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2015 Reviews > Mind the Light (chapbook) by Suellen Wedmore

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message 1: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Roberts Young | 174 comments Quills Edge Press celebrates women poets over 50. They selected two winners from their 2014 contest and also published a few poems from semifinalists at the back their chapbooks. The chapbook I acquired, “Mind the Light” by Suellen Wedmore, is a very successful collection. Wedmore writes in the voices of 5 women who tended lighthouses along the American Atlantic coast in the 19th and early 20th century. They were wives, daughters or widows of the men who first had the assignments. They express many feelings: ambivalence, competence, fear, weariness, love of place and family.
With five women represented in a thirty page chapbook, each gets only a few pages, two to four poems. With such short sections the individual characters are barely sketched, while the work and circumstances come through powerfully. Wedmore opens with a poem called “Island” which summarizes their world. Here are selections:

as in surrounded by water, detached, remote,
from Old English igland & Anglo-French, isle.

A desert island is thought to be abandoned,
but what if it’s home to just a few―a man
& his wife, perhaps, a barking collie, a lighthouse,
beans on the stove, cornbread in the oven?

Isolated, as in reading March’s newspaper in May
& Pa’s letter delivered a month after he’d died.

Wedmore uses a variety of forms for these poems. Martha Bray is presented as answering repeated Questions – the name of the poem.

Are your children happy?
.. . . In the island of my arms.
Are your children happy on this island?
. . . .They learn from a tern’s dive, the cleverness of gulls.
Are your children happy?
. . . . I fear for them, for the light tower is the first born.

Kate Walker, widow, is given these words, among the poems in her voice:

John’s words
ride the rhythm
of the waves
. . . striking the light’s
granite platform
. . .as I sweep stairs,
. . .polish brass,
. . .trim wicks,
. . .scour the glass:
. . .Mind the light,
. . .Mind the light.

These lights needed minding several times a night, which meant climbing up and down stairs, feeding the flame, cleaning the glass. Abbie Burgess, who had to maintain the light and family while her father was away getting supplies, is given a somber voice:

& isn’t a lantern’s
. . .flashing promise
.. .when nature
favors tempest. Her sea
. . .white capped?

Catherine Moore, another daughter helping her father, is given a more positive view. “I Refuse a Boat to the Mainland” is a series of “because” clauses. First is the tower and the light. Some others are:

because my garden is fragrant
. . .with oregano & sweet bay,
. . .my tomatoes are green
. . .& rain is on its way.

because time on an island dissolves
. . .into sun, cloud, & star,
because here
. . . there is no need
. . . for silk, polished shoes.

The focus is on the immediate life of tending lights and stormy weather until the last section, that of Ida Lewis, where other social issues intrude. “My First Rescue―1869” describes how she pulled

four about my age, sons of Newport’s
finest, I guessed, judging by the boat

from the water “one by one, across the stern” and hauled them to the lighthouse, where she received:

gushing thanks, yet on the mainland
it would be years before they told

their families it was a keeper’s daughter
who saved their privileged lives.

In another poem Wedmore has Lewis complain of working without a contract in sharp and vivid language.

Quills Edge has chosen a strong collection for one of what I hope will be a long series of successful chapbooks.

message 2: by Nina (new)

Nina | 1067 comments This sounds like a fascinating theme. Thanks so much for the thoughtful review.

message 3: by Jenna (last edited Dec 26, 2015 11:10AM) (new)

Jenna (jennale) | 986 comments What an original premise! I'm always rather intrigued by these poetry books or poetry chapbooks in which the poems collectively tell a narrative or something, because it makes me wonder whether the poet was feeling equally inspired when he/she wrote all the poems, or whether a mere handful of the poems arose from pure inspiration and then the poet labored mechanically to write the remainder of the poems just so that the chapbook/book would be complete. In any case, this is a very informative and thorough-seeming review: I was most fascinated by the two poems with social themes to which you allude at the end of the review, as they seemed to have a special "meatiness" to them. Thanks, Ellen.

message 4: by Jen (new)

Jen (jppoetryreader) | 1613 comments Mod
A fascinating project. Even with what you've quoted it seems to escape its lighthouse theme and address the isolation of women, their historical and economic invisibility. Very interesting. And what a great new press. Thanks for sharing, Ellen!

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