William Woolfitt, at the online blog, "Speaking of Marvels," interviewed me about Almost Entirely. When you have a chance, check out the other great interviews there. spkofmarvels.wordpress.com
The poems in Almost Entirely’s final section (“Like Light Through the Branches”) consider the power oplace. I live in urban Baltimore for part of the year. When not there, I live in rural, western Massachusetts. This back and forth is as natural to me as breathing.
My family, since I was very young, oscillated between urban grids, suburban cul-de-sacs and the wild lands of New England, Colorado and California. I am equally in love with city streets and woodland trails. But I love water most of all. Here are two poems from the final section.
Rat trap row houses glitter in the setting sun.
We are alive! Hauling our heavy loads
home from the hard work of body and of mind.
The weak roses among the bricks on Clement Street
are cared for in the gravel bed at the alley’s edge.
A purple flamingo and the smaller pink one
nest in a cactus pot, wings clattering
in the harbor’s wind.
The working hulks at the dock’s edge
open their monumental arms
to unload steel boxes filled with junk and cars.
From high in the lifeboat, a stevedore
plays his bag pipes as the sun goes down
and the evening fills with Amazing Grace,
lighting us, every single one.
Our Lake Is Heart-Shaped
Our lake is heart-shaped and pulsing with lilies, wings and frogs.
When deep into big weather, it froths and tumbles the shoreline rocks,
all the fine tree roots exposed.
Our lake is a teardrop filling from deep springs.
While resting on its surface with sail or paddle,
I am brought beyond my landedness.
Not until diving under can I know its pillowed, dull-moss light: a soft
birthplace of souls where a body is seen at last for what it is:
awash in the eye of God.
Over the past month, I have been offering samples of poems from my new poetry collection. Tuesday is the big day for the release of Almost Entirely.
“One Hundred Footsteps,” the third section of Almost Entirely, presents excerpts from my 2010-11 artist book collaboration with Baltimore artist, Katherine Kavanaugh. We were working independently on projects with similar tones and gestures, though the work did not stem from similar subject matter. Neither poem nor image are illustrative of each other; rather, they evolved from parallel contemplative moods. We decided to combine 50 letterpress-printed poems with 50 collaged images, collected into five volumes of 20 pieces each. The project’s title evokes our shared love of exploration as well as the Japanese anthology of 100 poems that I discovered while traveling in Japan.
Here are five of the 11 poems that appear in the new book.
We are likely to be surprised
by those who dwell in the other world,
pushing on the paper screen,
a tender membrane. We miss the impression
of their voices and their hands.
Pink petals fallen.
In the gutter, in the iron grate, suspended.
A dark river below
will float these fragile boats. When the breeze unmoors
them from their rest place: a flutter and then gone.
To be born in winter,
to be ice-crunched and hearth-fired, to wish
for land above the tree line.
In the flesh: a dream of sleeping music.
In the bones: a template for cloud breath.
The God of Lost Causes
might laugh at the effort and, too,
the effect of these letters
falling from my hand. Funny: how their curves
and squiggles look like lips and wrinkles as they land.
The release date (Nov. 14) for my latest poetry collection, Almost Entirely, is almost here, I have been sharing a bit of the book. Poems are grouped in four sections: When the Wing Gives Way, Something for Us to Stand On, One Hundred Footsteps, and Like Light Through the Branches.
Here the link to a poem from the second section: “Something For Us To Stand On.” Poems in this section dwell in puzzlement and joy while reflecting on human affairs.
The poem, “Urine of Cows Fed on Mango Leaves” is inspired by a 2015 exhibition at Baltimore’s The Walters Art Museum (Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts). Off to the edge of one small gallery, an amazing case featured the raw pigments used to create so many of the vivid illuminated images featured in the exhibition. One of the stunning piles was a bright, rich yellow with a tag that said Indian Yellow is made from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves.
I am puzzled and delighted by human inventiveness. Many of our creations are dangerous, many are wondrous. How, I imagined, did that Indian Yellow actually come into being? This poem is my imagining:
Urine of Cows Fed on Mango Leaves
Imagine the discovery. Food being scarce, a herder
gathered the shiny leaves that had fallen
from the single courtyard tree and threw them down
among the hooves.
The beasts were glad for it, something other than
scraping for the few tufts left in the dust where
they were staked. And they gorged and chewed,
chewed and grunted throughout the night.
The next day, the herder—or maybe his children
passing time among the flies — stepped back
when the first rump arched, letting loose its stream.
And the second and third. Great pools of sunshine
graced the sand and muck. Someone used a stick
to stir the stuff, someone else scooped it up and
spread it on a leather scrap, just to fool with it, just to
see what it would become. When the Minister
of Painted Books came to collect his milk, he pinched
a bit between his finger and his thumb. He gasped
as if the clouded heavens opened for the lighted one.
The herder and his family became famous in the town.
Priests and artists came for more from miles around.
They planted two more trees and purchased three more cows.
Jennifer Wallace is a poet, photographer and teacher living in western Massachusetts. Paraclete Press published her new book of poems, Almost Entirely, in November 2017 and will publish a second collection, Raising the Sparks, in 2021