John Slater’s Lean

dying branch with tiny yellow leaves laid across a white table cloth in the afternoon.What is poetry, anyway? I found myself musing about this as I sat with John Slater’s stimulating new collection, Lean.

First I recalled what I’d once heard poet Li Young Lee say at a reading:

In poetry, language is not the only medium; silence is also a medium. This is a difference of poetry from prose. We might even say that, in poetry, the very purpose of the language is to inflect the silences. It’s like after church bells ring: the air resonates with their sound. In poetry, the silences are resonant, from the language that precedes them.

Slater’s poems are as full of silences as of words. First, the poems themselves are—as the book’s title suggests—lean. With one exception, each poem’s lines run from one to four words. So there’s an invited silence at the end of each brief line. Then another, longer reverberating silence: many of the poems present an image, followed by a space with a * in it, followed by another image stanza, then another spaced *… and so on.

Take the whole of the poem “Thaw”:

Freeze
thaw freeze
hollowing
pot-holes in
salty grey-
black asphalt

cracked
seam between
lanes
stitched
by faded
golden broken
line.
[Read more…]

Black Lives, Black Art

sedrick-huckaby-glory-to-glory

Sedrick Huckaby. From Glory to Glory, 2016. Oil on canvas on panel. 80 x 30 inches.

I happened to be re-reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin when the current issue of Image (#90) arrived in the mail. So I was especially interested in Joe Milazzo’s essay on the work of African American artist Sedrick Huckaby.

In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 novel, even the kindest and most compassionate white people refer to their slaves as “articles.” The less kind whites simply assume that “n*****s” are “property.” The sale of this property is big business, and “traders” (as they call their profession) separate husbands from wives, children from parents, without any more moral awareness than you’d have in separating perennials in your garden. [Read more…]

Meeting Islam in Interfaith Friendships

dining-table-by-rik-wouters-via-wikimediaIn 1993 my husband George Dardess began visiting our local Islamic Center: first to learn Arabic so that he could read the Qur’an, then cementing friendships with his teacher there and with the imam. So when the events of September 11, 2001 hit, George was in a position to join with members of the Center in presenting programs on Islam to the public.

Our Islamic Center’s brave response to 9/11 was to open itself to the larger community—to invite Christians and others to learn about Islam, to observe the communal prayers, to ask questions. At the programs George, as a Christian, would dialogue with a Muslim on a topic like Jesus in the Qur’an, or Mary in the Qur’an, or the real meaning of jihad.

I accompanied George to the programs, which were often preceded by a potluck dinner, and it’s there that I met my first Muslim friend, Yasmin. [Read more…]

Kathleen Wakefield’s Invisible Stenographer

givegripandswaykathleenwakefieldbookYou’ve got to meet this character. She’s a stenographer by trade:

From the outset she was the obsessive type,
maker of lists: dates, births and deaths, diagnoses,
times of arrival and departure, the amassing of coins, weapons
and works of art, portions of letters, speeches and grocery lists,
though soon it was statements of motivation, speculations
on the nature of the original crime,
the 33 million names for God.

She goes easily, as here, from the mundane specific (“grocery lists”) to the cosmic (God’s names—but thirty-three million?! She has certainly been around to collect so many).

You’ve got to meet this extraordinary character, whom you’ll find in the final seventeen poems of Grip, Give and Sway, the new collection by Image’s recent Artist of the Month, Kathleen Wakefield. [Read more…]

Saying Yes to the Annunciation

annunciazione-by-fabrizio-boschi-on-wikimediaOf all the Gospel episodes, the Annunciation has long been one of the favorites of poets. The scene is unique and literally earth-shaking: Gabriel’s sudden appearance to the girl Mary, his announcement that she will bear a son who will be “the Son of the Most High,” her puzzlement (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”), and her final yes—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” [Read more…]