Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Joyce Sutphen

Today began with great news that a new book of Joyce Sutphen poems will be released in January 2010. With that bright promise on the horizon, I checked the Red Dragonfly Press website and found a signed edition of the new collection, First Words available for pre-ordering. Wasted no time placing my order.
Joyce Sutphen is an American poet from the state of Minnesota, where she lives and teaches today. She grew up on a small farm, and reading her poetry one can see a style that has evolved from, and is nourished by the farmlands of Minnesota. Many of the poems describe lonely landscapes and sparsely populated locations. It is visual poetry, very imagistic, with lines like snapshots or moving pictures. About her own writing and how it happens, she had this to say in one interview:
“Two reasons keep me coming to the empty page: the desire to make a place for the glinting shard, the divine detail, and the hope that this caressing, this pressing against the visible will reveal the invisible. In the end, it isn’t hard: when I sit down to write a poem, one thing just leads to another.”
She currently has four books in print: Straight Out of View (1995), Coming Back to the Body (2000), Naming the Stars: Poems (2004) and Fourteen Sonnets (2005).

One of my favorite Joyce Sutphen poems is the very quiet, particularly visual poem, “Things I Know” which speaks of the poet’s connectivity to everything in her world.

I know how the cow’s head turns
to gaze at the child in the hay aisle;
I know the way the straw shines
under the one bare light in the barn.
How a chicken pecks gravel into silt
and how the warm egg rests beneath
the feathers—I know that too, and
what to say, watching the rain slide
in silver chains over the machine
shed’s roof. I know how one pail
of water calls to another and how
it sloshes and spills when I walk
from the milk-house to the barn.
I know how the barn fills and
then empties, how I scatter lime
on the walk, how I sweep it up.
In the silo, I know the rung under
my foot; on the tractor, I know
the clutch and the throttle; I slip
through the fence and into the woods,
where I know everything: trunk
by branch by leaf into sky.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America