Friday, January 22, 2010

More Joyce Sutphen

One month ago I wrote here that I was excited about a new collection of poems by Joyce Sutphen scheduled for release in early January. It is a collection called First Words, and the copy I ordered arrived about ten days ago. I had a couple of other things to read first, so didn’t get around to it until two days ago. I have now read all the poems in the new book, and am not at all surprised by how much I continue to like this writer’s work. She writes of a childhood and the years of growing up in a place very different from my own experiences, her memories and poems filled with images unknown to my childhood and youth.

In an earlier post on December 21st of last year I explained that Joyce Sutphen is a poet from the state of Minnesota, that she continues to live there today. She teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, Minnesota, and has won several awards for her poetry, publishing four earlier collections prior to this latest one. She grew up on a small farm, and the memories of that time have inspired much of her writing.

I want to share three short poems from this latest collection. I won’t attempt to add comments, or explanations of how her poems affect me personally, but will say only that it is my hope you will feel the power of her writing and her images as much as I have.

My Dog Pal

Once, in the yellow glow of the hay barn,

my father and I met a stray, and that dog

stayed and lived with us a while.

I named him “Pal” because he was friendly

and reminded me of a storybook dog.

Even now I can see him sitting

at my feet, his head tipped slightly to one

side, his shoulders squared back against

the passing of another boring day.

Thin and houndy, he was made for wilder

things than fetching sticks and shaking hands with

six-year olds. I think he was a hobo dog,

and one day he was gone, without

a backwards glance; his house, his dish, his supper

bone—nothing there to tie him down.

In the Photo Booth

I leaned forward to put my quarters

into the slot. The directions said Hold Still.

Look Straight Ahead. Smile. (I did not.) Soon

a strip of faces fell out of the wall—

all mine, one after another, and none of them

what I wanted. That was back when my eyes

were green; that was back when my hair was still

dark. I needed one of those photos—it

didn’t matter which—for a rail pass that

would last all spring. And the rest of the strip?

I threw it away. Too bad! I could use

that face—that earnest young face—today.

The Kingdom of Summer

In my mother’s cellar there were

realms of golden apple, rooms

of purple beet, hallways of green bean

leading to windows of

strawberry and grape.

In her cellar there were

cider seas and

pumpkin shores,

mountains of tomatoes—

pickle trees

When I walked down the steps

and pulled on the light,

I saw where she kept the

Kingdom of Summer.

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