Friday, April 25, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Sky Between Us, Plus the Return of the Traveling Daughter



I confess, I have not celebrated this National Poetry Month as I ought to have done.  I rarely do anything extra with my students, because we already read a poem every day.  I have been overwhelmed with busy-ness and grading and my laptop crashing and my daughter traveling and my husband being sick...it's been National Prose Month around here.

Except...

I did buy myself a new book of poetry this month, Irene Latham's The Sky Between Us.  At least, I received it this month.  I paid for it (it was already in my shopping cart) with my settlement from Amazon.  Apparently some publishers had been fixing prices on e-books.  Whatever; all I know is that I got $14 out of it, and I bought this book.  I exclaimed happily the day it arrived, and since then I have read it all the way through three times, enjoying it more each time, as I tend to do with poems.  Like music, they grow on me with additional exposure.

Irene Latham, whose previous book of poems, Color of Lost Rooms, I reviewed here, has written another lovely collection.  In her author's note, she says she wanted "to explore the connections between nature and my most private emotions."  That's what these poems do; they show us another person's emotions, always so foreign and yet so familiar, through landscapes equally foreign and familiar: oceans, lakes, mountains, deserts, Antarctica, and even "The Bay of Middle Age," where

"...we proceed as if

hurricanes were myth
and predators eradicated."

In my review of Irene's previous book, I commented, "every poem has some special touch, something that will bring me back to reread."  The same is true here; there are so many wonderful turns of phrase, memorable ideas, intriguing sites to revisit.  I found myself shredding paper and creating dozens of bookmarks, as I always used to do, pre-Kindle, when I was going to write about a book.  I like this method (note to self: must read more paper books).

Here are some lines I loved, among so many:

In "Nestling," an eaglet, who reminds me of myself, "laments / broken shell."  In "Pilgrimage," the pilgrims head out without a clear destination; they know "We carry evidence / of our weathering with us."  "The moon's inadequate / answer to longing / stains the window panes / with its glossy path / to nowhere" in "Home Sweet Home."  A "heart flails / like a just-hooked fish" in "We cannot measure courage."  I could go on and on quoting these delicious lines.

Some poems made me want to write responses.  "Self-Portrait as Tangerine" suggested other self-portraits in the guise of objects, finding points of connection between self and beautiful thing.  "Botanist's Prayer" and "Cartographer's Creed," two most lovely list poems, made me think of other professions for whom these statements of faith could be created. 

You really need to buy this book, that's all there is to it. 

I mentioned my daughter traveling (did I say I missed her every day, anticipating the longer missing when she goes to college all too soon?), and I mentioned my shredding of scraps of paper to mark favorite lines in Irene's book, and I wanted to end my review with a poem my daughter wrote for me when she was 12.  Almost five years later, I've finally convinced her to let me post it.  She says it's a bad poem, and certainly she writes better ones now, but I love this for the way she sees me.  Irene's poems show me foreign and familiar emotions, and my daughter's do the same.  This is one of the reasons I read poetry, for the chance to visit those other landscapes. 



My Mother Reads War and Peace

All my life
my mother has
loved me
cared for me,
helped me.
Read to me.
She is the best teacher
I have ever had.
I love her.
It used to be
she'd be reading aloud to me
all the time.
Now
I see her, reading her own book
as absorbed in it
as I am in mine.

She lies on her bed,
on the blue comforter I know so well,
holding a book.
The fat spine is
orange, and throughout the book
there are scraps of paper
marking passages to be returned to.
Off and on, on and off
for nearly a month, she has been reading it
though she is a fast reader.

What makes her keep reading this beast?
I wonder, though I myself love books.
She replies.
The characters are interesting, she tells me.
The story fascinating.

The hands holding the book
are pretty nondescript.
the only thing worthy of note
is the plain gold band she wears:
her wedding ring.
These ordinary hands
are like the red wheelbarrow
of
William Carlos Williams.
So much depends upon them!

These hands
turn a page every few
minutes.
They might lift to touch
her head, adjust
her glasses maybe, but
that's it.
She looks like she is not moving.
I know her, though.
Her mind
is moving.


Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

8 comments:

Tabatha said...

Where to start? Your review of Irene's book is so heartfelt and inspiring...don't we all want to write words that make readers think about crafting poems in response?

So glad your daughter gave you permission to share "My Mother Reads War and Peace" -- even though she might be writing poems she prefers now, this one is *perfect* for its moment.

Margaret Simon said...

I also love Irene's book and I must do a review. I never feel like I have the expertise to review. I need to get over that, though, and just do it. I'll come back to your post as a model. The slips of paper, too.
Your daughter's poem is so full of voice and that allusion to the Red Wheel Barrow; you must be glowing with pride. You have given her all she needs to fly out of the nest, you know. And take it from me (I've launched three), she is not leaving you.

Liz Steinglass said...

Oh what a lovely poem your daughter wrote about you. I love that she refers to the same little slips of paper that you refer to. Thanks for reviewing Irene's book. Upon your recommendation I will get one too.

LInda Baie said...

Part of this makes me feel terrible because I've had and read Irene's book more than once and don't believe I've reviewed it yet. Your words brought back some favorite memories, Ruth. It is a beautiful book. I also love that it and you connect with the poem your daughter wrote. She may be writing differently now, but this is quite marvelous, and sweet, and you must be so proud of such a thoughtful daughter. By the way, glad she's back! Thank you Ruth!

Mary Lee said...

Well, Linda, if you feel terrible that you haven't reviewed it yet, then imagine how I feel -- I don't OWN it yet. But will, in just a few clicks.

Ruth, your daughter's poem is beyond lovely. What a gift to have this snapshot she took of you. What a gift to us that you shared it. (Thank your daughter for relenting, please.)

Tara Smith said...

LOVE these lines:
"These ordinary hands
are like the red wheelbarrow
of
William Carlos Williams.
So much depends upon them!"
And now I need to order Irene's book, too. This poetry month has gotten away from me, too, Ruth.

Irene Latham said...

Dear Ruth - thank you for these lovely words - and to all these comments! I feel so blessed by your daughter's poem... thank you (and her!) for sharing! This Poetry Month is disappearing... excited to read your line in the Progressive Poem, coming very soon now! xo

Myra Garces Bacsal said...

What a beautiful and heartfelt poem, definitely worth framing and hanging on a beautiful wall to return to again and again. Thank you for sharing the beauty of irene's words as well. :)