Turtle Island Quarterly Vol. 1 Issue 1
Anne Harding Woodworth (1 poem), Jared Smith (2 poems), Perry L. Powell (1 poem),
Martin Willits, Jr. (1 poem), Kelly Cherry (book review)
Anne Harding Woodworth (1 poem)
That hot night, seven baby snakes
squirmed into the living room
from their nest in the chimney
and raced for the crack under the door.
Outside the moon was full—
not a full so bright
it had no comforting lamplike yellow.
Even so, I lay myself down,
on my sheetless bed
and imagined a wriggling
over an arm or ankle.
I watched the moon move
from the screen door’s upper left corner
down into its center.
This small diagonal act,
slow and preordained, belied
the curving speed, akin to tidal,
of ontogeny at work in my own house.
Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of four books of poetry (most recently The Artemis Sonnets, Etc.) and two chapbooks. My poems, essays, and reviews are widely published in literary journals in print and on line. I live part-time in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the rest of the time in Washington, D.C., where I am a member of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Jared Smith (2 poems)
This is a small lake but deep,
nestled in the throat of a volcano
surrounded by miles of moose and elk
foraging their ways among aspen and fir,
the chuckling of martens and porcupines,
the silence of Colorado coyotes at dusk.
A sunset brightening horizon fills this lake
as it fills the sleek bellies of trout down
in their darkness
with eyes that perceive what cannot be
what cannot be shared across flesh.
And the wind which passes among pines
moves across this lake without moving it,
meaning that small waves dance in place
where shore meets land again and again,
almost as on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean
except there are fewer people here
and there are no billboards, no road.
This is a small lake that matters little
where an eco-system of life encompasses
little meaning on the edge of infinity,
and the sun is its reflected surface
and its voiceless denizens are dark
with the bright colors of stars on their skin,
and the voice and temperature of the earth
funneled deep into its concave infinite depth.
ALIEN IN THE BEASTS OF BURDEN
The people are singing
as they march off again to war.
They are feeling their hearts
thud against the cosmic dust
of their bones against night
pressed uniform rank on rank
comforting each other, lowing
alien in the beasts of burden.
Jared Smith is the author of ten published volumes of poetry, including his Collected Poems: 1971-2011; two multimedia stage adaptations of his work, presented in New York and Chicago; and two CDs. His poems, essays, and literary commentary have appeared in hundreds of journals in this country and abroad, and he has appeared on both NPR and Pacifica networks. He has served on the Editorial Staff of several of the country's leading literary publications, including Screening Committee Member and then Board Member of The New York Quarterly, Contributing Columnist for Home Planet News, and three time Guest Poetry Editor for The Pedestal, as well as serving as the past Poetry Editor for the Colorado Mountain Club's Trail & Timberline Magazine. He as well remains a member of The Advisory Board of The New York Quarterly. He also served as host of several poetry venues in New York's Greenwich Village, President of the non-profit Poets & Patrons in Chicago, and is active in a number of local and regional literary and arts organizations. He is currently a contributing editor for Turtle Island Quarterly.
Perry L. Powell (1 poem)
IN STILL EMANATION
Yet I couldn't be in more trouble with myself―
cutting down the dogwood with the white pine
and the oak with the cherry, all the while
crouching under this field of wild flowers.
There is a deep light on water and all
around a wide moment the remembrance
strolling along the railroad track kicking
gravel from between the too-solid ties.
A Dream Book carried in my back pocket,
clouds pacing an evening sky, the scent
of electricity and the length of truth
heavy on the trees, heavy on the day.
Little left to do, but hitch up the last car
and draw the day down its track, yet once more.
Perry L. Powell is a systems analyst who lives and writes in College Park, Georgia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in A Handful of Stones, A Hundred Gourds, Haiku Presence, Indigo Rising, Lucid Rhythms, Mobius The Journal of Social Change, Poety Pacific, Prune Juice, Quantum Poetry Magazine, Ribbons, The Camel Saloon, The Foliate Oak, The Heron's Nest, The Innisfree Poetry Journal and The Lyric.
Martin Willits, Jr. (1 poem)
THE IMPOSSIBLE WEIGHT OF KNOWING
The boulders decided by themselves to move.
They shed wings of heavy moss,
belying shadows of hawk voices,
abandoning those rivers forgetting their own intentions.
The boulders decided, in tantrum, to move.
Like ballerinas, leaving leased lives,
entering places they did not belong after longing it so long.
No one knows what they were thinking.
The boulders released themselves from their obligations.
Doors to their hearts, opened.
If we gave ourselves to this shredding belief,
what torment to reality would be humbled into joy?
Martin Willitts Jr is a retired MLS Senior Librarian living in Syracuse, New York. His forthcoming poetry books include Waiting For The Day To Open Its Wings (UNBOUND Content, 2013), Art Is the Impression of an Artist”(Edgar and Lenore's Publishing House, 2013), City Of Tents (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2013), A Is for Aorta (Seven Circles Press, e-book, 2013), Swimming In the Ladle of Stars (Kattywompus Press, 2013), Late All Night Sessions with Charlie “the Bird” Parker and the Members of Birdland, in Take-Three (A Kind Of a Hurricane Press, ebook, 2013) and he is the winner of the inaugural Wild Earth Poetry Contest for his full length collection Searching For What Is Not There (Hiraeth Press, 2013).
Kelly Cherry (book review)
RECOMMENDED BY KELLY CHERRY
The Swing Girl by Katherine Soniat (LSU Press)
Who or what is "the swing girl"? Our first thought may be of a young lady dancing to Glenn Miller, her partner rolling her out from under his arm, then reeling her back, their faces flushed. A second thought could be Evelyn Nesbit—whose famous lover, architect Stanford White, was murdered by her husband—in a red velvet swing at the start of the twentieth century, the tag end of the Gilded Age.
