“House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems” by Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl’s “House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems” offers a retrospective on the work of the former Maine poet laureate (2006-2011) over the last roughly 30 years. The book opens with a selection of new poems, then draws from her books published since 1992 — “The Red Line,” “Don’t Explain,” “Late Psalm,” “Rough Cradle” and “Otherwise Unseeable.”

Sholl’s subject matter is anchored in the everyday, exploring what might be called, to twist up a phrase from an earlier age, the shadows and peculiarities experienced in spots of time (Wordsworth: “There are in our existence spots of time, / That with distinct pre-eminence retain / A renovating virtue”). Sholl’s poems are mainly very earnest about these moments, which turn up frequently: while reading (“Capital I”), in a recollection of a youthful moment on a sidewalk in Cambridge (“The Undoing”), in an imagination of a scene from a political nightmare (“Prisoner Bonhoeffer”) or in a vision of God in a dead rat (“Knock”).

This is all to say that constantly playing on the edges of Sholl’s experience, especially when triggered by music, is an intuition of the mystical, and many of her poems reflect the glints and minor epiphanies that transpire from that vigilance. She takes very deliberate care to craft the language of these spots of time in the high poetic diction of our time, and the result is very polished poetry that with careful attention can, in Wordsworth’s phrase, lift us up when fallen.

Betsy Sholl lives in Portland and was a founder of Alice James Books based in Farmington. “House of Sparrows” won the University of Wisconsin Press’s Four Lakes Prize in Poetry and is available online and through local book sellers.

 

“Five Days & Ten Poems: On the Death of a Son” by David Mason Heminway

Harwood & Elwood of Biddeford, the small (smaller, smallest) press operation run by former Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance director Joshua Bodwell, produced this year the small, touching volume “Five Days & Ten Poems: On the Death of a Son” by David Mason Heminway.

The lead piece, “Five Days: An Introduction,” narrates in very plain prose a bucolic bicycle trip in Italy that ended in a traffic accident in which Heminway’s 15-year-old son Ben was killed. Ten poems following the essay express a mixture of grief, love and amazement over the mysteries practiced upon us by death and time: “strange how one son dying, one / moon circling dead around me can / burst into so many suns / warming my life”. The poems disclose a sort of unfolding inner progress from crushing disaster to philosophic closure of a tentative kind, along the way suggesting strongly, to me at least, an acute personal distillation of the themes of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”: “whatever / is coming / is going / is here and now is there / and forever.”

Bodwell tells us in a heartfelt afterword, “Beyond Friendship,” how the book was conceived and hammered out by him and his great-uncle during a sojourn in England. This little volume may provide some aesthetic insight and a sense of kindred suffering to readers on painful journeys similar to Heminway’s.

Heminway taught in Maine and New Jersey in the 1950s and lived afterward in Europe as a poet and English professor before retiring to Damariscotta, where he died in 2008. His poetry collections of the 1960s include “It Isn’t Every Day,” “A Bird in the Bush” and “Guitar in tissue paper.”

Copies of “Five Days & Ten Poems” are available by writing to Harwood & Elwood, P.O. Box 1682, Biddeford, ME 04005, or emailing [email protected].

 

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.