Doing the month long NaPoWriMo poetry prompts with my poet friend Marty McGovern. If you’re a poet and aren’t doin’ it, try it. It’s fun and you never know what you are going to end up with.
Here’s my stab for Day Five, using Stanley Kunitz’s poem, End of Summer, for my prompt, using the same first letters in each line (okay, I cheated in the last line) and following loosely the line length. (okay, I cheated there too!) (oh, and I didn’t rhyme . . . whoops!)
The Sandhill Cranes of San Luis Valley
A half-thermal of air and a left off Highway 160 arrested the cold of glacial farm fields we passed, shaken by a year of such frost
we will not forget. We stand in a rutted drive amid winter refuse and ditches, unready to be awoke, to go glittering beneath the half-fences, the dark of our cameras we uncap
blown with such light we had forgot. A crane flies out of a wind block of marsh, then wave after wave of rose-tipped cranes plow the winter sky, the cold we’ve owned.
Already what we prayed for craters us into unimaginable spring: a volcano’s old mouth, we dared to enter, enflamed by cranes, thousands in old potato fields, and leaping.
I think what I’m going to do is each week share more about these books from each of my fellow finalists.
More about Foreward Review:Do you know about this contest, Book Writers? If you publish a book this year, then enter next year!
This is the 23rd annual Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards.As part of its mission to discover, review, and share the best books from university and independent publishers, Foreword Magazine, Inc. hosts an annual awards program each year. Finalists represent the best books published in 2020. After more than 2,000 individual titles spread across 55 genres were submitted for consideration, the Finalists were determined by Foreword’s editorial team. Winners will be decided by an expert team of booksellers and librarians—representing Foreword’s trade readership—from across the country.
The complete list of Finalists for this year’s contest can be found at:
From their Press Release: “The pandemic did not slow down the quality of great books coming from the independent publishing community in 2020. The Finalist selection process this year was one of the hardest our team encountered due to the vast number of excellent submissions,” said Victoria Sutherland, publisher.
“While in typical years, the judging process involves our team gathering and discussing books in real time, this year, we had to read separately, take notes, and converge to discuss the entrants after we’d all taken a turn with them on our own. While at first the change was nerve-wracking, we were delighted to discover that we’re as much in agreement when the process takes place across miles and weeks as we are when we’re sitting face-to-face,” says Managing Editor, Michelle Anne Schingler. “We’re as confident as ever that these Finalists reflect the best of the books that we’ve had the privilege of seeing.”
Since 1998, Foreword Reviews has provided trade book reviews of the best titles from independent presses. Its FOLIO award-winning design and editorial content makes the magazine a favorite among librarians, booksellers, and readers—an excellent resource when it comes to purchasing books. Foreword INDIES and the fee-for-review Clarion service complement our online content and print magazine, helping to showcase independent presses and their authors.
You know what they say: if you ain’t in it, you ain’t gonna win it!
I finally got down to see the Sandhill Crane migration through Monte Vista and the San Luis Valley. Watching and hearing hundreds of cranes rush past in great waves overhead reminded me of the swans in William Butler Yeats’ beautiful poem, The Wild Swans at Coole, which “scatter wheeling in great broken rings/Upon their clamorous wings.” And I feel too the sadness of this passing year. For how many of us has all changed?
The Wild Swans at Coole
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me Since I first made my count; I saw, before I had well finished, All suddenly mount And scatter wheeling in great broken rings Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, And now my heart is sore. All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore, The bell-beat of their wings above my head, Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover, They paddle in the cold Companionable streams or climb the air; Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
In a month, one year ago, I started this piece: I was at 9600 feet. I was in the shadow of a mountain named Nipple. I was in a little square of sunshine, one log spooling fire in the cabin’s woodstove.
And I had woken in dread of the last night’s numbered dead: perhaps a dozen then, an interactive online chart informs me now, nothing near the surreal numbers of this year since.
Feeling useless, feeling uncertain, I surrounded myself with the old friends of my youth. That day, I chose James Wright’s This Journey, a book of poetry published posthumously in 1982 after Wright succumbed to cancer of the tongue.
I will confess it: I am a wordy poet, especially in the last ten years of writing creative nonfiction. I find myself wandering between poetry and prose: when do lines becomes sentences in an essay? And sentences lines of a poem?
