In Print : A life in poems and memoir
"You: Selected Poems and Knot: A Life", by Fan Ogilvie, XLibris, 2009, 167 pp., $19.99.
Poetry has played a major role in Fan Ogilvie's life. The West Tisbury resident has taught workshops at Featherstone Center for the Arts, co-founded the Martha's Vineyard Point Way Writers Residency Program, and has had her work published in periodicals like Poet Lore, Three Sisters, and Fulcrum.
On February 1, she will publish her first volume of poetry and prose. "You: Selected Poems and Knot: A Life," covers the period from 1970 to 2008, and draws from a life rich in experience and reference.
"I just felt it was the right time," Ms. Ogilvie says. "The desire to communicate is so strong. Because poetry has meant so much to me, I wanted to make sense of my own voice."
Ms. Ogilvie found an opportunity in Xlibris, an on-demand self-publishing service that offers authors complete control of their work. "It was really being able to make a book," she says, noting that her son, artist Adam Ogilvie and his wife, Whitney Van Ness, provided the art.
Ms. Ogilvie, who has a degree in special education, taught for 25 years and served as poet-in-residence at Nightingale-Bamford School in New York, hiring babysitters to watch her children so she could have three-hour blocks of time to write.
"Now I write at my leisure," she says. "I write by inspiration and whimsy. Something has to be building in me." She talks about the importance "to write poems that are necessary. I use them to teach me. It's a process of discovery."
Playfulness comes into the mix through nonsensical lines that allow her to build a poem. The title for "Satisfaction Guaranteed or your Monkey Back," came from a poster she saw. "Poets love word mistakes," she says.
Ms. Ogilvie explains how fascinating throwaway expressions and common bridge phrases can be. With language so often overused, misused, and corrupted, the poet's job is to keep it fresh.
She explains her title and purpose in an Author's Note. "I write about some of the most significant 'yous' in my life: my parents, my father in particular, my family, nature, myself as another 'you' whom I wish to share with readers."
The book's first section, "Early Poems, 1970-1990," begins with "A Spring Song," a lyrical work that uses musical terms to capture the qualities of the season that resonate for the poet. Its cautionary final lines point the way toward the darker mood of many of the poems that follow.
The poems do not settle for the easy phrase, preferring to catch the reader by surprise. In "Transformation," the poet envisions herself as a slug, "rugging along."
She also likes to experiment with form, as in "Topsoil," or with orthography and typography in "Vegetable s," where she playfully drops the "s" a line. The faceted power of individual words calls deeply to her, and she is not afraid to employ archaicisms like "swink" or a pun like "tavernous."
At the end of the first section, Ms. Ogilvie's poems explore the capacity of myth to invest personal experience with power. One of the most pleasing examples are the poems about a fishwife, busy tying knots. As the memoir included as the last section shows, the knot holds great significance for the writer, and these poems have the ring of a metaphor that needs no further explanation.
The second section, "Later Poems 1990-2008," addresses issues that have long haunted the poet. "In Time," "The Wave, "The Speed of Dark" and "Conjoined" address troubling experiences head-on.
Ms. Ogilvie draws from a wide variety of experiences in her writing. She also varies tone, tossing in the light-hearted "My Name Is God; I'll Be Your Server Tonight."
I was particularly drawn to "Hidden Spring" with its "rich run of wind/silver foiling of grass/deft ears of lost deer." "Emptying Out" starts with "a day to startle," and "Swans at Lambert's Cove," where "A white buoy lifts a serpentine neck" evoke the bracing beauty of the Vineyard.
The last 28 pages of "You and Knot" are devoted to a memoir constructed around the metaphor of the knot, the word the narrator's mother uses to describe how the author was conceived. Ms. Ogilvie adopts the third person to distance herself from the act of remembering and the pain it has the power to induce. Poet that she is, she captions each section of "Knot" with a different permutation of the word, turning it around for the reader, revealing its various colors.
"You: Selected Poems and Knot: a Life" captures the full sweep of a committed poet, one not afraid to plunge into the darker regions of the soul, one willing to risk obscurity and difficulty to emerge with the gems that give the language of poetry its light.
Brooks Robards writes on books, film, and art for The Martha's Vineyard Times.