Sunday, January 29, 2006

Abbie Huston Evans Re-collected

Abbie Huston Evans is resurrected. She came first as the lead poet in a 400-page anthology of women poets that I found years ago in a used book store. Just a day ago, she returned as a Foremother on the Wompo listserv.

Looking around the web, I'm finding lots of references to her, although I can't account for whether these are sporadic, random mentions or whether this is a pattern of resurrection that happens with a "found" poet like some type of natural cycle.

This following poem by Evans doesn't mention publishing credits but is included as a personal favorite by a biology teacher, botanist and poet named Bryan Ness.

The Stone-Wall

Obliterated faces
Look up from the stones
When noon inks in the shadows.
Life is in these drones.
Nothing else created
Has such secret eyes;
Dim mouths set as these are
Make no cries.

Dwellers underground
Dragged up to the air
Lie out and plot together
Against alien glare,
Back to darkness sinking
At a pace too slow
For man's eyes to mark, less
Swift than shells grow.
Inhabitants of darkness,
Dragged up to the light,
Bend their graven faces
Back to night.

Nothing from without
Can break their calm.
--The warm snout of a rock
Nuzzles my palm.

Evans was born in Maine in 1881 and lived most her adult life in the Philadelphia area. She published four books in her long lifetime with broad gaps in publication dates, making for interesting conjecture. It was that Maine connection that got her included on a website devoted to poets from that state.

Wild Apples

Bright in September, bright against the sky,
Bright against mountains, bright against the sea,
Oh acid fruit and worthless! Pass it by.
Oh beautiful and worthless! Let it be.

Yet the birds take these branches for a house,
Wild grape festoons it, binding tart with tart,
And to the end of time unshaken boughs
Are not for us to laugh at, O my heart!

Unshaken boughs and fruit ungathered yearly
Save by the wind that brings it scattering down
To bruise on rocks, smash open, juicing clearly,
And rot beneath the tree till it is brown.

Out in back pastures known to sheep and cows,
Blind foot-note to a page, they stand apart;
But to the end of time unshaken boughs
Are not for us to laugh at, O my heart!

Copyright 2003 Abbie Huston Evans

How did that posthumous copyright get accomplished?

Evans got her M.A. from Radcliffe, volunteered for Red Cross service during the First War, then joined the faculty at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and taught there for five years before her first book of poetry, Outcrop, (1918) came out. Her friend and fellow Maine poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, wrote the Forward. It was a decade before she delivered book two, Bright North, (1928).

Her third and fourth collections were Fact of Crystal, (1961) and Collected Poems, (1970). Evans appeared in several anthologies including A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry (1946) and Poems and Poetry, (1964).

The Waterboro (MA) Public Library provides a short bio on Evans with a bit more details regarding the poet and Millay.

When she was 18, she experienced a serious illness that affected her eyesight and she was unable to read or write for ten years. She spent much of her time observing the natural world as she wandered through the woods and fields in the town. Her frequent companion was Edna St. Vincent Millay whom Evans met when she was Millay's Sunday school teacher.

At a conference held four years back in Portland Maine called, "The Complex Web of Women's Friendships," Barbara Lachman presented: "In Two Different Voices: Letters of Abbie Huston Evans to Margaret Marshall and to Hortense Flexner."

Over at the University of Baltimore is an autographed copy of Outcrop given to Mary Owings Miller in 1937. Miller was a writer and teacher who seemed to be a So. Carolina native. The collection has an extensive listing of Miller's poems, including these random titles:
"Woman In A Sea-Cottage," The Villager, March 1942
"To Edna St. Vincent Millay," Sonnet Sequences, December 1931
"Miss Moore Is Herself," Voices, September - December 1955
"Woman And Sea Horse," Poetry, February 1956 among many many more.

The University of Delaware has 18 of Evans letters to Odell Shepard, whom they call her "mentor." Evans and Shepard met during his very brief (1916-17) tenure at Radcliffe.

Impasse is from the anthology mentioned at the top of this spread: American Women Poets 1937, Margery Mansfield, editor (Henry Harrison Poetry Publisher, NY); illustrations by Charlot Bowman.


When I said in the end what I did,
hardly, with struggle for breath,
the land off across from our hill
backed up the thing that I said.

When I kept back the words too sweet,
when those I might say had all failed,
when silence shut down between,
that corner of land was my aid.

When you fought me with silence as keen
as my own, as sure in its fence,
taut with the tautness of steel,
the look of that land lent me strength.

When I told myself that the time
had come for the blade to cut,
and I turned and looked in your eyes,
'twas the arc of the world held me up.

If you need to buy the book, hold it in your hands, gently pull leaf after leaf, smell the paper, do all these things, and if First Editions mean something Special to you, then Matheson Books may be a Special site. You'll find firsat editions of Bright North, Fact of Crystal and Collected Poems listed for sale.


The fresh young maple leaves put up flat palms
to keep the sun out; but it came through chinks;
and everything in the green-lighted woods
that had no color of its own - the tree-trunks,
dead leaves bleached into paper by the rain,
and rocks that nosed up through the forest litter -
where the sun fell, showed hints of amethyst.
It was as though someone in passing through
the woods that morning had spilled wine in splotches
along the path, and stained the grey with purple.
Only, of course, no stain is like live sunlight;
where it lay upon the ground, the leaves and stones
swam in faint splendor as if under water;
something was in between that held me off, -
they might as well have been in the bed of a brook,
taking the tinge of water sliding over.

Here is a strange thing: sky and rock can feed
the spirit of man as bread his body;
we take up and combine and give out beauty
under new forms, as plants do what they feed on
(Look at gray dust, and then at larkspur blooms!).
So it was, the morning that I tell of.
And while I watched it, unaccountably
the baffling, beautiful, unsteady sunlight
went over into - shall I say, assurance? -
slipped from the outer world of trees and rocks
into a dimmer place than a green forest,
where thinking makes a darker shade than tress.

- from Outcrop, Harper and Bros., included in American Women Poets 1937.


A red scarce-opened lily looked me in the face
when I climbed across the stonewall. Rain was in the cloud,
and a sighing in the birches; and all the rising ground
across the bay lay sobered, as if to speak truth out.

A tall, red twin field-lily in a place unlikely stood,
knowing I must cry out when I saw it by the thorn;
as wind bent down the bushes it leaned upon that arm
lightly, and swayed a little, that morning before storm.

The pine-top by the inlet was a black brush on the sky;
indigo shook in the distance; and still unaltered came
the dark speech out of scrub and the dark speech out of stone:
but the bright out-breaking lily was one syllable said out plain.

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