Waltzing with Horses by Felicia Mitchell is a series of poems that tell the story of family and rural life America inside days of jewelry, the poems like flowers,
highlight where to look. She is a poet, teacher, mother who as well as writing poetry, has written scholarly articles, fiction and creative non-fiction. She has been published
in many journals, nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and has published chapbooks, including “Earthenware Fertility Figure”, “The Cleft of the Rock” and
“Case Hysteries”. This is Poet Mitchell’s first full length book of poetry and the first poetry collection This Writer has reviewed for her.
“Take me home, country roads” . . . a song plays on a warm, warm Summer afternoon. The allure of the American Midwest, the Smokey Mountains of Virginia, full of nature imagery and the rural milieu haunts this poetry, dressing the stories of family life. The poems unfold like stories, the death of her father, the death of her mother, stories of her son, stories of the past and stories of her cancer treatment. Living inside a deep spiritual conviction, the poems, the stories, create beautiful jewelry, a love chain of people, family and community.
“Bird in Flight
There is a bird nest
where other women would keep porcelain,
crystal, Hummel figurines.
Next to a child’s plaster of Paris mask.
Above an old wallet.
Some ghost bird has been flying
in one house, or another,
for almost fifty years.
My mother is never lonely.
When a cricket sings in her house,
I hear about it in a letter.
Every time I visit,
I leave with another treasure:
Colonial silver, blown glass water pitchers,
my father’s frayed nightcap.
A bag of tomatoes.
She does not want us to clean house.
By the time she dies,
there will be little left: a bird nest,
an old wallet, lipstick on the bathroom counter.
We will bury the nest with her.
Her bird will fly.”
The poetry is ripe with rural images, flowers, hobblebush, violets and phlox; cats, birds, horses, green herons, raccoons, lakes, dragonflys, cherry trees and more with images of baking in the kitchen, making bread and biscuits, it is a life set inside context, landscape and an idea of God.
“I Remember Biscuits
This is how it begins,
the long decline to a time
when a sweet potato becomes a novelty
and bread crusts make a woman marvel
at the cleverness of bread.
Before milk turns to water,
or Brussels sprout to something inedible,
biscuits can make as much sense as newsprint.
Cooking up a pan is like opening your eyes
or shutting the kitchen door at night
and going to sleep in an old cotton gown.
There are some things a person can do
with her eyes closed, like pray or measure flour
or wait twelve minutes for biscuits to rise
in a hot oven.
And then she can’t.
She just can’t remember some things,
not where to write a row of numbers
or what to wear to bed
or how to put together four - no, five – basic things:
flour, salt, baking powder, shortening.
It goes from there, it goes.
A person can live without biscuits.
Years can pass without numbers that figure
or sweet potato soufflé.
But I wish I could go back in time
to a day my mother remembered biscuits
and write everything down.”
As well as stories of family, is the archetype of death, the life cycle and celebration despite the losses. The poetry unfolds as a story of a matriarch, the story of continuity inside the natural forces of the universe. The personal narrative style is a post-modernist evolution, the domestic themes of Waltzing with Horses is in league with the poetry of Colleen Thibaudeau, an American version of the Canadian Muse.
My son traces the bird claw,
his left hand holding the black marker
like a magic wand that will fuse life and death
right in front of my skeptical eyes.
Upstairs, on my desk, my father’s poems wait
as fragile as the butterfly wings
pinned to my son’s bedroom wall.
Each night, I slip upstairs to these poems.
I type their words, my fingers tracing my father’s,
rhymes about swamps, night skies, and lost love
flashing fast and black on my computer screen.
On his desk, my son keeps a cat skull
in a box that delivered a Mother’s Day orchid.
Sometimes we take it out and marvel at it.
I remember my son pulling it from a pile of leaves,
his hands holding up this perfect specimen.
I remember my mother handing me my father’s poems.”
Waltzing with Horses, Americana poetry inside the landscape of the mountains and the sky of Virginia is a cinematic discourse in family and the healing of losses. A beautiful first book of poetry from Felicia Mitchell.
Available @ Amazon.ca.
The voice of a new generation calling out for freedom, Forms of Distance by Bei Dao, a book of poems published in 1994, is a reflection of his life in China
and his exile after the violence of Tiananmen Square in 1989. He is a citizen of China who was recruited for the Red Guard, later re-educated to be a construction
worker and his years as a member of The Misty Poets, publishing a poetry magazine for 10 years that was banned. Currently, he is a university professor in Hong Kong.
Of the Summer, the dark and beautiful music of Enya rolls out, into the night. This poetry of exile, he was reunited with his wife and child 6 years later, writing and living in Europe and the United States. The images are haunting, the development of the industrial economy in China, the machine age and the shadows of the cityscape, the modern are juxtaposed with traditional nature images (flowers, sea, birds, fire, snow etc.) and the Poet’s everyday. Influenced by the rich and powerful history of the ancient civilizations of Asia, the mystique and enigma are coached in the political realities of a country with a huge population, and the contrast of personal freedom vs. social control. Highlighting the fracture or “absurdist theatre” that can come with being only one of 1.3 billion people, the poetry is broken and exists as a voice within silence. The broken poetic images of the modern contrast with beauty and create violence, existing as protest and as “Apocalypse Poetry”.
incandescent arc welding the sky
like long-lost passions
searching for new wounds
searching for blizzards amid archives
sparks in the bellows-chamber
dreams drop with sweat
like underwater mines longing for a ship’s touch
now the sea’s gone suddenly dry
a forest of tents appears
and we wake like wounds
dignitaries speaking some other language
stroll through the refuge camp”
Also, the idea of violence and the monolith, the state, infuse the poetry with death imagery and the Zen and healing of voice, speaking the truth.
“Apple and Brute Stone
in the prayer ceremony of ocean
a storm bows down
stone watches over May in vain
guarding against that green contagion
as the four seasons take turns axing huge trees
stars try to recognize the road
a drunk using that talent for balance
breaks out from the time-siege
a bullet soars through the apple
life’s on loan”
The poem, Exit is based on an old Chinese saying, “that if you fall into a well, people will throw in stones.” This Writer interprets that to mean when there are enough stones thrown in, you can climb on top of them and get out of the well.
for Donald Finkel
tossing stones into my dream
wellwater and I rise together
and people find that thirst moving
like an alarm startled awake
he’s smiling at us
a moon leading the heavens away bails out of
dawn’s emergency exit
where his visa’s expired”
As New Age thought through the magic of the Internet recreates the thinkspace of the people of China, self expression, see and be seen, the arts may help create personal and actual peace. The poetry of Zen and shadows, Forms of Distance, helps create a new way, the way of the artist as truthteller, healer and peacemaker in the New Age. A brilliant read.
Available @ Amazon.ca.