The phrase “whistling past the graveyard” comes to mind so often now, whenever we log on to CNN.com, or turn on the nightly news before bed. We feel lThe phrase “whistling past the graveyard” comes to mind so often now, whenever we log on to CNN.com, or turn on the nightly news before bed. We feel like numbing ourselves to deflect against our fears as we move through life. However, in Local News from Someplace Else, Marjorie Maddox offers another solution to our anxieties: a book of poems that gives graceful insight into the world of a woman, wife and mother in the sometimes dark days of contemporary American Life.
Speaking in voices that vacillate between the somber yet concise tones of news anchors reporting on painful tragedies, and the nervous fluttering at the maternal breast, Maddox makes it clear that the only way to survive the world is to truly live in it fully. In “Anniversary Coffee,” the speaker lovingly attests to the passage of time, to elevate an otherwise mundane event:
Those behind the counter know us and know
when to save what we want, can order for us, smile at how we smile
at each other’s drenched winsomeness. You are not what I order but what I order now
across the café table, across the morning spread with such a delectable savor.
The familiarity of a local setting, coupled with the familiarity of an intimate bond grounds the couplets of the poem, as the lines enjamb and cascade over one another, in what William Wordsworth calls in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.
Equally important in the work is the coupling of tension, pain or sorrow with faith in something greater. Maddox, the director of Creative Writing and Professor at Lock Haven University, is able to show us what remains after trauma, even it is simply our ability to endure. “Safe” shows us this visceral, dramatic realization in its’ powerful opening lines, “My baby and I stay home / from the funeral for the murdered child”. Through it all, Maddox’s voice is precise and empathic without being maudlin. While the rest of us might grasp at anything to simply deal with the most overwhelming aspects of our lives, her unwavering confidence that humans are more than just the sum on their parts offers a beautiful, and hopeful message to the reader.
I had a chance to speak to Marjorie Maddox, and present on her work at the North East Modern Language Association’s conference in April of this year, and the audience was fascinated by the provenance of each poem that was discussed, and more importantly, the authority of a woman-writer taking on global and political issues through such a personal medium. For Maddox, the fact that the personal is political is not something that we need to fear, it’s just another challenge that we face every day, and one that can be faced with generosity and compassion for fellow sufferers.
Though occasional bogged down by its own conceit, and a fascination for modern technology, Local News from Someplace Else works hard to bridge the divide between what we know and what we fear from human life by speaking frankly, yet delicately, about what matters most. ...more