Grace and Ease

No fruity phrases, just unspun words trued right.

Book Cover Of the incontestable reasons to choose one book, one song, one painting over another is the caprice of personal preference. There being many worthy poets available to the loquacious commentator, in the case of Marie Ponsot—who has over half a century of versifying under her belt—it was the title of her new collection that drew my gaze—Easy (Knopf). Additionally, the elegance of her response to why poetry matters is endearing:
There’s a primitive need for language that works as an instrument of discovery and relief, that can make rich the cold places of our inner worlds with the memorable tunes and dreams poems hold for us.
“Discovery and relief”—what a wonderful expression.

Here’s a poem from The Bird Catcher, her 1998 National Book Critics Circle award-winning collection.
Northampton Style

Evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer
Northampton-style, on the porch out back.
Its voice touches and parts the air of summer,

as if it swam to time us down a river
where we dive and leave a single track
as evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer

that lets us wash our mix of dreams together.
Delicate, tacit, we engage in our act;
its voice touches and parts the air of summer.

When we disentangle you are not with her
I am not with him. Redress calls for tact.
Evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer

still. A small breeze rises and the leaves stir
as uneasy as we, while the woods go black;
its voice touches and parts the air of summer

and lets darkness enter us; our strings go slack
though the player keeps up his plangent attack.
Evening falls. Someone’s playing a dulcimer;

its voice touches and parts the air of summer.
And from her new anthology:
TV, Evening News
—seen on CNN, autumn 2005, Afghanistan

It’s a screenful of chaos but
the cameraman’s getting good framing shots
from behind one woman’s back.
The audio’s poor. The shouts are slices of noise.
I don’t know the languages.

No hot hit heroes are there.
No wicked people are there.

Achilles is not there, or Joshua either.
Rachel is not there, nor Sojourner Truth.
Iwo Jima flag boys? not there.
Twin Towers first defenders? not there.
My children are thank God not there
any more or less than you and I are not there.

I safe screen-watch. A youth
young in his uniform
signals his guard squad
twice: OK go, to the tanks
and the cameramen: OK go.

The tank takes the house wall.
The house genuflects. The tank proceeds.
The house kneels. The roof dives.
The woman howls. Dust rises.
They cut to the next shot.

The young men and the woman
breathe the dust of the house
which now is its prayer.
A dust cloud rises, at one
with the prayer of all the kneeling houses
asking to be answered
and answerable anywhere.
As it turns out, the ease that the collection’s title references is more about the joyfulness and lack of pretension with which Marie Ponsot addresses her calling. The subjects, drawn from life and its labors, are another matter entirely. Still, Easy does it.
blog comments powered by Disqus