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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Salutation, Garcia Lorca


Mi tristeza incurable
se carmina y aprende
vuestro amor admirable.
Esta tristeza invade
mi corazón dormido
que vive por casualidad
gris y gris

Carbonilla en los ojos,
y las unas de Satán
escarbándome el pecho.
mi amigo de la infancia.
El topo del tren
roe las raícas del viento
y avanza.

Lejanía de campanas.
Arados yacentes.
Besanas lírricas.

Cabecea la tarde
y ha cesado
el dominó de los colores

Una guitarra dice
"Mi madera es ciprés."
Soñolencia en do sostenido para fagot y cuerdas.
Y en los paso a nivel
cortes de mangas.

A Salutation

How terminal my sadness,
daubs itself with rouge & learns
your wondrous love.
The sadness that invades
my sleepy heart
alive by chance
gray gray

Coaldust in my eyes
& Satan's fingernails
scratching my breast.
my old boyhood friend.
The train, a mole,
gnaws at the wind's roots
& goes on.

Distances of bells.
Plows dormant.
Lyric furrows.

Evening nodding out
the domino of colors

A guitar that says
"My wood is cypress."
Somnolence in G sharp for bassoon & strings
And at the railroad crossings
an arm gives you the shaft.

Federico Garcia Lorca, Appendice: Suites (Appendix to Suites), 1927. Trans. by Jerome Rothenberg.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

To Margaret whose face is so sad

and whose eyes pour out
a brown language of longing,
silence behind lips.
If I could follow the grief
which fills you
like a Madonna;
follow that sinful silence
into the well of your quiet heart,
I would learn the long walk of denial.
There is no white purification,
no everlasting mercy.
None of that. No redemption.
Only desire.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
who each one in a gracious hand appears
to bear a gift for mortals, old or young :
and, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw in gradual vision through my tears,
the sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
those of my own life, who by turns had flung
a shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware,
so weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
behind me, and drew me backward by the hair ;
and a voice said in mastery, while I strove,
'Guess now who holds thee?' - 'Death,' I said. But there,
the silver answer rang - 'Not Death but Love.'

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More Giveaways

Picked through the stacks of give away books outside the library today and returned with two more.

INTRODUCTION TO POETRY, Commentaries on Thirty Poems by Mark Van Doren, Hill & Wang, NY, 1951.

A thin book (136 pp) with selected verse of Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, Donne, Frost, Burns, Pound, Yeats, Lovelace, Thomas Carew, Mathew Prio, GeorgePeele, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Marvell, Herrick, Emerson, Hardy, Crane, Dryden, Hardy & Herrick.

Yes, just one woman: "I had not minded walls"and "The soul selects her own society," given up and pushed forward in a nimble, able way, quickly. There's no cumbersome plodding in his commentaries. Van Doren knits each poem into a whole using needles named brevity and lucidity.

Van Doren was clear in his selection process: he was looking for the short poem and the lyric. "I have not sought to define poetry," he says. He is more interested in being a matchstick, giving a flash of understanding to readers through his own commentary.

THE GOLDEN TREASURY, Selected from the best songs and lyrical forms in the English language, by Francis T. Palgrave, Late Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford.

My second choice anthologizes the lyric too. But this editor bound his selections by "quality" of poem with no restrictions on length. This two volume revised edition was inscribed by Palgrave in 1861 when he wrote his dedication to Tennyson, whome he called "Poet"and "Friend" in almost worshipful praise

The volume includes an index of poems, poets and first lines and is a classic collection of formal verse. From it, on a random page turn, I found the wonderful despair of Edward Fitzerald : "I came like Water, and like Wind I go." Love is captured and rue. Gardens and memory, maidens and kisses, mariners, music, despair, echoes, friends. hills, herds, flocks, flowers, Sally and Mary and Duncan and Charlotte. The Bridge of Sighs, Westminster Abbey, supplication and lullabye, "All the breath and bloom of the year."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why it is not possible

to talk about hot button topics online
  • because we are too many
  • because you won't listen
  • because we want the answer
  • because there is no eye contact
  • because we have not agreed to this discussion
  • because one person is absent
  • because you don't know when to stop
  • I don't know when to stop
  • because there is no permission
  • because you cannot answer everything
  • because people are hurt and angry and frightened and
  • because people are confused and ignorant and tired and jaded
  • because hierarchies of agreement exist
  • because someone gets the last word
  • because we're a herd
  • because I cannot see your eyes
  • because no one asked permission

Liberia's First Female President Sworn In

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the newly elected President of Liberia, has waited twenty years to witness the will of the people in this country founded in 1847 by emancipated slaves from America.

She waited through the ballot-stuffing and vote destruction that gave Samuel Doe the presidency back in 1985, when she was exiled to Kenya as his political opponent. She witnessed the U.S. recognition of Doe and never forgot the "betrayal" by Washington .

She endured false charges under the next Liberian president Charles Taylor, a man she called a "pathological liar." Johnson-Sirleaf was forced to leave her country again when Taylor accused her of fomenting war. Taylor was later indicted by the U.N. for war crimes against the people of Sierra Leone. In a NY Times guest editorial called "What the U.S. Owes Liberia," published the day Taylor gave up his presidency, Johnson-Sirleaf called upon the Bush administration to look beyond its greed and help set up a transitional government in the absence of a Liberian leader.

Now this Harvard graduate, former finance minister, Citibank director, economist and two time presidential candidate dubbed the "Iron Lady," has entered office as the first female president of Liberia and the only female head of state on the African continent.

In an outdoor inauguration attended by African leaders, U.N. representatives, First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Conoleeza Rice, the new leader of Liberia promised peace, unity and an end to graft in the West African country.

Johnson-Sirleaf took the oath of office and
pledged to "wage war against corruption regardless of where it exists or by whom it is practised."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Attention ad nauseum

Just been travelling around the blog world, listening to some of the bunk. One guy posts a response to someone else's manifesto on poet bloggers, and then the Commenters start in, and on and on it goes, knitting this wide world into the smallest of cliches.

So this "manifesto" which belittles MFA programs and MFA poets and poet bloggers, what is it? It's really nothing more than someone's BS getting spread around like diarrhea. It's not about anything terribly valuable. Just as this post is not the least bit valuable. I could just as well be scribbling in a journal that I hide under my bed. Who is the author of the "manifesto"? Anyone with any depth of experience with MFA programs? with MFA grads and their poetic output? Nah, I'm betting this guy got a sharp critique in some workshop and is devoting his energy to wholesale revenge of the muckraking kind.

But this is the intenet and hyperlinks exist and the fact that there is an audience suddenly creates authority where before it was nothing more than subjective crapola. It's all about is ATTENTION. It's this look-at-me kind of immaturity. I can string together big words with some minimal coherence, and I can spew out specious opinion, and I can belittle someone "important" and I have a corp of admirers - now ain't I something?

bunk bunk and more bunk.