nominated for a Pen/Faulkner award. He lives with his wife, Phyllis, on Bogue Banks, one of North Carolina's barrier islands.
The child in the cracked photograph sits still
in the rope swing hung from a live oak.
Her velvet dress brims with a lace frill.
Her pet Bantam is quiet in her lap.
It is the autumn day of a funeral
and someone has thought to take a snap-
shot of the child who won't be allowed
to go to the burying -- the coffin in the house
for days, strange people going in and out.
She's dressed as if she'd go, in the blue church-
dress from last Christmas, almost too short.
The rooster loves her, she guards his perch
on her lap, his colors feathering the mild air.
She concentrates on this, now that her father
is unknowable, crying in his rocking chair.
Her mouth knife - thin, her small hands knotted hard
on the ropes she grips as if to be rescued.
She's growing a will that won't be shed
and something as cold as winter's breath
tightens in her, as later the asthma's vise
will tighten -- hands on her throat, the truth.
Black and white, she is hiding
in every one of my bright beginnings.
Gold and deep blue and dark - shining
red the cockerel's feathers, gold the sun
in that skyblue southern fall, blue
over the four o'clocks and the drone
of weeping that drains like a shadow from the house
where someone is gone, is gone, is gone --
where the child will stay to darken like a bruise.
I am six years old, buried
in the colorless album.
My mother is dead.
I forgive no one.
Dusk and snow this hour
in argument have settled
nothing. Light persists,
and darkness. If a star
shines now, that shine is
swallowed and given back
doubled, grounded bright.
The timid angels flailed
by passing children lift
in a whitening wind
toward night. What plays
beyond the window plays
as water might, all parts
making cold digress.
Beneath the ice bush and eave,
the small banked fires of birds
at rest lend absences
to seeming absence. Truth
is, nothing at all if missing.
Wind hisses and one shadow
sways where a window's lampglow
has added something. The rest
is dark and light together tolled
against the boundary - riven
houses. Against our lives,
the stunning wholeness of the world.
for Del Marie Rogers
This is deep - roofed shelter
for a roomful of weather,
the first and last of the journey,
and a boundary you can stand on
from inside or outside
without taking a position.
Anything can meet anything
where household touches wider
world in mud - tracks on the floor.
Here, rocking chairs turn back
on what is left of winter,
bent mourners against the housewall.
We've mostly given it up for lost,
Made do with a backyard deck at most.
The cost of that is in direction.
But even now, sometimes, you'll hear one
that sound like nothing but wind
plucking a long wooden swing
whose arms are full of leaves and lamplight,
shadow - trees on the tall steps, climbing.
That summer it just appeared,
like a huge canvas butterfly
pinned to McNaughton's field.
All of us half - grown came every day
to watch and try, in love
with unlikely motion, with ourselves
and the obscure brother
who was older and came from a nameless far end
of the county. He knew, from somewhere,
how to do it, the dance of it turning
faster than music, could bend
and glide smooth as a fish where we fell,
could leap, land and roll on
squatting, backward, one - footed.
We loved him for looking blade - boned and frail,
for being always alone with nothing to tell.
In August the old man who'd taken our change
hefted sections of floor and his tent
and his music into a truckbed and left.
The autumn that came after
rose for us with so perfectly clear
a cry of wild geese and amber light
on its early winds, with so many stars
let loose, and leaves in the rain --
even our shambling, hopeless town
seemed good, just in that turn
before the wheel of the year came down.
Of course it never came again.
There was the round brown place
where grass wouldn't grow in that field,
but would grow next year with great ghost wheels
of Queen Anne's lace.
That summer was a line we'd stumbled over,
and so we were free to fall and gather
the dear, unskillful, amazing losses
departure needs. We took them all,
our bodies shooting crazily
into and through each other. And finally past
to army, city, anyplace far.
We took any road out we could take;
but none of us with the sweet - lifting grace
and ease of the promise that farm boy made
who went and stayed.
Betty Adcock is the author of five volumes of poetry from LSU Press, most recently Intervale: New and Selected Poems(Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2001), from which all of the poems presented here are drawn, with permission of the author, who holds the copyright. Intervalewas one of four finalists for the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and winner of the 2003 Poets' Prize. The book was also named one of three finalists for the Texas Institute of Letters Prize and winner of two North Carolina prizes: the Campbell - Brockman Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society and the Oscar Young Award from the North Carolina Poetry Council. The Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbooknamed Intervaleits "distinguished volume of poetry published in 2001." Ms. Adcock won the North Carolina Award for Literature for 1996 and the Texas Institute of Letters Prize that same year. This year the Fellowship of Southern Writers presented her with the Hanes Award for Poetry. In 2002 - 2003 she held a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry. She has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council. Since 1983 Ms. Adcock has been writer - in - residence at Meredith College. Since 2000 she has been a member of the faculty of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.
July 25 - August 1, 2005: Tim Earley
There are mystery and mastery in Tim Earley's poems. He is able to give into the large and unfathomable forces that swirl around him: the geology and genealogy, the museum and myth of the South to name one vast mystery. His poems speak to an immersion in the manifold, a look at the eccentric and odd. The language is another mystery, how its idiosyncratic music envelops us in time, makes a new time. The mystery is in the multiplicity and fluidity of experience. The mystery is in the strangeness and familiarity of it all for us.
As the magician of Rutherford County, Earley is able to use his book and wand to achieve a linguistic mastery. He can cast spells and make statements as startling as omens. He's sly rather than commanding in his knowledge. He can make tonal shifts and jokes and heart-scalding moments of emotional power. He is impressionable and subtle rather than dominating and directing. In this way he's able to open up the perplexed interior for us to see. The sight can be unnerving and sad. Or it can be astonishing and gorgeous.
He doesn't miss much. He picks up and touches everything. Like Whitman he accrues detail and dazzle into himself and his work is to transform their textures and colors and flavors into the forms, which he names humbly and accurately as "poems." The Winn Dixie and the collapsing smokehouse rub up against the rapture. The Last Supper, the wisteria, the body are thrown together with "lurid things." Vistas and praises and petitions speak of the "larger consciousness." His work is exuberant and restless and always wanting to "further."
Think of them as dreams of the dramatic inside that is informed of heart and mind. Recognize the craft and measures by which the culture gets diffused and arranged. Give in to the mystery. —Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith is the author of five books of poetry, including his latest, Songs for Two Voices (University of Chicago Press), and The Other Lover, which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He has been a Guggenheim fellow, and has twice received grants from the NEA and the Massachusetts Arts Council. He teaches in the graduate writing program at Syracuse University.
I would like to say the world is one thing,
like a dog riding a unicycle.
I would like to say memory is a sneeze
and a sneeze only and that all dense,
circuitous investigations into the subject
should immediately cease. I have a suspicion
a surer God would have saved me
a lot of time, that a language made of letters
as palpable and funereal as tree bark
would grant me more sleep. As it is
surfaces are unaware of themselves,
the self is divided into everyone breathing
and everyone dead, divided again,
and probably divided once more on top of that.
I would like to say we can depend on Heraclitus,
and not fear that when we see him again
he'll be a winged demon or a man with irregular teeth
folding joy's rose into his suitcase.
The same goes for all the other brilliant executioners
of my ability to enjoy tea and bread.
A recent dearth of placidity and animal comfort
makes me think that more than anything