Whirlwind @ Lesbos by Risa Denenberg
The Body’s Alphabet by Ann Tweedy
Just Past Dew Point by Georgia Johnson
This is a prime season for poetry, don’t you think? As we enter the frenetic pace of the holiday season, a good poem is just what one needs to slow down, ponder and appreciate. You probably have your own favorites, but it’s never a bad idea to support new work, too.
Here are three new volumes you might consider. The first two selections are published by Sequim’s lesbian/feminist Headmistress Press.
“Whirlwind @ Lesbos” features the poetry of press co-founder Risa Denenberg. Many of these pieces are glimpses back in time – 40 or 50 years in the past – recalling the erotic relish of young womanhood.
But Denenberg also reflects on the life chapters that follow – when impetuosity and carnal desires subside and one is left with consequences, second-guessing and “the frayed refrain, why don’t I want anymore?”
Poems such as “Anhedonia,” “Arrhythmia,” and “This Is Heartbreak” are steeped in rue. Denenberg’s work is lyrical, intense and unflinching.
“The Body’s Alphabet,” by Lake Tapps poet Ann Tweedy, begins with poems about a childhood shaped by self-preservation. Tweedy grew up in the haphazard care of her mentally ill mom, and “Eggshells,” the perfectly titled first poem, considers the vigilance she developed early on to contend with a stream of disrupted expectations. Even the dilapidated house where she lived, an extension of her mother’s mental chaos, finally was condemned.
Now, as a woman, Tweedy rejects “the hewn dimensions of any single space” and has created a life that allows for more experimentation and capacity. This applies to sexuality, travel, domesticity – and her own turn at motherhood.
“The Body’s Alphabet” tenders these insights adroitly.
And finally, it should come as no surprise that foodstuffs are among the topics addressed by Georgia Johnson, who is not only a poet but a culinary arts educator in Skagit County. Bellingham-based Flying Trout Press has just published Johnson’s poetry collection called “Just Past Dew Point.”
From this volume’s first line, which heralds “the shovel scarred potato,” you are in for a feast of poems: “Ode to the Caramel Coffee Semifreddo,” “Oh Butternut” and “A Baked Potato Looking for Condiments” are just a few. “Peel” is a suggestive salute to the onion. “Self-Medication” is a paean to chocolate. But make no mistake, these are not campy bits of doggerel – these are marvelous, authentic, evocative poems.
Johnson writes about other sources of sustenance, too: her family, the Skagit County artists who have come before, a wonderful dog, and different iterations of nature. She cloaks scientific observation and Biblical verse alike in poetry.
I conclude with a line from Johnson’s “Christmas Danish Origins,” a celebration of seasons and provenance, grace and gratitude – “so that today, in the kitchen, my heart is open.” What a wonderful poem to hold close during these darkest days of the year!
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.