Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow

Nothing Smaller Than Your Elbow, from local Bluestem Press, presents poetry by Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly, Marlene Miller, Niki Nymark and Marilyn Probe. It is available locally at Left Bank Books, 314.367.6731.

The volume is nicely printed, with cover art based on a photograph by Cissie Lacks.

I have worked with all four of these writers in various poetry workshops, and have published Niki Nymark (A Stranger Here Myself), so come to this new collection as something less than a stranger. Nymark and Probe have both published in numerous anthologies and are always welcome presences in any work of poetry. Kelly and Miller have been harder to find in print and this excellent anthology corrects the deficit.

Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly's best poems have a quality of spareness to them. My favorite here, "Continental Divide," is set against a western landscape and a psychological background equally dry, sharply dileneated, and breathtaking. The poem won a prize in the St. Louis Poetry Center's James H. Nash Contest earlier, and I've been waiting to see it achieve a permanent place in print since then.

Marlene Miller's work is well known in St. Louis but is not well-printed. She's one of those rare poets who prefers, simply, to write. So far that's meant the publishing end doesn't always happen. Let's hope this volume stays in print a long time, then.

Although many of Miller's poems are delightfully airy and beautiful, or sly and humorous, I'll quote here from a very somber one about two young girls who were murdered and thrown from a bridge, one of them never found. This elegy is a beautiful gift to them...

from Mississippi Passing

When the dead pass through locks
no one knows.
No one touches their lips with a lily
or wipes night from their eyes
                with a soft handkerchief. . . .

Niki Nymark has included old and new favorites here. One of the favorites, When the Old Folks Make Love, includes this:

When the old folks make love,
they frame each other's faces
with their hands
like a favorite photograph.
They touch each other's lips and cheeks,
melt together, not
with the raging, aching burst of summer,
but with a deep, slow sob
like the sound of a temple bell
coming up from Atlantis.

Top that if you can. Well, you can't. So buy the book, read the entire poem, and you'll be a happier person.

The anthology ends with selections from Marilyn Probe. She ends her set, and the book, with a poem that says what it says perfectly, in carefully crafted art, and needs no other comment.

Holding the Lion Within

            Lambs that learn to walk in snow
                        -Phillip Larkin

Dodging dizziness as winter closes,
I am as vulnerable as a lamb
that learns to walk in snow.

The lion within must pause as I do
to see a cardinal blend into a bough
Only flickers of crimson peek through,

the way my red-hot tempo needs to ease
to discern a distant sparrow in the slant light
of faint fog, steady in a tight wire freeze.

Unlike aging that does not stop or slow,
the lion in me is tamed by the lamb
that stumbles, as I stand, walking as if in snow.

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