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Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

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scan0001This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.

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Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

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One of the pluses of getting accepted in a print journal is receiving a small book of poems by many poets, at least some of whom are likely to be new to me.

scan0002I am currently reading my way through the 2017-2018 issue of Red Coyote, out of the University of South Dakota, which includes two of my poems, “Hold On, Let Go,” and “Corners.”

I’m finding a lot to like.  One poet new to me is Carol Barrett.  Of her three poems I am particularly impressed with “The America Dream,” a short and subtle piece.  Here is the poem, by permission of the author:

The American Dream

Frosted grasses
bear the shadows
of pines

once peopling these plains.
Cars laden with dust
loom on every hill

along the path
paved to make our journey
swift.  A bluing sky

melts the crystalline
landscape, and on we plow
oblivious to those

who forage here,
to any shade
or sorrow.

As I was reading this, my mind made a series of pictures, some way off base, it turned out.  In the first stanza—what’s the connection to the title?—the immediacy of the grasses made me think of walking beside them.  Having this image in mind, I saw those looming cars on an Interstate above the path.  Paved?  Yes, where I live they persist in paving walking paths.

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.