Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Muse: 'An Endless Skyway' of Poetry

Having spent considerable and thoroughly enjoyable time researching and writing profiles of state Poets Laureate, I was especially eager to receive the new anthology An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate, issued in March 2011 by Ice Cube Books.

Edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Low, and Walter Bargen, themselves either current or past state poets, the anthology is, surprisingly, the first of its kind. It brings together in a single 286-page volume the work of 38 state poets present and past, and includes, in addition to poetry, brief biographies of each contributor.

Contributors appear in the anthology alphabetically by state, beginning with Alabama, and a number of states are represented by two Poets Laureate, with Iowa and Kansas represented by three. The titles of the 184 featured poems are not listed in the Table of Contents. (This is a minor quibble I have with the book, because I tend to remember a poem's title before I do its author and a complete list of poems at the front or back of the anthology would make it easier to locate favorites.)

This solid and substantial collection does not disappoint. As would be expected, the anthology offers great variety in style, theme, and voice. There are some well-known poems here, such as Kenneth W. Brewer's wonderful "Why Dogs Stopped Flying", Walter Bargen's marvelous "Manifest Breakfast" and "Beirut", and David Romtvedt's timeless "Illegal Alien". There are both poets and poems that are new to me because, despite my extensive reading for the Poets Laureate series, I focused on current holders of office; so here, I'm introduced for the first time to Fleda Brown, Poet Laureate of Delaware from 2001 to 2007; Jonathan Holden, the first state poet of Kansas, who held his position from 2005 to 2007; Robert Dana, who served Iowa from 2004 to 2008; and Paul Ruffin of Texas, who was state poet from 2009 to 2010.

Love, family and relationships, loss and death, youth, aging, nature and place, heritage and history, culture, memory and remembrance — all the stuff of life appears in the pages of this anthology. Dick Allen of Connecticut takes us through "An AIDS Alphabet", which by its final, unforgettable couplet no longer rhymes because "Zack's gone. / All of them gone. All, all of them gone." Indiana's Joyce Brinkman offers a delightful "Invitation to Dance", urging "Let's tanka together!" Marilyn L. Taylor of Wisconsin impels us to image what it is like "On Learning, Late in Life, that Your Mother Was a Jew" while Indiana's Norbert Krapf recalls, and we with him, both "The Day John Lennon" and "Someone Who Misses New Orleans" the way it used to be sung by Louis Armstrong. With Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg of Kansas we enter "The Dreaming Land" where:

The dream always dreams possibility
juxtaposed against decay, lightning, first
redbud blossom or starling feather stuck on a rooftop. . . .

What you find in An Endless Skyway are poems that are wholly accessible, assured, often deeply felt, enriched by evocative imagery, invested in keen observation, sometimes at their most profound when they recount, as in Larry Woiwode's "Desert of Snow", simply the "One thing I know, I know...." This is a book to dip into on a rainy day, share with your poetry group, keep on the bedside table, and re-read before turning out the lights at night.

The anthology is one of the very few books I've seen that includes an Environmental Benefits Statement, documenting the resources that Ice Cube Books saved by printing the book on chlorine-free paper made with 100 percent post-consumer waste. Ice Cube Books earns extra points for its environmental consciousness.

The 25 states represented in the anthology are Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon,  Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The state poets whose work is in the anthology and for whom I wrote profiles are Sue Brannan Walker (Alabama), Peggy Shumaker (Alaska), David Mason (Colorado), Mary Crow (Colorado), Dick Allen (Connecticut), JoAnn Balingit (Delaware), Kevin Stein (Illinois), Norbert Krapf (Indiana), Mary Swander (Iowa), Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (Kansas), Betsy Sholl (Maine), David Clewell (Missouri), Walter Bargen (Missouri), Walter E. Butts (New Hampshire), Larry Woiwode (North Dakota), Jim Barnes (Oklahoma), Paulann Petersen (Oregon), Lisa Starr (Rhode Island), Marjory Wentworth (South Carolina), David Allen Evans (South Dakota), Katherine Coles (Utah), Kelly Cherry (Virginia), Samuel Green (Washington), Irene McKinney (West Virginia), Bruce Dethlefsen (Wisconsin), Marilyn L. Taylor (Wisconsin), and David Romtvedt (Wyoming).

State poets present or recently past whose work does not appear in the anthology and for whom I wrote profiles are Nancy Lord (Alaska), Peggy Vining (Arkansas), Carol Muske-Dukes (California), Dolores Kendrick (District of Columbia), Edmund Skellings (Florida), David Bottoms (Georgia), Brady Udall (Idaho), Gurney Norman (Kentucky), Darrell Bourque (Louisiana), Wesley McNair (Maine), Stanley Plumly (Maryland), Robert Bly (Minnesota), the late Winifred Hamrick Farrar (Mississippi), Henry Real Bird (Montana), William Kloefkorn (Nebraska), Jean Valentine (New York), Cathy Smith Bowers (North Carolina), Lawson Fusao Inada (Oregon), Margaret Britton Vaughn (Tennessee),  Karla K. Morton (Texas), Ruth Stone (Vermont), and Claudia Emerson (Virginia).

States Without Poets Laureate

United Poets Laureate

Ordering Information for An Endless Skyway


Joyce Wycoff said...

How lovely it is to return from the sea and find the world of poetry still being held in your loving hands. Many hugs.

Anonymous said...

It seems like poetry has gotten more popular in the last three years that i have been blogging. So many more events going on. And not just during poetry month.

L.L. Barkat said...

Going to put it on my list right now. (Your recommendations never disappoint! :)