Believe in the Dreams: Marjorie Stelmach's Night Drawings
J. Gordon
5/4/2008 7:58:54 AM

As the act of creation is sometimes like being lost in a sleepy, meditative prayer, so it is reading Marjorie Stelmach’s collection of poetry, Night Drawings [Helicon Nine], winner of the 1994 Marianne Moore Poetry Prize, judged by David Ignatow.

Divided into three parts: “Grace Notes,” “Doorways,” and “Night Drawings,” these apt section titles take the reader on a journey through the larger meanings of common experience, the events and moments that change us, and personal mastery—if not of one’s place in the world, than a mastery of the small understandings and revelations of the self.

Night Drawings is full of complex thought in simple language. The book is loaded with all varieties of love: familial, romantic and friendly, as well as carrying the sad wisdom that even life itself can be fleeting. Marjorie Stelmach treasures each important soul, keeping them safe in words.

Stelmach’s use of language is enchanting. Here, for instance, she turns everyday news-weather lingo into a poetic verb:

Words spoken in dreams stay
or they don’t. Screams
doppler off into breakfasts,
words of comfort sink into the sweetened milk.

(from “Doorways I. In other People’s Dreams”)

The voice is quite contemporary, but without that cold, abstract, indecipherable feel of so many modern poets. Rather, Stelmach uses real language in contemporary situations, such as being across the country as she writes a poem to her brother, in “Here Be Dragons,”—

It isn’t distance.
This world’s not so large I can’t handle it
in dreams. Awake, I want things to stay put.
I’ve marked the map above my desk—an X
for each of us. Rivers drip on my blotter.

Although this book of poems is now over ten years old, they seem to become increasingly relevant, not only to the macro-world view, but the micro-personal one, as well.

It’s not the hardness of the Earth I fear,
though it’s hard enough.
It’s the falling away. When I breathe
the damp stars swell on the glass, and the best I can ask
is the cold clutch of terror returning, that old
comforter I’ve loved all along
on my bed of strange silks, on my bed
of drawn swords carefully placed each night
between me
and my terrorist lifetime, who smiles even now
(the width of an arm rest away) somewhere
above Ireland, ticking
like any heart that’s been left

(from “Somewhere Over Ireland”)

And from perhaps the most powerful closing poem seen in some time, “Facing Pages”:

Dawn after dawn.
The wonder is I keep at it,
though the heart sinks with each utterance,
as the world breaks always into the same
pieces, despite my large intentions,
my sense of exile, my dreaming
the endless poem Home.

Dawn. Above the facing pages
of what I think I know, the same words rise,
while beneath,
in the moist bed of the stilled tongue,
fertile and first,
the autistic sun breathes
underwater: the language,

the dark Undivided.

We can all learn about ourselves, about the craft of poetry and the dark Undivided, from reading Marjorie Stelmach. And it’s clear that Marjorie Stelmach knows more than even she herself might believe.


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