In James Wright’s shining poems, I was hoping to find out how simplicity could bare order out of chaos, how poetry could fire the smallest image.
A few weeks later, my husband handed me handed me a biography of James Wright’s life.
In 1972, Wright saw a yellow spider stepping through its dusty web. Five years later, Wright describes that image in a letter to his poet-son Franz Wright:
[The web] positively sagged with dust. And as I watched, a slim, brilliantly yellow spider stepped out of her doorway in the center of the web. In all that dust, she was amazing: she was totally untouched by the smallest spec, as though she had just gone inside and taken a shower.
In creative nonfiction, we talk about digging down for the verticality of the story and how that verticality or inner truth so often translates itself through metaphor. And we find those metaphors firmly and beautifully presented in the sentences of prose. Wright’s spider is beautifully described in his letter. I would have been happy to write that description.
But in Wright’s poem, “The Journey,” (do read it! It’s a beauty) the spider appears in the third stanza—utterly transformed from the spider of the letter and utterly embedded in a line of poetry, not a sentence. Now the spider’s yellow hue is the “golden hair of daylight along her shoulders” and the dust of the web have become whole “cemeteries.” The “deep image” runs rampant. Ruins surround her now and the plainspeak of “had just gone inside” has been crafted into a metaphor that enlarges the image of the spider, almost as if Wright has wrought her divine: “She had stepped inside the earth, to bathe herself.” Poetry asks for the world new and this is what Wright has given us.
In the concluding stanza of “The Journey,” Wright alchemizes the scene of the spider in its web with the essence of himself, with the essence of us, the readers:
The secret Of this journey is to let the wind Blow its dust all over your body, To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly All the way through your ruins, and not to lose Any sleep over the dead, who surely Will bury their own, don’t worry.
The journey of the spider through the “doorway” of her web has become the human journey into the spiritual world.
But go deeper, look at the micro changes of the letter to this poem and you realize that these transformations did not happen in the “fell swoop” of some muse’s divine intervention, as we’d like to think, at least, as I’d certainly like to think. Instead, Wright is an excavator, taking pickaxe and pen many times, many years to his poems, whittling phrase and word from revision to revision, honing prose to poetry, sentence to line.
From one revision of “The Journey” to the next, he changes “your bones” to “your body,” lengthens the line, “To let it go on blowing,” with the additional phrasing and repetition of “to step lightly, lightly,” which creates cadence in sound and personification in image. He changes the original wording of “the ruins” in the poem to “your ruins,” seemingly a nondescript change, until we realize that he once more implicates the reader, us, subsuming the spider as he gives the spider over to the human heart and its slow ravages.
The small revisions Wright makes in his poems, that seem so undeserving of our attention, so often portend an avalanche of meaning. At one time, “The Journey” closed this way: “All the way through your ruins, and not to care.” And then Wright changes “not to care” to “not to lose,” and expands this moment in the poem:
All the way through your ruins, and not to lose Any sleep over the dead, who surely Will bury their own, don’t worry.
Surely, just simple words added. Just words for any sentence. But as Blunk points out, these changes adlib Jesus’s admonition in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus tells a man to follow him and the man says, “Lord let me go bury my father” and Jesus replies, “ Let the dead bury their own.” Wright, then, characteristically, follows this Biblical allusion with his ever-present colloquial nod to the plainspoken midwestern reader, “don’t worry.”
Nuance, allusion, metaphor, personification, the stepping out of prose into poetry: a little dusty spider a poet chanced upon during a walk turned into poetry writ large. And a little journey, once upon a time on a cold dark day, turned into a little bit of light.
Update from me: just mailed in my contract to Finishing Line Press for my upcoming chapbook, Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic, inspired by, who else, James Wright and another favorite poet, Stanley Kunitz.
I am thinking of the hand I found in Indiana, epicenter of this naturalist soul-to-be. I was ten, younger, when I found the hand, laid it to rest in what I called the “dead box” we found in an ancient trunk in the loft of that massive red barn on the hillside where I watched cattle slain and ponies bred.
I was walking the fence line. It was summer. Dry weeds crumpled to dust along the foot and cow paths. And then I saw it. The hand on the ground. A perfect bone of a hand. A fairy hand.
