“Dos: Poems”

By Beatrix Gates

Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, Ky.

2014. 36 pages, $14.

Last month I had the pleasure of trundling down to WERU in Blue Hill for Ellie O’Leary’s “Writers Forum” program with poets Gus Peterson, of Randolph, and Beatrix Gates, of Brooksville.

Peterson is self-professedly new to poetry and its scenes in Maine, but has read at the regular gatherings at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell and his poems have appeared in The Aurorean magazine, based in Farmington. And he offered us some of his reflective, humorous and heartfelt poems framed from bright spots in his past.

Gates is one of Maine’s longtime practitioners, going back to the earliest days of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, which has since become a focal point for Maine’s literary multiverse. We wondered if we had already met 35 years ago or more at one of the group’s incipient organizational meetings.

Anyway, Bea Gates went on to distinguish herself in poetry circles in Maine and beyond, operating Granite Press, forming associations with high-profile writers such as Grace Paley, participating in the prestigious MacDowell writers colony, and teaching at Goddard College, Maine Maritime Academy, NYU and Colby College, among others.

Her most recent collection, “Dos,” is a sober look back, from various angles, at the wounds, heartaches and fragrances of love. The title poem, “Dos,” explores in intricate depth a volcanic love affair which appears to have taken place largely south of the border. It courses through various moments frozen in memory and into the personal, political and cosmic lessons, some tentative, some sharp-edged, that may be derivable from the weblike net of emotions that such relationships generate. At one point the speaker of the poem observes, with characteristic, deliberate ambiguity:

I learn to sing

death lives here:

the deeper the love,

the deeper the pain, her words.

Considerable violence, both physical and emotional, is hinted at in this poem, and the speaker ends, in reflection, on a note of redemption out of the entire history:

I return

to find my way

among the five directions —

to watch the sun sky

shadow of clouds like water

rolling in waves

across the ground.

The sense of elegiac calm in these lines is characteristic of the atmosphere of the whole collection, even in its tensest moments, and of the presence of Gates herself. This little book gives a detailed, intricate picture of human relationships carefully considered and painstakingly crafted in words we would actually speak in the heat of some emotion — or, to update the phrase, reflection.

Gates’ previous books include “In the Open” and “Ten Minutes.” “Dos” is available through https://finishinglinepress.com, and you can hear her read “Sunspots” and other poems from the collection by going to WERU’s “Writers Forum” archives at http://archives.weru.org/writers-forum/2014/08/writers-forum-81414.

Off Radar appears about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].

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