Poem for the New Year: “In the Candleroom at Saint Bartholomew’s on New Year’s Eve” By Heather Sellers

ImageThis poem moves me and impresses me with its sense of almost-but-not-quite arriving at connection. Everywhere I turn within the walls of this poem, I come face to face with human need and the world’s shortcomings in meeting that need. Mourning her mother, the speaker attempts throughout the poem to do a simple thing: light a candle. Instead, she finds herself confronted with failure and dampening hope. In the candle’s failure to light and in comparing herself to the other mourner’s open grief, the speaker sees the distance between herself and her mother, some final failure to connect or satisfy. Struggle, longing, and love are three threads tightly woven through stanzas of vivid detail and painful confession. Formally, the linked sounds, repetition, and snatches of rhythm give hints of the familiar, adding to a feeling of déjà vu that is mirrored by the narrative itself. The final stanzas push the walls of the cathedral outward, identifying this one speaker’s pain with a bigger wound shared by us all, and perhaps offering, there, the possibility of solace.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

The Best Words: Selections from the Sex Tapes of Tremendous Male Poets

flowerssmallI knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
   —Theodore Roethke, “I Knew a Woman

I know a woman who feels injustice in her lungs. A therapist, all day she catches others’ damage and offers it back to them as healing. Now I see her grow tense, ball her fists, seek something to strike while an abusive man asks an entire nation to hate with him. [Read more…]

Art, Icons, and Ant Ovaries

orthodox-icon-of-st-stephen-the-archdeacon-375x544“A world created out of silence gives itself over to prayer.” I’m listening to local painter Debra Korluka discuss her work: the icons she’s painted since she was a child studying in the Ukrainian Orthodox church. I’m interested in the symbolism of an icon’s composition and in the paints—their colors, chemistry, poisons, and history. All the hidden things that, like the completed icon, promise travel from invisibility to visibility; what is seen depends on where the journeying paths of the viewer and the art meet.

What I’m drawn to most is Korluka’s devotion, her belief not only that she’s found meaningful work, but that she’s decided to give herself to it completely. She doesn’t say this, but it comes through entirely. I’m entranced by this way of finding vocation, of not considering too deeply what makes one happy or fulfilled, but building meaning and purpose through devotion. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Sometimes I Am Permitted”

trainOn my first reading of this poem, I felt disoriented by all the non sequiturs, all the disconnected images leaping here and there. But then I thought: isn’t this how my own attention works (or doesn’t work)? The poem skips in a breath from winter snow to the red line train to the speaker’s sins “of digression.” Later the speaker moves—in the space of a period—from the mirror in which “I cannot recollect / my face” to an artichoke and the spoon to eat it with. At the poem’s end we are back in the train… but then suddenly we’re observing “the glossy Tyvek.” Tyvek on what? We’re not told. The poem seems chaotic, intentionally so. It carefully crafts a vision of the world as wildly scattered pieces. We’re left longing for a grounding beneath it all—the grounding that, for me, would be God. 

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Daybreak, Winter” by Betsy Sholl

23666248919_9ed672e6e0_zI have a complicated relationship with the sun, having grown up in southern California and now making my home in the moody Pacific Northwest. I swerve between desperation for even an hour of brightness and a stoic claim that my poet-soul finally feels at home in this rain-soaked climate. So Betsy Sholl’s poem about the longing for light—and its frustration by winter’s darkness—feels like it’s speaking directly to me, even as the lengthening days pitch us toward summer solstice. The poem’s four movements cast me out into the big questions, then draw me back in with quiet, simple sounds: “Now light…In my dream… Dawn in winter…” I love the stepping-stone quality of this poem’s thinking, how it steps carefully from image to image, as if the speaker were groping along the walls of some dark hallway while tracking a dream-truth. I stumble along holding tight to this poem’s unsure but deeply curious and trustful voice, as it moves from room to room. Here are familiar worries like “moths done with hunger, / white as tiny brides,” and a tree bearing fruit “only the birds, / and just a few of them, want to eat.” The poem is in some ways a procession of earthly failures, a meditation on the ways in which everything falls just short of oblivion—and yet finds light and grace again and again.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin
[Read more…]