Issue 2 - Winter 2010
Cities of Flesh and the Dead
Cures and Poisons
How to Live on Bread and Music
Pictures in the Firestorm
Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants
Rock Vein Sky
Slaves to Do These Things
The Air around the Butterfly
The Guilt Gene
the nested object
There are poems that must wait to be written. A poet must cross a specific bridge in life in order to write the words. This requires patience within the illusion of time for listening.
Penelope Scambly Schott’s newest book Six Lips is such a book.
It could only be started when her mother was dying, and finished only after her death. These are hard words to write, about the sorrow of another poet, but the subject matter in Scambly Schott’s latest book is a dedication to her two daughters, and a tribute to herself, I believe, for surviving her mother’s death. A journey none of us are certain at the beginning of the trip over this kind of footbridge, that we are capable of making.
Ms. Scambly Schott is no stranger to hard topics. She’s split open the most taboo subjects, abuse of mentally ill women, for instance, maybe not for herself, but to tell another’s story. There are hard truths in this latest book, too. Unresolved issues with
It is this that I think shocks Ms. Scambly Schott most.
The person who has held the most power in her life, an unyielding power, formidable, the kind one runs away from, at last does dissolve. The poet’s mother literally disappears—mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and finally, physically. The poet has captured this process so delicately and intricately, it leaves the reader recognizing the flags of the painful trail and the energy for such trailblazing. The poet becomes a pioneer. A map-maker. Doctor, nurse, mourner, cook, and grateful mother. Losing a person who holds such power leaves the one imprisoned by that power without direction. The iron bars fall away completely. Without this familiar restraint and confinement, where do you go? What do you do? Which way is forward? Then, the book begins with a poem entitled “Compass.”
In the midst of grief and confusion, she has populated her world with nature. There are horses, dogs, rocks, snakes, insects, earth, sky, fur, the ancient’s six directions, and especially butterflies and moths. Moths fly everywhere in this book.
It is a symbol of Ms. Scambly Schott’s metamorphosis.
And she has blessed the reader like a shaman, by providing the tools and flags and maps to survive such loss. All these have prepared the recipient to inherit a power he or she has waited an entire lifetime to receive. Consider this passage in “How We All Came to Survive”....
Here, the natural world is the only world one can live in. It is here that the transformation unfolds. The journey weakens the shaman; the shaman must find the means to go forward over that bridge—become stronger or die. Shaman can help no other until they have gone through their own metamorphosis. Weakness before strength is a certainty. Here, an excerpt from “After the Yellow Jackets:”
and this, from the lovely “Bouquet”
or, these couplets of “Eclipse.”
Then, there is her form. Free verse with one prose poem. Perfect free verse, like silk thread, sewing the torn parts together to make something new. In this book, each line, couplet, stanza is precise. Nothing out of place,though the words tell us everything is out of place. The roadmaps have not yet been published. The roads are just being discovered. From “Among the Other Animals:”
Punctuation, perfect. Imagery, yes—we have “soup tureens” with “insurmountable grief.” There is “bobeche for catching candle drips, pianoforte, shame....pincushions, darning egg.....williwaw, that terrible polar squall.” It is a delight to wander through the book. It feels like a vintage shop, a tea room, a fairy ring in the forest, a wide open, unprotected cliff in the middle of a wild storm. We can hear screeching of a sough in the background, women within her keening. There are flowers everywhere, tea, fabrics, silks and lace; lichen, pebbles, a mother who contemplates clouds as a doorway. There is death.
And finally this one, with its defining finality from “Inside a house of dying”
Penelope Scambly Schott is an award-winning poet. She won the Oregon Book Award in 2008 for A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth, and has won numerous awards (Orphic Prize, 2005), (Violet Reed Hass Prize, 1994). There is a pristine quality that begs you to sit with the poems, and return. There is chaos, here, as well, and it is the fire that sweeps the forest floor so the forest can regenerate. I’m excited to see how this book will make its way in the world. It is both wild and painful, comforting and domesticated. Mostly, it is brave and magical.
You could read Six Lips solely for the moths. They may lead you somewhere you’ve never been before.
You might recognize the trail. You may change.
Reviewed by Kerri Buckley.