Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Muse: Colorado's Poet Laureate

Mary Crow is Colorado's Poet Laureate. She was appointed to the position in 1996. A new appointee is expected to be announced this year.

The state Poet Laureate is appointed by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by the Colorado Center for the Book, Colorado Endowment for the Humanities, and Colorado Arts Council. Formerly a lifetime position, the job is for four years. The appointee is expected to make annually at least eight public presentations throughout the state during events at the state capitol, schools and libraries, and literary festivals.

In addition to Mary Crow, the following have served as Colorado Poet Laureate: Alice Polk Hill (1919 - 1921), Nellie Burget Miller (1923 - 1952), Margaret Clyde Robinson (1952 - 1954), Milford E. Shields (1954 - 1975), and Thomas Hornsby Ferril (1979 - 1988). A poetry prize was created to honor the latter, and Crow has been a reader of nominated work.

* * * * *

Mary Crow, emeritus professor of English, Colorado State University, is the author of five collections of poetry: The High Cost of Living, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2002),  I Have Tasted the Apple (BOA Editions Ltd., 1996), Borders (BOA, 1989), The Business of Literature, a chapbook (Four Zoas, 1981), and Going Home, also a chapbook (Lynx House, 1979). (I read in several places that she is circulating currently a new collection titled How Many Rivers.) Crow also has published collections of translations of poetry, including, most recently, Engravings Torn from Insomnia: Selected Poems by Olga Orozco (BOA, 2002) and Homesickness: Selected Poems by Enrique Lihn (Green Integer Press, 2002), co-edited with W.S. Merwin.

Crow is described as "a poet of miraculous lucidity and mystery" (David Ignatow on Borders) and of "mature lyricism", whose poems display "a quiet, honed rage beneath everyday scenarios that are injected with a sober realism into a forbidden landscape" (Yusef Komunyakaa on I Have Tasted the Apple). Perhaps.

Repetition of words and often-heavy description (each noun given an adjective, sometimes more than one) mark a lot of Crow's poetry that I found and read online. Some examples:

daily, baskets of eggs beside the dusty hovel,
daily, gray green water to drink,
daily, bruised pears in the garden
~ Borders

Glare, hot lights, relentless
groan of traffic, legless beggar
whose monotonous voice
pursues me down the street:. . .
~ From "Weight of the Day" in Borders

Even now the ground is slowly shifting
beneath your feet. Even now
zones of weakness are building
behind your back ready to crack
into fractures. Even now pressures
may exceed the power of rocks
to resist. Think of it:
thousands of faults lace this region. . . .
~ From "Fault Finding" in I Have Tasted the Apple

The repetition makes for a kind of insistent and sometimes enhancing rhythm of emphasis but in one poem after another it can become tiresome, the point over-made.

In reading a poem like "Cultivation, I found myself wishing Crow would pare, tell less, explain less, so her poem would leave room for imagination:

He tilled the stars in the dull heaven
of the soil, stars of white pearl
with green at the tip. It made him dizzy
to glance up at that other garden.

As he walked beside the rows
searching for what had appeared overnight
he wanted to prophesy. There, right there,
a new nodule, a new comet's tail, a root

of heaven. The sky itself so heavy
he felt it about to fall on his shoulders,
felt how it lowered over his life.
He needed a low long enough, sharp enough

to cut it to tatters so he could seed
the low slivers of cloud, long rows
of watery blue. He could bring
these heavens together, raising one,

pulling the other down.

Alliteration is another device on which Crow relies (sometimes too much), as in these lines from "The Twins Visit a Farm" from I Have Tasted the Apple:

The heavy black bulk of the draft horse
. . .
Too timid to touch this mystery. . . .

Or, again, in these lines from "Math Class" in the same collection:

Somehow that shriveled arm
seemed the perfect arm
for tracing the odd shapes of geometry
in white on our black chalkboard
showing us a woman could do
this unwomanly thing
and sometimes. . . .

All those "t" and "s" sounds! Just too much noise for me.

I do enjoy her "cleaner" poems like "Snags" (the complete poem is here):

You said/ when when arrives/ and you've had/ your fill of museums,/ you'd show me/ the heavens./ All clouds/ and calendars / would then / be shattered,/ and dusk shredded / by lace vines./ . . . 

I appreciate also how Crow can evoke person and place and sensation in lines such as these, which create atmosphere, let us understand without having to be told:

You were the most beautiful man in Herzliya.
Dried figs and pears, a modernist view of the sea—

After rain the trees looked silken.
~ From "The Most Beautiful Man" (The complete poem is published in the Winter 2008 issue of Prairie Schooner.)

And in these lines from "Black Running from the Faucet" (in which, fortunately, Crow was careful to not overuse the "Inside..."/"Outside..." contrast):

. . . Outside this chapter, the land appears blackened.
Inside, the hero sits silently waiting for stars to open.
Out here, I can hear the river's confusion. . . .

The complete poem is here.

Crow has been the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a residency from Lannan Foundation, and three Fulbright Creative Writing and Research Awards. She won a Colorado Book Award for Vertical Poetry: Recent Poems of Roberto Juarroz (White Pine Press, 1992). Her poems and translations have appeared in hundreds of literary periodicals and magazines, including American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry JournalPloughshares, and Prairie Schooner

While Poet Laureate, Crow has advocated for putting poetry placards in city buses, sending advanced poetry students into schools to teach poetry, and establishing the Zach Awards for public school teachers making innovative use of poetry in their classrooms—all highly commendable initiatives that could be duplicated in any city and school system.


All excerpts and poems © Mary Crow.

Colorado's Poet Laureate page is here. A somewhat fuller biography is available at the Colorado Poets Center. I did not succeed in finding a single fully up-to-date page on Crow.

Two of Crow's poetry collections, the chapbook The High Cost of Living and I Have Tasted the Apple, are available for purchase here or from BOA Editions. Google Books offers a preview of I Have Tasted the Apple here.

Nearly a dozen of Crow's poems are available to read in full here.

An essay by Crow titled "The Poetic History of Colorado" is available at

This site has poems by a number of Colorado Poets Laureate, including Crow.

Crow's poems have been featured several times on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor (audio is available). Go here for her "Saturday Matinee".


Deborah Barlow said...

I am loving this series Maureen. Crow is a new voice for me. I'll be doing some more digging to be sure.

Louise Gallagher said...

What a great read. Thanks Maureen. I enjoyed your perspective -- and agreed too!

I love the idea of poetry placards in buses -- what a cool idea. Sort of a daily poetry infusion where ever you go.


Anonymous said...

Color...adooooooo! a very colourful state.

i like this coverage, the good, the bad, the poetry, people.
i skimmed, did not click on a hurry this morning.

taxi service again.

Laura said...

i am learning about "paring down" in poetry..."telling less" as you say, Maureen. Still a bit of a novice to this poetry thing, but I find that as I read more works, mine benefit. Essays are still my preferred media, so I find it challenging to "tell less". But I think it has made my essay writing better to be more economical with my words. I so appreciate the artists you expose me to, as I continue to learn as I head off and explore their work.

Happy Holy Monday.

S. Etole said...

Your reviews are insightful and honest ... and always interesting

Billy Coffey said...

I'm continually amazed at a poet's ability to say so much with so little. Love that you're highlighting all these wonderful people.