Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Margot Schilpp: LAWS OF MY NATURE

The speaker of a poem midway through Laws of My Nature, Margot Schilpp’s second collection of poetry, reveals herself to readers as “a master of contradiction” (“Of Stars and Water and Instructions for Observing Both”). The persona in the book’s title poem makes a claim that she is “indigent, // which means to be in want, yet I want / for nothing.” Elsewhere in the volume, the poet poses a number of unsettling questions and gives various unique observations, about the self or the world around one, that continually surprise—sometimes by suggesting an atmosphere of unease or discomfort, but often by offering delightfully fresh perspectives, at times even humorous, in the midst of ordinary and everyday events.

Margot Schilpp’s poems seem to display an instinctively acute knowledge—of the differences between one’s inner personality and one’s social identity, between expectations and realizations, or between mere want and deep desire—that results in readers also obtaining an intuitive understanding about ourselves and how we fit into our own surroundings. In “Ghost Ships” the poet wonders: “why not / the beautiful words of desire to accompany / forgiveness and grief, or the everyday sounds / of dishes in the sink, the turnstile, the jet engine?” Repeatedly, Schilpp attempts to elevate consideration of the mundane or monotonous with interesting insights and exciting language. “I can’t see the harm in imagining,” she writes when fantasizing about being with an attractive jogger she sights, “tracing my tongue slowly up / the side of your neck.” The poem, “Taking Leave of My Senses” (paradoxically, one of a number of poems involving sensuality), concerns want and thought (“I want that, I think”), the conflict of conscience, deliberating between imagination’s desire and the intellect’s control. Yet, it ends with a witty recollection of familiar advice heard since childhood, “the harsh whispers // of all our mothers saying, / You can look, just don’t touch anything.

In “Solving for the Plain Truth” Schilpp regards the relationship between scrutiny and understanding: “The art of observation lies / along the unmarked road to faith.” As the line break implies, when simply seeing, only noticing without more complex perception, what one comprehends may take the shape of “lies,” aspects of our lives might falsely present themselves to us. Similarly, as the poet shows with wonderful imagery, beauty is occasionally hidden in plain sight (“an old couch, which the lace / shadows of the trees cover like doilies”) rather than where it is sought: “you were looking for it / in the contour of a thigh, in the slopes / of many breasts.” By the close of this poem, the speaker seems to seek greater awareness by examining not just laws of personal nature but, as any Romantic might, by inspecting basic elements of nature’s environment: “To understand simplicity, // shouldn’t I know how wind begins? / Shouldn’t there be some answer in the trees?”

Paradox and contrast exist everywhere in Laws of My Nature. If Walt Whitman felt comfortable with contradiction in “Song of Myself” (“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.”), Margot Schilpp seems most content when she displays apparently opposing notions in Laws of My Nature. Throughout Schilpp’s poetry, the beautiful and the bleak, the bountiful and the barren are juxtaposed with one another. Common occurrences come up against unconventional actions. Incidents in these pieces, despite their usually soothing tone, sometimes further confirm and emphasize our insecurities. At first, in one instance readers are assured: “It’s an ordinary day, nothing / to alarm, nothing to frighten or warn” (“If You Agree I’m Telling the Story”). The speaker even reassures us she will supply the necessary information: “Trust me to tell you / what you need to know? I will.” Nevertheless, before the end of this poem, readers encounter unnerving images, including “the tiny wrists of a child. / Talk of stitches. // Talk of scars.” The speaker concludes by conceding to the reader an enormous omission: “I forgot to mention the blood.”

Much of Schilpp’s poetry arises out of the anxiety resulting after a disturbance from one’s proper place or state of mind. Describing various types of “hungers / for knowledge or passion or change or simpler / things,” the poet decides: “all of this reminds me of dislocation. All of this reminds me / how many blank pages are in the book.” The many mentions of “want” within the book indicate a need to fill those pages, a necessity for direction forward. “In the Parlor of Instructions: Want” demonstrates the most obvious example: “The orphan / of desire wings toward / you: and you want and want. You wanted. / Consider want as the noun, but also as the verb, / as the original beauty of having a direction.” Later in the book, Schilpp confides she is led, perhaps as a poet ought to be, by her reliance on sense: “Nothing / on earth directs me more than sense, // the deep signals blinking stop or go. I have / to pay attention to the lilac melody or crown // of sonnets that plays across the keyboard / of my ear” (“What I’ll Know”). By the final poem, the darkly humorous “My Compass Will Not Orient,” the poet confesses her compass has always been stuck; yet, she closes the poem determining that “having a direction is always an accident / a way to decide, when you step / in something, the best way to extricate / yourself to cause the least damage.”

