Well, Dear Readers, Central Arkansas is receiving one kind of rain: poetry rain! It's the week of the two Allison/Alison's. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading at our public library's main branch by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Tomorrow night, the pleasure continues with a reading by my good friend Allison Joseph (who will also appear earlier in the day with hubby Jon Tribble to talk about Crab Orchard Review). Yay!
This week, I am poetry blessed!
Thanks to another good poetry friend, Hope Coulter, who teaches at Hendrix College, I'm well informed about the literary goings-on around town. Each semester, Hope collates a literary calendar that spans Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Conway, and includes events at the local colleges, libraries, and other artistic venues. It was through this calendar that I became aware of Deming's appearance at the library. Deming appeared as part of a national Poets House series: "The Language of Conservation." Here's the first bit from their website:
The Language of Conservation is a Poets House program that is designed to deepen public awareness of environmental issues through poetry. The program features poetry installations in zoos, which are complemented by poetry, nature and conservation resources and programs at public libraries.
This program began at the Central Park Zoo in NYC, and the Little Rock Zoo was one of five lucky zoos, along with Jacksonville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Brookfield, IL, that were selected to participate when the program went national. A leading poet was assigned to each zoo, and he/she curated a poetry installation. (Joseph Bruchac curated the LR Zoo's installation, but I wasn't able to go and hear him read when he was here last spring.)
Since our zoo was chosen, we also get the gift of poets appearing at our public library over the next year. Yay to Poets House and Yay to Libraries & Zoos working together!
But, to the heart of the matter: Deming's reading was wonderful. I'd only read her work in journals (in fact, we're both Terrain.org poets), and I knew her to be a poet of place and mythology...two of my favorites! I hadn't realized her love of science, which she elaborated on last night. Deming has traveled extensively and interacted with conservationists, biologists, and other scientists, and all of this goes into her poetry.
In terms of being an audience member, I knew I was in good hands from the get-go. Deming is self-assured, has a great reading voice, and interjects humor in an easy and natural way. Her first poem was the title poem from her first book, Science and Other Poems, which won the Walt Whitman Award in 1993. She followed this up with a few poems from each of her next two books, before ending with a larger number of poems from her most recent book, Rope, which I bought, of course, and will review here at some later date. I especially liked "The Black Water," a poem from one of the older books with a nod to Elizabeth Bishop's "Florida," which was inspired by a kayak trip Deming took on a Florida river during one of her many travels around the world. I appreciate it when writer's go back to older books, as it gives the reading an air of history, and for an audience member, like me, who is coming to the poet relatively fresh, it gives a greater balance to the work. It was great to be able to hear Deming's journey as a poet in just that handful of poems.
Since I have the book, I'll leave you with the title poem.
The man gathers rope every summer
off the stone beaches of the North.
There is no sand in this place
where the Labrador Current runs
like an artery through the body of the Atlantic,
channeling particles that once were glacial ice
and now are molecules making
not one promise to anyone.
The man gathers rope with his hands,
both the rope and the hands
worn from use. The rope from hauling
up traps and trawl lines, the hands
from banging into rocks, rusted nails,
fish knives, winch gears, and bark.
The rope starts to pull apart fiber by fiber
like the glacial ice, and the man wishes
he could find a way to bind it
back together the way a cook binds
syrup or sauce with corn starch.
The rope lies in the cellar for years,
coiled, stinking of the sea and the fish
that once lived in the sea and the sweat
of the man who wishes he could save one
strand of the world from unraveling.
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Alison Hawthorne Deming