Recommendation: Susana H. Case, Salem in Séance

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Susana H. Case’s book of poems, Salem in Séance is constructed around the idea of a séance at which participants in the Salem witch frenzy of the late seventeenth century speak to the author, giving their different views of what happened. And the author sometimes speaks back.

The actors do not appear according to the chronology of the historical events, but in three sections by roles: Detentions, Accusations and Authorities. The characters are a little hard to keep track of, perhaps partly because so many names begin with P: Proctors, Putnams, Porters and Parrish. As a person who likes history I wanted, at first, a list of who was involved to keep track of them all. Later, I concluded that the lack of such a list and the neglect of chronological sequence adds to the impression of chaos and confusion that must have prevailed at the time.

Case weaves texts from the period into the poems, distinguished by use of italics. Her own comments are indicated by italics within brackets. These interjections are used with restraint, which gives them more force; a great deal can be suggested about alternative possibilities and understandings in a few words. Sometimes the speaker responds briefly to the interjection, other times not. These interruptions never bend the story the speaker is telling.

A poem which uses both kinds of insertions is “A Father’s Son.” The speaker is Cotton Mather.

In 1692, my excoriating father, Increase,
finally brings the colony’s new charter
from England.
We can take witches such as have rendered
themselves obnoxious
to trial.
[A Mather through and through.]
I am my father’s son. This battleground
with Satan―accusations

fly unleashed, like my vowels used to whoosh
through echoing rooms, women
on brooms.
[To your political advantage.]
The threat is burning for eternity―
forgiveness is bad for business.

The cure for a surfeit of witches is
before a lasting skepticism.

Two dogs full with evil in their eyes
are hanged by the neck
on Gallows Hill.

Selections from these poems don’t convey the full impact, but I’ll include one more short poem which is a good example of Case’s tight, no words wasted, style.


Nathaniel Hawthorne,
of great-grandfather
John Hathorne,
trial magistrate who believed
in guilty
before being proven
guilty, a very religious
man, wealthy,
the only magistrate involved in Salem
not to repent,
restores the w
to his family name
for reasons of dissociation
now that he is done with college,
the w
three hundred years before.

He, as much as anyone,
understands the importance
of a letter.

Salem in Séance is published by WordTech Editions, the imprint which is publishing my book, Made and Remade. I am happy to see my book on the same list with such a well-crafted work.

You can find out more, read more sample poems. or order a copy via: http://www.wordtechweb.com/case.html


Beginning Again, Again


In a recent post, Marylin Warner pointed out that today, March 25, is Old New Year’s Day. She posted this information a few days ago so that readers might think about what they would like to do over from the January 1 New Year. A New Year is an opportunity to make a fresh start, to correct past mistakes and begin again. You can read her post at: http://warnerwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/unfinished-business/

I was aware that March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation, honoring the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce the incarnation of Jesus. What I did not know until I did some research is that there is a direct connection between the Annunciation and the old New Year.

The Christian scholars of many centuries ago understood that the incarnation of Christ marked the beginning of a new age. They set the beginning of this incarnation at conception, nine months before the birth of Jesus. Since a new age began on March 25, so must the year of the new age’s calendar, the Years of Our Lord, from which the suffix A.D. (Anno Domini) derives. To know which year it was required starting the year on the same day as the day of the incarnation.

It makes as much sense to start the year a few days after the Spring Equinox as it does to start it ten days after the Winter Solstice. Any day makes a good day for a fresh start. But I’m glad we don’t start our year on March 25. For me, the Feast of the Annunciation has a different significance. Coming as it most often does before Easter, it suggests to me that things have a way of beginning again before the last cycle is over. This is how ritual includes a whole lifetime in its rhythm of days and seasons. It is also a reminder of our human condition. We believe that one thing should end and then another can begin. Things often don’t work that way.

Whether you celebrate a new year, a new season, or a new day, take time to make something right if you are aware of something that is broken.

Tanka on Childhood


Our dolls and bears
bicker and pout
as we play our way
toward understanding
adult antagonisms.

This tanka is for Sally.  It was sparked by the discovery, last year, of letters from our childhood.  We wrote to each other about the adventures of our stuffed animals, of which we each had a whole community. I put the poem of this long ago experience in the present tense because I hope it continues to be part of children’s growing up.bear party

The picture shows a gathering of my bears and dolls, my brothers’ bears, and my cousin Linda’s bears and dolls.  I have been trying to remember whether she came to our house or we went to hers to create this version of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.”  I’m thinking the chairs must be ours, because my cousin had no siblings, but I don’t recall.  An interesting case of what we remember and what we forget.  And the way photographs both help and confuse the issue.

