This spring, a pale violet crocus, almost white, appeared in my yard. The other blooms, all purple, had unfurled themselves at the far end of the flowerbed, inching toward the neighbor’s lawn. The pale violet crocus had just begun to open, still curled in a sphere. It was so small and pale I don’t know if I would have seen it if I hadn’t really looked. The others, standing out in their brightness, were unmistakable.
How loud must something be to make us pay attention? Do we expect volume and brightness when we want to give something our time? What of the things that slowly, quietly bloom, asking for our patience and concentration? If we don’t notice them, is there a chance we might miss something necessary?
In her essay, “The Art of Finding,” Linda Gregg offers an exercise that encourages writers to look closely at the world: “I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things.” Using this exercise in my own classes for one week, even in freshman composition, I realize by the last day of the assignment that my students notice more details about their daily environment than when they first began. Poets may encourage this patient vision, actively seeing the world rather than passing through, but we are all capable of it.
On to our May poetry column! Associate Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brings us the lead poet for this month, Josephine Yu. About Yu’s work, she writes,
Josephine Yu’s poetry is laden with the kind of gentle humor that arises from an investigation into the ways in which we recognize our life as that which we stitch together around and through the events over which we have no control. Whether she is “testing for the right position” during a migraine, or “plucking limp, featherless chicks off the concrete,” Yu teaches her readers that accepting the uncomfortable and vulnerable sides of the self and the body can lead to a life filled with moments of clarity, transcendence, and mercy.
The first thing that drew me to Francine Witte’s poems was how the title of the first piece not only acts as the first line of the poem—a movement I admire here and elsewhere in poetry—but moves toward the speaker’s role as the voice of the house. “I told the outside / world what the house wanted most,” Witte writes. Nothing in this poem happens without the speaker, which is realized especially in the last line of the poem. Witte uses theme and imagery in these poems in surprising and satisfying ways, rewarding readers with each subsequent read.
Associate Editor Davon Loeb brings us four poems by Caroline Rash:
Caroline Rash’s poems invite you inside her home, where she wants you to listen to her kettle whistle, and peruse her bookshelf, and sit and eat breakfast with her. Her writing concerns those domestic moments when the simple is beautiful, when “Bikes rest on books, and the books/ themselves rest crooked, the tub is/ filled, dishes done.” And while these poems are the candid views from inside the window, they are also the revelatory explorations into intimate relationships—a lover, a friend, a father, a mother, children. So, if possible, at home, sit wherever you can and read Caroline’s writing with a glass of wine or a cold beer—and be her, or someone else for a moment.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Jessica Lieberman’s poem “Patina” since I first read it; the imagery is both arresting and thought-provoking. The speaker of this poem absorbs things from outside the body: “I swallow / a moth. I swallow / a spooked mare.” Lieberman takes us toward the erotic, then toward blood—what will the speaker become? And once we wonder, the poem turns in a direction we don’t expect. The surprise in these lines reminds me, once again, why I love poetry.
Davon also brings us three poems from Ron Riekki this month. About this work, he writes,
Ron Riekki’s poems are stark depictions of the ongoing struggles within and outside of us. He writes of post-war, and the realities that follow—unemployment, PTSD, silence, rage. Said vehemently, “As if my dreams have not been on fire./ As if the PTSD counseling waiting room has never been on fire./As if it matters…”, and these poems matter—Ron’s voice, his words, his work matters so significantly in our society.
Ösel brings us three poems from john sweet:
What drew me to john sweet’s work is that the rawness of his poetry is not covered over with seductive or digestible language or images. It is a poetry that is seeking redemption by facing hard truths. He says, “listen // hatred is easy // grow up afraid // let your fear turn to anger // set the flame to the curtains / then walk out the door.” These words have a buried solace in them because, at least, some voice somewhere is telling us what to do when we have lost faith in men, in the world, and in a god. “Don’t wipe away the dust,” we are told, and what we understand is that to sit and face the troubles life inevitably brings our way is how we’ll find our strength and maybe even hope.
We close our column with a poem from Lindsay Stuart Hill that reminds of what we gather not only at the ocean but within our lives. “There is a hard fragility to a past that won’t leave / you,” Hill states, offering the landscape of a beach alongside “bright and unbreaking thought.” The geography of memory and place is seamlessly woven into the narrative of this poem like it is woven into our days.
As always, thank you for visiting with these poets. We’ll see you again midsummer.