Why be a poet? One can’t do it for a living, not with payments in contributors’ copies and the chances of publishing a slim chapbook worse than lottery odds. The poet will answer that she writes because she must, because it’s only through such arrangements of words that she can attempt an understanding of this world. We should all be poets. Imagine the possibilities!
But failing that, you can at least cultivate a poetic sensibility. Five recent arrivals from Southwest women poets are a good place to start.
Moriarty poet Lisa Gill’s Mortar & Pestle (New Rivers Press, paper, $13.95) explores the poet’s journey with multiple sclerosis through the literal and figurative metaphor of the medicinal plants she turns to for relief. By turns laugh-out-loud and heartbreaking, Gill’s words encourage the reader to encounter her own difficulties as well, as in this, from “Yarrow”:
I’m looking for my great weakness.
I see a thousand things.
I suspect my entire body
Is composed of Achilles’ heels …
A thousand things go wrong.
And yet this is nothing …
The poems in Albuquerque poet Jeanne Shannon’s Angelus (Fithian Press, paper, $14) sound a more celebratory note, as in “Giverny,” a catalog tribute to Monet that can be read in a number of configurations:
the water the blue the lilies
the orange lilies the lilypads the bridge
the roses the tree rose the rose canes
the green stairway descending descending
into the sunlight …
The Sound a Raven Makes (Tres Chicas Press, paper, $14), Tres Chicas Press’ sixth book offers three northern New Mexico rural poets, each with a distinctive voice and way of seeing. Taos’ Sawnie Morris uncovers the immanent in the daily, as in this, from “Aspens”:
Language of branches, arabesque
one bends a knee,
One a gathering of ripples;
strands of gray hair
Once curled brightly in a spiral …
The far more dense poems of Chimayo’s Michelle Holland offer echoes of Eliot, as in this, from “Solstice”:
The earth rides our feet forward,
with a gravity we never chose.
Our hearts beat the rhythm that keeps us here,
in the interim space between before and after …
Catherine Ferguson, who lives in Galisteo, was first a painter, and that skill with color and image is reflected in words like those in “Eagle Rounding Out the Morning”:
I woke up to the yellow
bird inside the sea of September,
There were so many choices to make,
but I am only one woman.
So I chose a paintbrush wrapped inside a towel of wind …
Trinidad, Colo., poet Katie Kingston has taken to spending part of each year in Taos, but her poetry in El Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio (White Eagle Coffee Store Press, paper, $5) reflects the singularity of a city most of us know only as the funny little town at the bottom of Raton Pass. In “Bonilla Tells Humana How to Get to the Heart of It,” for example, person and place are so intertwined as to be interchangeable:
You’ll need a good map, one with roads like varicose veins,
rivers like silver arteries. You’ll need to scale parched
cliffs the texture of bones, eroded marrow your center line …
Tracing the crazy path my family blazes
scaling crumbling stone above a river that refuses to learn
the many human names for misfortune, I know
there is no way to save them …
Might I humbly suggest one or more of these lovely books as a gift for someone special? Like music, poems offer immersion in worlds not one’s own, even when, as with these seven poets, that world is a familiar one.