In Print

Visible poets, vibrant poetry

By Dan Sharkovitz - September 14, 2006

"Island Quintet," edited by Julie Kimball. Westmeadow Press. 2006. 47 pages. $12.

Whether tucked into the leaves of a favorite novel, secreted into daybooks, or saved into files in cyberspace, poems without publishers remain mostly-and sadly-invisible.

But on the Vineyard, Julie Kimball's Westmeadow Press has helped hundreds of poems find their way out of their private worlds and into public view.

The latest chapbook of poetry from Westmeadow, Island Quintet, makes visible the work of Vineyard poets Kay Goldstein, Maureen D. Hall, Brooks Robards, Laura Roosevelt, and Gerald Blake Storrow.

Kay Goldstein's six poems explore, in a gentle way, the layers of complex emotions that hover like so many ghosts beneath the surfaces of common human experiences such as preparing food, observing a sleeping child, and witnessing children leaving home. One particularly haunting poem, "The Fourth of July," renders the pain inhabiting a home where a loved one moves toward death with the understated metaphor:

We tell you that you can go
and you hear our brave goodbyes
even as we trip
on the edges of our loss.

Complex meditations that journey deep into the consciousness of their respective speakers define the emotional heart at the center of Maureen D. Hall's most compelling poems. "Firstborn" expresses the guilt and seeks some form of expiation as the speaker metaphorically moves back in the world of the poem to apologize for the failures of loving, or not loving, a child. In another poem, "1967," the speaker discovers something new, something about life and time, while discussing whether an old calendar should be thrown out or saved. In terms of the poem's theme, it resonates with the Romantic Age poets such as Robert Burns who, in "To A Mouse," for example, finds places where small and apparently insignificant experiences can - for those open to them - reveal unexpected truths about life.

From poems about walking a dog down the beach and others that explore what animals bring to our lives, Brooks Robards contributes an extraordinary piece called "Information Please." Like the themes in so many of the greatest transcendentalist poems, this poem too ponders the parallels between the natural world and revelations of the divine, in images that are often riveting:

In early morning fog, spiders
throw down life lines from
the dripping canopy overhead,
fishing lines that lead to web
nests in the weeds; antitheses
of a vacuum-cleaning universe,
they cradle life and death together.

Magical rhythms and inventive rhymes send off many of Laura Roosevelt's six poems in "Island Quintet." Mixtures of end and near rhymes in "Picking Through Rice Before a Post-9/11 Airplane Trip" chillingly evoke both the emotional and literal turbulence of the fear of an anticipated flight as it embeds itself in the mind of a woman picking worms out of the food she wanted to cook. The imagery echoes the same irony, the same epiphany of a changed life, but a life prepared nonetheless to move toward its destiny, as many have supposed Hamlet felt while staring down at the worms in Yorick's skull. Another elegant poem, "The Rest," evokes that unsettling fear felt by a young daughter who needs her closet doors closed at night in a home where few doors shut the way they should because

It's not what sneaks in
through the broken gate while we're asleep to nip the rosebuds off
their stalks,
behead the tulips and the phlox
that frightens, but the fact that
it's unseen.

Gerald Blake Storrow wrote the final six poems included in Quintet. Although the longest is only 13 lines, each unfolds with its own surprises, insights, revelations, and intelligence. "Take Two," for instance, interrogates the nature of a world after Armageddon and concludes, ironically, that

from archetypal Eden's memory
would come the strife and certitude
of right and wrong
to lead us to this place again.

Two lines from the beginning of another of his poems, "The Edge," might serve well as an invitation to this entire volume for any reader who wants to... "stand upon the edge of poetry / the way a diver does above the sea."

Since 1979 Dan Sharkovitz has taught English, journalism, and creative writing at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. He serves as faculty advisor to the school's student newspaper, the High School View which is published in The Times. His essays, poetry, reviews, photography, articles, and short stories have appeared in numerous publications. He lives in West Tisbury.