Poetry Friday: “After” by Marjorie Stelmach

by Rin Johnson on flickrGrief is a state of being that almost defies articulation. When you’re in it, it consumes and seems present in everything. Marjorie Stelmach focuses the lens of this poem on small scenes from the natural world—frames at once ordinary and suffused with loss, as befits the claustrophobia of mourning. The speaker here admits to wanting out, to feeling done-in by sadness— “Today, the last thing I would wish / is another emblem of grit and continuance”—and yet each effort to observe something outside the self becomes an act of hope and faith. I love the gaps in this poem. I’ve read it multiple times and suspect it hasn’t finished telling me all of its secrets. I’m struck by how each of these images so tenderly reflect the mystery of human suffering: not even a willow tree can escape “a keening that leaves it chastened, / loose-limbed, compliant.” God feels far away, yet so close, in the “available healing” of creation described here so beautifully.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Visitation Rights” by Jeffrey Harrison

funeral flowers by Elvert Barnes on flickr_with writing edited outI sometimes talk to friends who have died. Especially to friends who acted as spiritual guides for me during their lives here. I continue to ask their advice when I’m in distress or need guidance.  I believe there’s a very thin and permeable line between mortal life and eternal life. This is why Jeffery Harrison’s “Visitation Rights” resonates with me. The poem melds the living and the dead, past and present, in ways deeply true to psychological and spiritual reality. I also like the poem’s play with the word “visitation.” Its primary meaning here is the appearance on earth of someone who has died. But hovering within the word are always its supernatural reverberations—its meaning of an appearance to us of the divine—as well as its etymological kinship to “vision.” So it feels right that the poem closes by appealing to “visions,” expressing a desire for them that (the poem has argued) is fully justified.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Blood Lines

blood linesLast September, I was in Philadelphia for the first time since my freshman year of college. In the train station, I paid attention to what was new, though I suspect memory shouldn’t take a conscious effort. I thought it would be easy, that I could walk into the mall, down the escalator (I remembered this much: the train runs below ground until it reaches the outskirts of Center City), and it would be like it always had been. Twelve years compressed into nothing.

I hated and loved Philadelphia, and the moments of excitement and adventure I felt as a freshman away from northern Minnesota couldn’t make up for the way I missed my family, my dogs, my forests, my quiet roads. The Midwest tore away at the home it had made in my body for nineteen years, the woods and fields woven into the way I looked at anything, the long shapes of vowels replaced by speech that said I didn’t belong. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: Four Sonnets

medivalmanuscriptSonnets meditating on illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages may sound a bit sanctimonious, even borderline pompous, but like all the best sonnets, Melissa Range’s subvert expectations. The sonnets, each named for a pigment monks used to color the manuscripts, explore the seedy underbelly of each pigment. For starters, they are all highly toxic. Also, kermes-red is made from “the insect’s brood /crushed stillborn from her dried body,” making even its origins destructive. Verdigris, once applied, is corrosive. It “eats / the page and grieves the paleographer.” How could such beautiful art be made up of something so deadly? How could such devout men be poisoned by such a noble calling? Range explores these questions: “Taking the paint on his tongue, he tastes the blood / but, pocked Christ, can’t feel your toxins enter.” It seems paradoxical that the sonnet form, so measured and contained, can raise such unwieldy, sprawling questions about beauty, faith, art, and death. The strict meter, rhyme scheme, and heavy reliance on Latinate words conjure the mood of a meticulous monk in his cell. (Lines like “but a toxic and unearthly green meet /for inking angels wings, made from copper sheets” beg to be read aloud.) And yet, the sudden switch into first person tilts the poems, almost uncomfortably, into the personal in lines like “There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts / in my blood, an essential mineral,” and, “this bright solution, like your law / has leached into my pores.” It’s a poet’s job to ask questions without simple answers and to challenge her readers’ perspectives. Range does this beautifully, crafting poems that explore not just the mystery in this ancient art but the way we view beauty in our own lives.

—Christina Lee [Read more…]

Fifty Shores of Grief

I write this the evening of June 12, 2016, the day forty-nine people died in the worst mass public shooting in recent US history.

A few hours before hundreds of people faced unspeakable terror, my husband and I finished the first season of Justified, a series about Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a U.S. Marshal who returns to his hometown of Harlan, KY, to help root out the bad guys. Sure, he gets a little trigger happy at times, but he feels “justified” in his attacks. The audience usually agrees.

I like the show. It’s entertaining and witty, and Olyphant sulks adorably under his cowboy hat.

The Season 1 finale, appropriately called “Bulletville,” reaches a body count of at least a dozen, including one man, Johnny, shot by super bad guy Bo in a sudden act of revenge. He flips back over the porch railing and lies in the shrubbery, stunned, clutching his stomach as he bleeds out the rest of his short life. [Read more…]