Katherine Soniat's swing girl is neither of these. For her, the swing girl is an image on a Greek burial vessel, icon of the real girl who died. To see this image, the speaker has walked "down the hot path past the unwatered donkey / and shells that held the damp curl of the living." The "living" would have been the small creatures whose "[e]mpty snail shells bleach on boulders / near the tomb entrance." This is a poem of hard light, like the brilliant glare of sunlight in Greece.
Soniat's poems about the Mediterranean bring this intense focus back to us in our clouded climate. We see her Greece by that metallic light, and also the sea, and also the gods who seem to flicker from one grove to another. These poems make up the fourth and final section of her fifth full-length collection. Here we meet the swing girl, the girl "who set sail for the other side" and now occupies an ossuary, "the swing and its girl tucked in," her "remains . . . posed fetal," so perhaps the long-dead girl herself still holds the "curl of the living."
Throughout the collection we encounter poems that possess a disturbing elusiveness, yet there is no vague or generic language. Indeed, her language is stunningly exact, her focus precise and clear. What makes the poems elusive is the way she will often home in on particular details while omitting context. Viewing the world through her poems, we see foreshortened moments, things and ideas moving in and out of the periphery, odd alignments. We are thus encouraged to see the world anew—to see the ways in which, as the epigraph taken from Sir Thomas Browne puts it, we live "in divided and distinguished worlds," here and there, then and now. At the same time, Soniat's changing perspective allows us to live in more worlds than one.
Because images and themes, not contexts, are foregrounded, it can be difficult to find something to hold on to that separates each section of the book from the others. This difficulty is intentional and underscores the ambiguity that is the book's central idea.
Sometimes we can extrapolate a context. "On the Steppes" may be about a dying father ("He moved to another level, looking for a place to stop / the thoughts"). "Ghost Laundry" may suggest a wife recalling her husband's memory of his first wife. These are not easy poems, and yet with some thought a reader will find them meaningful, whether interpretation be accurate or not, and meanwhile the musical strength of Soniat's work enraptures us. Music moves the book from section to section, poem to poem; her cadenced lines are something like a luxury: luxurious, sensually lush, and yet disciplined. The book's first poem, "Thoughts at Paliani," offers a view of the plain, "the convent garden, the thousand-year myrtle tree" whose branches bear ribbons signifying good wishes for the ill or convalescent. The nuns are devout and dedicated. A picture of peaceful hard work, then, of sisters who are nurses. The shock of the poem is in its last stanza:
It's a long stream water makes falling,
each drop coalescing. That spring you died, the moss on the banks
was greener, spray going farther than thought.
We don't know who "you" is. A husband? A mother? There's no telling, not in this poem, but we know from the detailed imagery and the word died that a memory has been awakened and the poet is mourning. Perhaps "spray" stands for reality and reality is too much for thought to encompass. Or maybe "spray" refers to beauty or life, and both are greater than thought. Yet the poem in its mystery pushes us toward thought, so the poet has not disowned the value of thinking. Rather, she is having it both ways at once—that ambiguity, that sustaining of opposing
thoughts, of "divided and distinguished worlds"—central to the poet's project.
And of course, "spray" may mean spray. Reality presses these poems to a point of urgency. "Flute notes lift from the rapids," writes the poet, in "The Hill Station," "and on the trellis a buzzard skeleton / winks its Christmas-light heart. Red again, then dark."
The beautiful poem "Nightshade" allows "a liturgical young elephant" to co-exist with a Chinese painter whose "paints, bought in Beijing, / over time would disappear." The speaker imagines herself in a painting by the Chinese artist, how she would "know with each breath she was fading a bit, / going away."
"Of Aviary Mice and Men" asks us, "How can we comprehend history?" and perhaps suggests than we don't, can't. "Know there are no roads back, no ladders," the poem concludes. "Dropped / seed, the thing left in context."
In context, but not contextualized. The thing as it is.
"Minoan Apocrypha" asks us, "How to study loss closely?" and warns that "[a]lways, the end is poorly / conceived. . . . "
"The Mark," "Sleeping Alone," "Day Spool," "Birthday Crossing," "Morning Child," "Brocade," "Flight," and the entire last section are remarkable. And the other poems are very, very good. In "Rose Mold" she envisions cut and dying rose buds as "beauty on its way to being mystery."
There is a sense in which that vision contains all the book's contradictions and ambiguity, as if the book itself is a waterfall—waterfalls turn up in several poems—or "spray going farther than thought." Reading Soniat's poems can be like standing under a waterfall, the words like weather around you, and watching beauty become mystery.
I haven't seen it, but I've heard that Soniat has already published her sixth collection.* She may be on the verge of a breakout. She deserves such a moment. Her work is finely skilled, probes deeply both intellectually and emotionally, and dares to say the seemingly unsayable, managing that noble trick through organization and image, coherence and melody. Readers should rush to read her; they will be, by turns, puzzled, surprised, made newly aware, and delighted.
[Published September 12, 2011. 74 pages, $17.95 paper)
Kelly Cherry's chapbook Vectors: J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Years before the Bomb is forthcoming from Parallel Press (U of Wisconsin Libraries) in December and her full-length collection The Life and Death of Poetry: Poems from LS.U Press in spring 2013.
* Katherine Soniat’s new collection, A Raft, A Boat, was published on August 15, 2012 by Dream Horse Press.
This review originally appeared on Ron Slate's On the Seawall biannual online reviews