“The Place We Become: poems”

By Carolyn Locke

Maine Authors Publishing, Rockland, 2015

96 pages, trade paperback, $15.95

Maybe one thing you can take away from Carolyn Locke’s second collection of poems is: To find out where you live, you have to go away.

Because, not surprisingly, “The Place We Become” is very heavy on places — primarily her own in Troy and thereabouts, and also abroad. The first of the book’s three sections focuses on the poet’s immediate surroundings, which include not only locations (“Pickering Cove, Deer Isle,” “While Driving to Work on Route 220,” and “Beyond Reach,” involving a childhood skating pond) but also people — the relatives, friends and colleagues inhabiting the emotional landscapes locked into those locations (“Losing You,” “Day After Day,” an echoing remembrance of a departed co-worker, and “Remembering Kate Barnes (1932-2013)”). The people seem to be slipping away, but the places remain as a sort of anchor in the churn of time: “What else is there / but waiting in the autumn sun?”


The second section, maybe, replies to this question: Its 17 poems recount travels to far-flung parts of the world — Wales, Morocco, China — where the emphasis is less on reflection, as in the first section, and more on the immediate details of each striking moment. In “Waking,” for example:

Pale crescent moon creeps across

the summer sky over Zhong Xian Di,

where you wake in the old kang,

part mosquito netting, place your feet

on worn floorboards. Is it really you


who breathes in the scent of cedar,

steps out of your room

and finds your way to the heart

of the house, who hears ancestors

whispering in dark corners?

The speaker is startled to find herself a stranger in a strange land. That changed perspective goes on to inform the third section, which returns home to Maine and faces a “simple enough” task: “to write all that you know / about swans.” In this section, a 3 a.m. raccoon, an owl dreamed in deep winter, a toad among roadside litter, Jasper Beach, Davis Farm, disclose the tensions and frictions between the comfortable discomfort of staying put and the uncomfortable comfort of venturing forth. “Sometimes it’s hard to stop yourself / from letting go / of whatever anchors you.” To get free of your place, you become it.

The careful, sturdy language of these poems gives an accessibility and a clarity to the many facets of sadness, reflectiveness and still awe that are the book’s indigenous emotions. Every person, event and feeling here is a corner of space-time all its own, meticulously examined, demarcated and recorded. Carolyn Locke’s poetry is a prism of the lights and shades of where we are.

Locke is scheduled to speak 6:30-7:30 p.m. tonight at the Orono Public Library and 5:30-6:30 p.m. June 17 at the Boothbay Memorial Library. “The Place We Become” and her other books, “Always This Falling” and “Not One Thing,” are available online and through her website www.carolynlocke.com.

Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at universe@dwildepress.net.

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