Goodbye to Winter


After I posted my photos of spring color (March 4) I realized that I had never photographed the flowers which have given me color all winter, a few in my yard and a few by my patio.  As a way of celebrating the end of the season, I give thanks for the blue pansies.  This batch I can see from my study window.

Pansies by the metal lily

Pansies by the metal lily

I learned by trail and error that these traditional pansies are more cold hardy than the fancy varieties.  There is a lovely frilled variety with “antique” in their name, but they are imposters.  I will have some this spring because the ones that died in the cold a year ago left some seeds to sprout.  But these blues have survived every year I’ve planted them.

Pansies by the patio

Pansies by the patio

Happy Equinox to all.  Enjoy the greater energy of longer days.



Playing with the Tradition

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I’ve been doing practice exercises from Mary Kinzie’s The Poet’s Guide to Poetry, a big, thick book full of good information about the effects of rhyme, rhythm, stanzas and repetition.  It has a short set of suggested exercises in the back which are particularly good for someone like me who has resisted rhyme (end rhymes, that is) and meter in my own work.

One of her exercises, however, is called “Linked Form Using Lines by Another.”  By “linked forms” she intends any of those forms which use repeated lines, such as the pantoum, triolet or villanelle.  I may have overdone things by creating a triolet using lines from two others.  You will probably recognize the two different sources:

Thank you god for most this amazing day.
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil
in a Greek press.  Grey dawn filtered each ray
with thin clouds that thickened slow.  I say
thank you, God―for most this amazing day
has filled to spilling our wells, our spirits, our soil.
Thank you god for most this amazing day.
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.

It seems to me that this device is rather like a musician doing variations on a theme by one of his or her predecessors.  It is a sign of appreciation of the other’s work.  It doesn’t happen as much in writing.juniper

We had a day today that showed signs of spilling out rain for our wells and our soil, but there was barely enough to settle the dust for a bit.  Summer is when we get our good rains.  And in this sunny desert, those are the days that have a greatness to them.

The Importance of Articles

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“Articles” here refers not to things but to those two modifiers in grammar:  the definite article, “the” and the indefinite article “a (an).”  I saw a performance of “An Iliad” recently.  Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare used the translation of Homer’s Iliad by Robert Fagles as a primary, but not exclusive source for their play, which in the version I saw, features one actor and a musician.

.What was performed was definitely not The Iliad, the epic poem by Homer written down more than two millennia ago and available in many translations.  Those translations usually specify their title as “The Iliad of Homer” but no other version of that tragic story of the battle over Ilium (Troy) has survived.

The Iliad was presumably sung to audiences of elite people; some may have had family ties to the characters and the events.  It would, however, be deadly dull on a modern stage.  It is full of long speeches and repetitive description. So Peterson and O’Hare produced “An Iliad” in which the language switches back and forth from Fagles’ translated lines to other levels of speech, as the actor, portraying the poet, reveals what a strain it has been to repeat the story again and again.

In the mix are references to more recent wars.  The modern production calls into question the ideas of honor, heroism, and reprisal which for Homer were important lessons of the story.

The Iliad is part of our shared European heritage. It has influenced such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost.   I hope young people still read it in school, though reading the Greek is a lot less common than in Milton’s day.  Then some of them could create their own Iliads, each of which would be called “An Iliad.”  Or would they call them “The Iliad of George” and “The Iliad of Susan.”  I hope they would use the indefinite article, which would be an invitation to create more of them.

Clocks and Time

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The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside Paley’s Door





In honor of the clock change, here is one of my poems about time and clocks from Made and Remade.


The Potentate of Time

As CEO, I cannot allow loss
of minutes dropped by badly
calibrated clocks, seconds

split by timers racing after
ever faster miles, or precious
nanoseconds sliced, spit out

by precision machines: all
the clumsy human attempts
to alter time.

I dispatch work crews to
sweep corners and gutters, sift
bits from curbs and drains,

bring their gathered goods into
my laboratory where skilled
artisans sort, stitch, splice.  My

expanding universe requires
recovery, repair, reuse
of every particle.

The title comes from a line in a hymn “Crown him the Lord of years, the potentate of time.”  It’s a phrase I’ve been fond of for a long time.  In spite of the source I picture this powerful figure as female.  I don’t know if this is because this cleaning up is a kind of woman’s work, or if it is a form of identification between poet and persona.  I intentionally hid my perspective by putting the poem in the first person.  How do you imagine this figure?

Drive carefully on Monday morning.  It’s a high accident time because so many people are thrown off and sleep deprived by the time change

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