Saturday, March 06, 2010

Ellen Dore Watson makes my day - I discover a new poet




Ellen Dore Watson is obviously not a new poet -- the blurb on the back of LADDER MUSIC says that she is Director of The Poetry Center at Smith College and is an editor at The Massachusetts Review. But she is new to me. One of the great delights of a used book business is the serendipity that reveals itself in every new box of old books that comes into one's greedy little hands.

LADDER MUSIC appeared in a box of books given to me by my most excellent daughter-in-law Sine, who is clearing out her bookshelves in preparation for welcoming her new baby -- she and my son's first child, my ninth grandchild. As I took up LADDER MUSIC to list it for sale, I had to browse it first. It is, after all, a book of poetry and I am a sucker for good poetry. The last half of the 20th century brought a lot of bad poetry -- or maybe there is bad poetry in every century. But for some reason many poets who gained acclaim in the century that just finished produced work that was incomprehensible at best and downright ugly at worst. I came to despair of finding beauty, imagination and intelligence fused in the poetry that was making the rounds.

LADDER MUSIC is a book of poetry that sings, lightly and without pretension. An intelligence is at work here. I am grateful to have found it. And not just because --- twice -- the poet mentions popcorn, the veritable food of Paradise.

From LADDER MUSIC:


Before Bed

The word I leave out on the stoop to shiver
like a cat that tears up a couch in the night
is forget. I don't want it in my dreams.
The dreams can be themselves terrifying or
gone in the morning, just as long as they remember
everything as long as they last. I don't stoop down
before bed as I was taught by my forgetting mother
who is learning to be gone, trying to remember
to dream as long as she lasts, like the cat on a cold stoop
dreams of a good, stuffed couch, morning's open door.
I shiver in my tears, forget in my hand, say shoo.

----------

Hummingbirds are Never Confused

A darting whir towards thin sweetness - look!
We welcome then into any arena: the blinding
still life out there where we'd like to go or
a dismal back yard full of junked bikes
or a full-tilt patio argument - all
become lightened, brightened, confused
by such goodness, apparent and fragile.
A rat looks out from under the tumble-down
house next door, eyes like rivets, thinks:
color overload in miniature, dithering.
Doesn't venture out. Okay I made him up.
What an idea, what a place to put
the other, the self. But invariably
while a bird like that hums, gyrating
its unfeathers, we find a way to glory,
then pout. Why can't we buy one?
(Why don't we know who we are?)

----------

Mykonos, Mattincus, Maceio

It's bone simple to be in three places at once
if some part of you understands bodily
rhyme. Mykonos, Mattincus, Maceio -
I am behind myself and ahead, at once
moody and clear-skied - everything equals
wraparound sun. What's down the road
looms up slowly, photogenic, in the lens of self:
goats amused by their own beards, gorgeous
rusted hulks hung with buoys, boys shinnying
for coconuts and showing their teeth. I am
the camera. My battery is song. None of these
languages is mine, but I move in them, stumbling
and hungry. Look how I needed these salty waves!

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