Essential Reading: National Poetry Month
April is a month to celebrate poetry—not just the nursery rhymes that we recite for our toddlers, nor the poems that older children bring home from school to memorize. Poetry, like so many other things, tends to fall into the past as parents worry about life’s more pressing demands, but it can provide the inspiration or consolation that we need in the face of our mundane challenges. It can, for instance, be a breath of Mediterranean air when you’d like to forget that there is still snow on the ground. I’ve recently come to the poetry of A.E. Stallings, and reading her book Hapax is like walking on herbs: it’s lovely in passing, but best appreciated by lingering a little. Her brief, formal verses are laced with ancient stories and ancient language, but they’re also full of fresh greenness, like thyme, mint, and nettles (each of which has its own poem in the collection). Stallings, with her background in Classics, may write from the land of Dead White Males, but she goes her own way. “Song for the Women Poets” plays cleverly with what it means to be both Orpheus and Eurydice. In “Ultrasound,” the speaker is both peering into the darkness of a cave and also conscious that she is that cave: “I am the room / The future owns, / The darkness where / It grows its bones.” The archeology of the self and the home is as important here as the archeology of Greece, and Stallings’ delicate work is a matter of brushing the dust away from all the things she wants to show us. Read on for more of our editors’ latest discoveries!
Editor-in-Chief Maria Scala writes, “During National Poetry Month I try to revisit the work of some of my favorite poets—Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Diane di Prima, Mary di Michele, Patrick Friesen, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Anne Sexton, and Charles Simic. But I also try to discover a few new and compelling voices, and Carla Drysdale delivers, with her chapbook Inheritance. Drysdale’s moving poem, ‘Recognition,’ was previously published in Literary Mama, and it also appears in this chapbook. It’s a poem that focuses on a new mother’s joy at being able to satisfy her baby’s needs, but as with many of the pieces in this chapbook, there is a painful recollection running through the story. While Drysdale celebrates motherhood and her two sons with ‘The Braid,’ ‘Fierce,’ and ‘Rare,’ she cannot turn her gaze away from a past in which she was essentially abandoned by her own mother. In ‘All Born Perfect,’ she refers to an ‘old sorrow’ and concludes, ‘I have gone away to motherhood / and in that place where mothers stood / there is silence.’ With the final poem, ‘Rafael’s Question,’ Drysdale hints towards reconciliation with the past, or at least an openness to reconciliation. I look forward to reading more from this talented and honest poet.”
Poetry Editor Ginny Kaczmarek adds, “Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing is an amazing anthology edited by Catherine Wagner and Rebecca Wolff. A glance at the table of contents—organized ‘in order of date of arrival of their first child’—assures a wide-ranging representation of poets and poetic styles, from Adrienne Rich to Wanda Coleman to Hoa Nguyen. I have found old favorites here and continue to discover new jewels. I’ve also been enjoying Maggie Smith’s The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, a dark journey through a fairytale landscape. The poems turn the familiar upside-down, like a dream barely remembered. Daughters are sent into wolf-ridden forests and describe what they’ve seen, and mothers offer advice such as ‘wear silver / fists until your new ones bud in spring’: a lovely intermingling of parental dreams and childhood nightmares (and vice versa). Beyond these, I’ve recently discovered former Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq's Ophelia, an invented diary about women living and working in New Orleans’s Storyville. I’m also planning to dive into current Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s books. So much poetry, so little time!”
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