Sunday, March 9, 2014

Iron String - Annie Lighthart

Today's book of poetry:  Iron String.  Annie Lighthart.  Airlie Press.  Monmouth, Oregon, USA. 2013.

          "In our time of greed and distraction, the deep music of the poems of Annie Lighthart
          comes like a balm.  As she tempers truth with tenderness, her figurative language, lit
          from within, has a gracious sufficiency exactly fitted to the need for it.  The next time
          someone asks me what poetry can do, I will give them this book."
                                                                                                     —Eleanor Wilner

International Women's Day demands a female poet and I found a monster.  That's the biggest compliment I can muster.  Annie Lighthart is in Nora Gould territory in my admiration.  Annie Lighthart is a monster poet.  These poems have all the weight in the world - and never feel heavy.

Lighthart has such a deft, delicate touch that the fireworks all take place in the readers imagination.

The Second Music

Now I understand that there are two melodies playing,
one below the other, one easier to hear, the other

lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard
yet always present.

When all other things seem lively and real,
this one fades. Yet the notes of it

touch as gently as fingertips, as the sound
of the names laid over each child at birth.

I want to stay in this music without striving or cover.
If the truth of our lives is what it is playing,

the telling is so soft
that this mortal time, this irrevocable change,

becomes beautiful. I stop and stop again
to hear the second music.

I hear the children in the yard, a train, then birds.
All this is in it and will be gone. I set my ear to it as I would to a heart.


These poems overwhelm the reader in unexpected ways, as though Lighthart had tapped into that language we all know but never speak.  The urgency in these poems is more of an undercurrent, roiling beneath the visible calm surface.

The Hundred Names of Love

The children have gone to bed.
We are so tired we could fold ourselves neatly
behind our eyes and sleep mid-word, sleep standing
warm among the creatures in the barn, lean together
and sleep, forgetting each other completely in the velvet,
the forgiveness of that sleep.

Then the one small cry:
one strike of the match-head of sound:
one child's voice:
and the hundred names of love are lit
as we rise and walk down the hall.

One hundred nights we wake like this,
wake out of our nowhere
to kneel by small beds in darkness.
One hundred flowers open in our hands,
a name for love written in each one.


There is an emotional sweeping undertoad in each poem and I am there, caught, completely committed to hearing what Annie Lighthart is going to say next.  The poems I've chosen are at random and for good reason.  I simply couldn't choose among the dozens of poems I wanted to share with you readers.

The current of certainty that sweeps through this first book by Annie Lighthart is a delight, this is confident, knowing poetry.  Lightharts stunningly assured voice never falters or wavers, her knowing and logic are feminine in the matriarchal traditional of sharing, nurturing, caring.


The square I carefully dug between the jack-o'-lantern's teeth
The northernmost point on the ice for which men argued and sailed
My grandfather's third and fourth fingers under the saw
And on a summer night, your back on the warm hood of a car,
the death of everyone you never knew outlined in the space between stars


Synchronicity.  I really wanted to write about a woman poet today and Annie Lighthart's Iron Spring was the next book on the pile.  By chance, I ended up listening to the Icelandic group Sigur Ros this morning as I was working at my desk.  There is an emotional tide in Sigur Ros's music, a gravity that embraces you, pulls you in.  Lighthart's poems offer the same sort of draw, they pull you into the warmth of their gravity.  Ya, all sounds a little to fru-fru.  But here's the rub, it's not, at all.  These very warm, very human poems are both balm and bristle.  Remember I said Ms. Lighthart is a monster, only monster's write this well.

I bristled at not typing out dozens of Lighthart's poems, truly splendid poems — not for you, the reader, but for me.

The Kindness of the Cello

The cello climbs the difficult steps of time with us, it knows
how all things pass, it knows that there are depths to each

moment that we can hardly bear. It plays them for us,
it is a lifting, or an arm around our shoulders. It is

the evening sunlight and the child growing older.
It is the yellow field and the  turning tree, then

it is the fire that stays lit all night, giving such tender
light to your changing face. And even when you cannot,

it remembers you as you have always been, and in
that whole song is both the truth and the mending.


Annie Lighthart is a writer and teacher in Portland, Oregon.  She earned an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 comment:

  1. wow wow. just wow. tears over and into morning coffee. instantly transported to memories and images of my children growing up - the tenderness and impermanence.


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