~~~~~~~~ Making is the mirror in which we see ourselves. 1~~~~~~~~
The poet and critic Edward Hirsch reminds us of Ben Jonson’s wisdom about poetry: “the art of poetry is ‘the craft of making.’” The Greek word “kerdos” means a craft or craftiness. In the classical world, two metaphors held the sense of poetry’s artistic making: carpentry and weaving. 2 Some thing, some experience, image, intuition, or idea, is to be made into a coherence such that it can be shared with others, who take it in and imagine it along the contours of their own personal mythos.
Connie Lane Williams’ new volume of poetry accomplishes just this end, by crafting into form, often in playful and poignant ways, themes that include the body, booty—she is a Texas woman!—the ring of the dance hall, poetry itself as a worthy pursuit, the textures of her lived world, the emotional life of both soul and body and a tribute to honoring being human.
The Dance in the title is a giveaway for the plenitude of two-steps, forward and backward, that comprise her verse. To dance backwards requires courage, abandon and hope, for one cannot be sure what or who one might bump into. Relationships have begun on shakier ground. Dancing forward is perhaps for the more wobbly heart.
We never escape the pull of our parents. In “My Mother is Always With Me,” Connie salutes just this eternal connection: “My mother is always with me, like God; like God,/ she is my Cornucopia, my Elixir of Being, my Angel of Angst,”... . The turn of the last image opens their relationship to another emotional register, subtle and palpable. The reader must read Connie’s poetry carefully, for out of the blue a pattern of rhyme may descend into a poem, affording it a rhythm and sound that harmonizes the interior of her musing with the external world. “Waiting for the Poetry Festival in Lamesa, Texas” offers just such an aesthetic gesture:
One old cowboy tells about riding
down the Caprock breaks, how he spotted
the last Indians near a small lake
Beside his horse he lay hiding
Watched them ride on by
As the dawn started lighting the sky.
Put your ear to riding, hiding, by, lighting and sky and you hear the sigh of the invisible, a close call between two peoples, connected by sound, not sight. Connie will turn the sound on itself repeatedly in several of this volume’s poems. In other poems she brings experiences closer to home, as in “The Sun.” In many of her poems, as with this short refrain, I find myself halted by a line or one image that gives the entire poem its own reason for being. Here I am stopped by “She is a cat/and I am feline and female/She bares her gleaming face to/consume me and I purr back at her/with joy that tilts the sun” Such conceits insist on being dwelled with: joy is that powerful.
The power of joy gives way to the sorrow of a wounded heart in “Heart”: “your bruised heart lies/fragile in my hands/roots spiral/teasing my fingertips/interlocking weaving/gently I unwrap green tendrils/choosing not to rip and tear....” Such organic sorrow, such tender cultivating of the heart’s organic, bruised nature and the poet’s voice holding suffering as one would a child’s bleeding knee. The body is the source and inspiration for our emotional lives; the organ of compassion is the human heart.
Another voice emerges in a poem that titles this section: “Austin Dreaming.” More vernacular, more interior, as if we listen to Connie’s thought patterns spiked with emotion: “In the vision of this early morning fantasy a weed eater hums/through useless foliage and I think, that’s right, go ahead, trim it/all away, so the fruit can bud, firm and/sweet and swollen with promise.” These lines capture a part of all of our mythologies: cutting back, cutting in and cutting out what no longer serves, what has outgrown its weedy usefulness and must be hacked asunder; then the ground can swell with new forms, new perceptions in promises of a future. One of Connie’s staples in her emotional constellation is hope, even when death is part of the equation.
Verse merges with prose to offer another perceptual field, as with “Stealing money from Tip Jars.” Reflective and insistent, it reads as a morality play and elicits a sympathetic response towards those on the margins of sanity: “I’m writing this down for the crazy woman who stole money/From the tip jar at the Hideout Coffee House one Monday night,/while poets and musicians on the front window stage sang.” Two men in self righteous cloth apprehend her, grab the money back and return to their places on the porch, while she slumps, robbed “in an old chair.” Some form of injustice taps a feeling in us about the nature of theft; something is lost in the retrieval of the money and as readers we are asked to consider what has been served by the return of the tip jar treasure.
As I read deeper into the volume, I noted that Connie’s gift is to make present what is often overlooked or even discarded as trivial: her power in these poems is to make some ordinary human event extraordinary through language. In this process she maintains a light irony about herself as viewer and maker and weaver. She muses, finds work and life a bit amusing; she carries this bemused air about her subject matter and herself through most of the poems. Perhaps “Roadside Rain” is a good poem to end on, especially in light of the above observations. Noting the puddles and patterns of rain, she comes to this insight midway through the poem: “My dream is to be the beauty I see.” I think that line might serve us all as a succinct definition of the artist generally and the poet most intensely.
Frank Bidart, quoted in Edward Hirsch, Poet’s Choice.
Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2006, p. 25
2 Hirsch, Poet’s Choice, p. 26.