Fifty-one years I have kept the dead box and the hand and everything else I have found. Years and years, in writing workshops, I have handed out each object to a stranger, never wondering why I trusted these beautiful things from the world past with people I did not know. But always there is this giving back and forth — those who share my awe silent over the changed deserts of their linoleum desks. I am always astounded how poetry starts anywhere and takes you everywhere.
Bird’s nest so perfect so round woven of mane and tail hair from my childhood ponies. Owl pellet and yellow mouse teeth and white bird claw and, oh, the mollusk shell open-mouthed where a petrified snail curled inside. And all the pale shells of blue and speckled dust I’ve lost and that Indiana flint with yellow crystal I found near the creek I barely remember now except a bulldozer tore that day its red dirt. And here the chrysalis from my father’s pond attached to a twig since I was the girl I will never be again– what I swing and tremble until it lives.
Poet Patricia Dubrava, in her blog, Holding the Light, posted a wonderful poem and poetry prompt and that’s what got me going! Hearing the Canadas.
My poetry chapbook, Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic, will be published this spring by Finishing Line press. Just received the contract. More as I know it.
I just learned this week that my one and only chapbook, Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a Pandemic, will be published by Finishing Line Press as a semi-finalist for its Open Chapbook Competition 2020.
I wrote Flying Beneath the Dog Star in the first spring of our pandemic during National Poetry Month, using many of the poetry prompts offered by NaPoWriMo (napowrimo.net). These poems, written on the front porch of my cabin, are my journey through this strange and unknown world we are still living in. Who knew when I sought solace at 9600 ft amidst the birds in my little spot above the Arkansas Valley, grieving over the deaths of eighteen hundred, that almost a year later we would have buried almost a half million in this country alone, including my mother, my aunt, and my uncle?
Finishing Line Press received 402 entries and will publish the 14 poets who make up the list winner, shortlist finalists, and semifinalists. Congratulations to the fine poet, Maura Stanton, who won the competition for her chapbook, Interiors, and to all the other first rate women poets I will share this new journey with. And thank you to my sister, who was my inspiration for writing these poems that I hoped she would love, too.
I will share this publication journey as it continues to unfold. You can find the (almost) title poem of my chapbook at Kingsview & Co, published by the lovely Michael A. King, editor: To the Three Ducks Flying Beneath the Dog Star. Other poems in the chapbook (and a few of my bird photos) will appear shortly in the Raw Earth Ink poetry and art collection, Creation and the Cosmos: A Poetic Anthology Inspired by Nature.
Each winter until, finally,
barely spring, the black
angus cows returned
to graze the fields we rented
to our neighbor, to drift through our high
mountain meadows past glory
holes and the half-buried
barbed wire a homesteader
nailed a hundred years
ago to the trees. All month,
I have missed them, though
perhaps in the springs past
that we’ve had of days and days
of solitary jays and the tiny
mouse skulls that I pocket
to hold tenderly in my hand
and show you, this day is still
only the day before the day
of their coming, the day before
they will once again wander
up ancient paths, their hooves
chipping at the old cow pies
that our dogs, ash now, rolled in.
This spring, I think, far
into mid- summer, I will wish
for them, for their calves sleeping
midday in old winter
grass, tucked so quietly in
as if they were a dark blossoming
before the evening’s dream:
the earth returning everything
to us now, perhaps musky
and heavy with its clustered yarrow
and its blue harebells of grief,
“Between the Heron and the Moss is a modern spiritual woman’s rendering of the natural world that Hopkin’s poetry embraces: a world so infused by the spirit and grandeur of God that even the silhouette of a heron on a stick, the waxen leaf of a mayapple, or the seeds of sugar snap peas bear brilliant bursts of light, joy, and redemption to those who see to see. Wells beautifully melds the secular and the non-secular, the divine and the human, as she explores what tethers and frees the questioning heart.” –Kathryn Winograd, Author, “Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children”
What is it about this one long stick outstretched across the waters, this one place within sight of the roaring road and passerbys like me , what is it about this waterway this time of day in the dawn on the log and in dusk, the shadows across the glass, there he is now spreading his wings and then erect again as he waits and changes space morning and evening for me. Look look I point for my daughter as we speed by, look,
did you see the great blue heron?
from Matins and Vespers, Between the Heron and the Moss