Book Report: Lyrical words tell the taleGary Boelhower, a St. Scholastica theology professor, writes on a variety of topics, his first wife, his daughter’s wedding, his gayness, his grandmother “ground down by the hard soil of two failed farms.”
Gary Boelhower, a St. Scholastica theology professor, writes on a variety of topics, his first wife, his daughter’s wedding, his gayness, his grandmother “ground down by the hard soil of two failed farms.”
His poetry is unfailingly concrete and he breathes life into the most mundane of topics. I am a gardener and my lettuce and radishes have been up for a month, so I’ll give you a sample of Boelhower’s take on “Seeds”:
The little seeds, some as small as eyelashes,
others shining half-moons, some black
and armored, wait in their glossy packets
with their grown-up pictures on the front
and on the back all the directions you need,
sun or shade, how many days to wait until
their green gusto shouts through the soil
and, most importantly, how deep, thumbnail
or first joint on the index finger — that’s how
she taught us. She believed in the earth
and the rhythms of the world, peas planted
on the dark side of the moon when the nights
still chattered with frost, lettuces with a dusting
of the finest soil and always over everything
a prayer, kneeling in the dirt at the edge
of the garden, not a trace of life amid the dry
sticks on which hung the pictures and their beautiful
names: Straight Eight cucumbers, Black Beauty
zucchini, Cherry Belle radishes, Paris Island romaine
as if by planting them you could enter another
country or even a better version of yourself,
arranging the future in rows evenly spaced
and the right distance apart. The best and most
difficult lesson was gratitude for whatever came up,
for however much sun the summer brought.
“You do your part,” she said, “throw the potato peels
and the coffee grounds on the compost pile, follow
the directions, and everything you get is a blessing.”
There was always more than enough, brown bags
Brimming for neighbors up and down the street.
And when it rained, she taught us to dance in it.
And speaking of regional poets, the new issue of the Grey Sparrow Journal is out. The Grey Sparrow won the award as the Best New Literary Journal of the Year, awarded by the MLA in Los Angeles last spring.
That sort of thing impressed me like the announcement that Spring starts in April. But this time it caught my attention.
One of my favorite poets and non-fiction writers, whom I have known for years is Marie Sheppard William, a south Minneapolis octogenarian, former social worker who got into the poetry game when she was old enough to have topics and the brains to write about them.
Grey Sparrow calls her “Our national treasure.”
And little wonder.
Poems spew out of her after all her years of treating the halt and the lame, poems which have won her acclaim from younger poets from all over the world. Poems like this one from her “The Book of Jo”
Jo spent two years
in Anoka State Hospital.
They called me schizoid,
she said. Schizoid — that
meant she was a little
saner than me. After
Jo died, our friend Myrt told me
Jo was schizophrenic.
She told me schizoid, I
said. She told me schizophrenic,
said Myrt. One more vote
of No Confidence.
In an essay called “Thoughts on Poetry,” Marie makes a lot of sense. She says “I believe that the greatest gift God can give a human being is the ability to create — anything, stories, novels, poems, art, music — because it is always there, through thick and thin, bad times and good, always a consolation for life.”
Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He can be reached at 715-426-9554.