At times, the original instinct of “wanting” for speakers in the poems becomes a longing “to be wanted” as well, to attain a close connection with others. The word “want” appears nearly a dozen times in “Ouija,” and the poem concludes with the speaker shifting from her list of wants to a final request: “To be / wanted exactly so.” In turn, the loss through geographical or emotional distance, as well as death, of those whom the poems’ speakers had once cherished—friends, family, lovers—serves as another expression of dislocation in this collection: “Everyone I love is far away, / beyond image / or conversation, beyond / hearing, but not past / memory, that flower / that blooms inside / and needs almost / nothing to make it last” (“River of Me”). Perhaps the poet finds comfort in the control of memory, where a favorite place is always available or people we once knew remain ever-present and safe: “A door will close / tomorrow, and I already love / its memory” (“Sunday Lyric”).

The disquieting passage of time, one’s aging and the confrontation with death, contributes to the consternation in some of this book’s works: “it’s not true / anymore that time passes / slowly—it’s sped up, on fast forward, / the remote in someone else’s hand” (“How Time Passes in the Middle Age”). However, the dismay caused by time’s changes and an awareness of mortality—others’ as well as one’s own—also supplies the speakers in these poems with greater enlightenment and more of a capacity for empathy or compassion: “it’s a different way of speaking: you can’t / understand loss without losing something, / can’t read a book in the dark” (“Ghost Ships”).

The speaker begins “Coming Apart, Together” with a sobering statement: “We’re all coming home now / for the funerals, saying goodbye.” In some way, one might wonder if the poet’s focus on loss, especially through death, indirectly permits her an opportunity to fulfill one of the desires hinted within this collection, a reconstruction of the people or places that have been missing and have created feelings of dislocation, as well as a unity with those who also share in the grieving: “your / parents and mine will rest here.”

With the contrast of life and death, beginnings and endings, apparent in the aptly titled “Spring Burials,” the poet knows time has taken away much with which she once identified herself: “There is nothing left here / of the people who called this home.” However, through the poignant and persuasive words of her poetry, Schilpp’s memories emerge, reviving the voices of those who mattered so much: “Across the ravine between me // and those years are the voices / that called me to dinner, that shrieked / in the spring air. I hear them / make the sound of my name.” Through language and imagery, the poet’s tools, Schilpp constructs a bridge over the gap time’s erosion had opened (“How else can we connect / in what we earn of these brief // and terrible days?”), and she listens to the voices as they speak her name, reaffirm her identity and confirm her purpose as a poet, the person she has become. Consequently, the poet’s skill allows her to relive those most valued moments from her life and share them with us. Ironically, she does so by again phrasing a desire to connect with another, as the line break after “you” suggests: “So I want you / to have this: the yellow of the forsythia / on the hill in my backyard, year / after year, and my mother scrambling // down the hill, the gardening shears / in her right hand.”

Similarly, Schilpp begins this book with a poem questioning direction provided by narrative—that with which “the mind can calculate / change and recognize destiny” (“What Is Narrative For”)—and discussing the nature of time, advising: “All that’s left is to know // we will suffer through almost anything— / make sure to remember well.” Flirting with Romantic characteristics in this collection, the poet occasionally chooses to briefly deem how art—perhaps paintings, films, or poems—can assist by representing an alternative atmosphere into which one may escape or in which one may preserve moments as a way of remembering people and places, while managing to avoid difficult transitions or painful transformations, even seasonal changes, initiated by time. For example, in “Revisiting Gauguin” the speaker asks, “will you sometimes wish / you could paint yourself back into the garden?”

As a follow-up to Schilpp’s first book of poetry, The World’s Last Night (2001), the work in Laws of My Nature shows a poet’s growth toward a sustained and consistent voice filled with surprising twists. The pieces continue to exhibit wit and dark humor, as well as a keen sensibility, sometimes even sensuality, and they reward readers with delight in their unpredictable paths. Her poetic style contains a slick mixture of rich imagery and conversational, at times approaching colloquial, diction that subtly reveals a deceptively confident and insightful speaker readers enjoy hearing, so that after the last page we are the ones left with desire, wanting more of Margot Schilpp’s poems.

Schilpp, Margot. Laws of My Nature. Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2005.

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