Monday, October 31, 2011

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl was appointed Poet Laureate of Maine in 2006; her term ends this year. She teaches at, both, the University of Southern Maine, and Vermont College of Fine Arts — and has won several awards for her poetry.

Luci Shaw said in Radix, “A kind of fierce honesty pierces much of Sholl’s writing, revealing her proclivity for examining her own heart through the lens of the events and objects she discovers.” This is well-demonstrated in the poem included below, which is the final poem from her seventh collection: Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009).

The journal Image records her words about her approach to writing poetry,
--------“...what starts a poem is usually the experience of paradox or
--------contradiction, two equally true perceptions or emotions
--------co-existing: beauty and pain, love and fear, life and decay.
--------I love Auden’s comment that poetry is the clear expression of
--------mixed emotions, and Czeslaw Milosz’s notion about poetry as
--------a ‘passionate pursuit of the real.’ Of course “the real” eludes
--------us, but the pursuit enlarges us and keeps us aware of the
--------ultimate reality, God.”

Life and Holiness

I couldn’t finish the book because the end
no longer existed, the final words on life
and holiness, that old coin with its two sides
impossible to see at once, so each face
makes you long for the other—unless, of course,
the coin’s been rubbed down, almost out,
as my book was, not dog-eared, but dog-chewed,
a big chunk torn off its lower right,
and the whole book ending coverless
on page 118, so it’s hard to read
the thoughts without thinking of their fate,
and the message bound to what carries it:
Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton,
bound to our dog named Dreug, Russian for friend,
who also ate the edge of my purple dress
as I sat talking on the couch, plus a wooden apple,
and every chair rung in the house. It’s hard
not to think of the monk being chewed on
by silence, gnawed down, past ritual and custom,
to a desert of naked prayer, a dark night
where nothing’s left but the self’s empty shell,
the soul cracked open for something else to rush in,
which the words were just getting to
when Dreug, that zealous friend, aching and driven,
turned the matter into slobber and wag,
his new teeth editing, so the book
ends with:
-------------------------------------------...For such... (crunch)
---...lovers of God, all things, whether they appear... actuality good. All things manifest the...
---------------------...All things enable them to grow in...

Here it stops, the promise digested,
our big brown dog a better reader than I,
licking his lips, swallowing the words, taking in
the such and all things, however they appear.
And were they, in actuality good?
Was the back cover, the spine glue, the wood
or rage pulp of each missing page? “Complete
and unabridged,” it says just where the teeth marks
bite, where the paper’s rough edge, its newly exposed
microscopic threads meet air and morning light,
as if words could turn into life, into window glass
with bickering sparrows, children walking
to school, as Dreug, with his spotted face,
his feathery toes, watches all things
manifest the— enable them to grow in—

As to holiness, you lovers of God, must all things
come to an edge where words stop, and hunger—
that faithful friend who eats away what once
would have been so easy to read—begins?

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: