Saturday, April 13, 2019

#95 Backstory of the Poem "Landscape and Still Life" by Marjorie Maddox

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*** The CRC Blog welcomes submissions from published and unpublished poets for BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series.  Contact CRC Blog via email at or personal Facebook messaging at

***This is the ninety-fifth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece.

****All image are given copyright permission by Marjorie Maddox for this CRC Blog Post only unless otherwise noted.

#95 Backstory of the Poem
“Landscape and Still life”
by Marjorie Maddox  
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? Here is some background for a poem from my re-released collection Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, which focuses on my father’s unsuccessful heart transplant during the Blizzard of ’93.
As I discussed also in a talk at the Chautauqua Institution (, at the age of 39, my father suffered his first of ten cardiac arrests. The years of my youth were filled with ambulance sirens snaking their way to our house. As a pre-teen, I gave him CPR. Although my father lived until 65, he did not survive a heart transplant.

Those from the Northeast or Midwest may remember the blizzard of 1993. I had just accepted a teaching position at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. During that period, my father had been waiting many months for a heart donor when I traveled home to Ohio to visit my parents over spring break.  Once there, I heard ominous forecasts blaring from the radio, so I rushed back to PA and my teaching job. 
Soon after the blizzard hit, a man died in a car accident, and my father received that man’s heart. However, the State Police closed all the highways. There could be no returning to Ohio. For three weeks, the transplant seemed successful, but eventually, my father’s blood became infected, and he died. For years afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about this stranger’s heart buried inside my father.
       The poem focuses on my father’s blood infection and the eventual amputations. It was so hard to imagine not only losing my father, but also thinking of my father—the ultimate people person and an accomplished photographer (Right)—without his legs and fingers. I have been thinking about this poem again very recently for several reasons:

•When reading from this collection at a university this past September (Left), I was quite touched when a student came up to me afterwards, in tears, and thanked me again and again for the poem. It reminded her of her grandfather and how her family grieved for him.

•Recently, I have been writing a number of ekphrastic poems, both based on paintings and on photographs. The latter has again connected me to the role and mindset of specific photographers, but also to this passion that was my father’s. In the poem, I try to use images and terminology from the art world—including the use of fruit and sheets in still lifes—as well as contrast movement and stasis, life and death. The poem also speaks to the difficulty in accepting loss—thus the reference to and phenomena of “phantom limbs” after an amputation.
•Because our host on this blog is both a photographer and poet, I also thought this might be an appropriate poem to bring to your attention.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? The following —from Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation—was written several years after my father’s death. The poem gestated for several seasons; I needed to wait for the initial waves of grief to pass. I needed calm.

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) I only remember that like all my poems, this one went through many, many drafts.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? I am sure that there were. I write on a laptop and cut-and-paste a lot. I no longer have some of those early versions.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? Poetry sometimes gives us a glimpse into moments, sometimes a glimpse into entire lives. In this case, “Landscape and Still Life” focuses on both a moment of family grief (when my father’s legs and fingers were amputated because of a blood infection after his heart transplant) and the long-lasting grief that has affected our entire lives. We are both still life and landscape; frozen in one moment of time, as well as part of a larger landscape of time/mourning. This is how grief is.

Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? I still find this entire situation heart-wrenching—not only my father’s death (after the hope of a new life with a new heart) but the idea that a photographer who was always on the go was losing his fingers and his legs. This would have been a difficult adjustment for him—although I do believe he would have adjusted eventually. 

 Has this poem been published before? And if so where? “Landscape and Still Life” is part of my newly released collection Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, which previously won the Yellowglen Prize and was one of three finalists for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak Book Award. I attach a photo of the cover.

Anything you would like to add? You may find out more about this collection here 
and also here

Here are sample blurbs and reviews of the book:
“This new full-length collection of poetry by Marjorie Maddox is extraordinary. Maddox makes poems that pull the world inside out: the hidden becomes apparent, the spiritual palpable, the heart, that sock stuffed in the chest, gives rise to ‘the architecture of mercy.’ Examining, in a variety of moods, both the dazzling intricacy and the frightening fragility of the human body, Maddox never forgets the heart at the heart of the matter.”—Kelly Cherry

“In poems that survey the ‘body’s landscape,’ then raise their ‘hallelujah torrent’ to celebrate ‘the human beneath,’ Marjorie Maddox allows faith—in language that aspires toward prayer—to balance the sorrow and ‘stubbed joy’ that inform ‘the world we live in/and the world beyond.’ These poems acknowledge the body and its betrayals with clarity, humor, and Whitmanian fervor.  This is a book of fierce and eloquent consolations.”—Michael Waters

“Passionate, heartfelt documentaries of a life that is full, and filling, and reaching for true purpose.”—Scott Cairns

WPSU Take Note Interview Show: For Father's Day, Poets Todd Davis and Marjorie Maddox Write About Their Fathers
Reviewed in Anglican Theological Journal "... Perhaps, its Maddox’s own familial losses (her father undergoing a heart transplant) that have primed her for the part of raconteur and medical expositor. In the multi-part poem “Body Parts,” Maddox demonstrates a keen eye for descriptive writing, a poem which ought to find its way into every medical school textbook in the country. Her pinpoint execution, the dance between the purely informational and emotional, sheds new light on old bones. And these are the kind of bones she picks, the kind she buries, the kind she raises from the dead just to bury again, the kind that give us an apercu into the social wares that make up our day-to-day existence..." -Trey Palmisano

Alive and Writing: What Recent Memoirs Reveal about Illness and the State of Health Care by Anna Leahy in Entropy "...Or Marjorie Maddox’s father, who, as she recounts in the reissued poetry collection Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, receives a heart transplant from a dead stranger: “'His heart is buried / in my father, / who is buried'....These books—Everything Happens for a Reason; Sick; The Family Gene; I Am, I Am, I Am; and Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation—are each worth reading on their own, for the distinctive story of illness, for the sharp perspective, and for the original voice. If you’ve seen one, you’ve not seen them all. Each is a really good book in its own right. Together, they are an imperative, a call for compassion for each other. Moreover, they are a call for wide access to personalized health care and individualized decision-making between healthcare providers and patients...."

Reviewed at Tweetspeak Poetry by Glynn Young "...Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation is about change both sudden and gradual. It is about what binds us in relationships, and what happens when those binds come undone or are severed. And it’s about reliance, what we have and what we find to help us go on."

Interviewed about Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation by Will Woolfitt at Speaking of Marvels  "Writing is a process of discovering the world inside and around us..." 

Reviewed by Lynn Levin in Poetry Niederngasse alongside Deborah Fries' Various Modes of Departure "... Marjorie Maddox’s rapturous collection Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation is the winner of the Yellowglen Prize....A close and expert observer of nature, Marjorie Maddox is—as her book titles often denote—both a poet of the earthly and the transcendent. Her descriptions of medical and biological phenomena—surgery, the organs of the human body, a courier on an airplane carrying organs for transplantation—are often lenses through which she glimpses the eternal...." 

I give readings and workshops around the country. For this newest book—Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation, which includes a long poem based on the medical text Gray’s Anatomy entitled “Body Parts” as well as poems on travel and the Sacraments—I am especially interested in connecting the medical, spiritual, and poetic by speaking at universities and medical centers. Please spread the word!

Landscape and Still Life

After the new heart,
when the blood cultivated its fungus
in my father's fingers,
then began its harvest in his legs,
pruning flesh from the rotting fruit of what we were
once, we too withered, lost the way to move
in the moving world.

What would he photograph now?
we asked, he who walked miles
to catch light, in its pedestrian way,
ambling along childhood footpaths.

When he focused his lens without fingers,
framed and balanced each unruly composition,
each subject sprouting onto film,
how would his body's landscape separate lights and darks,         
begin again to develop?

Masked and scrubbed
in the half-light of intensive-care,
we study his absences,
the silhouette of appendages
lost, phantoms tucked neatly
beneath the photo-screen of sheets.
Obedient still-lives, we stay and stay
until he, too, is gone.   
Marjorie Maddox, Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, has published eleven collections of poetry—including True, False, None of the Above (Poiema Poetry Series and Illumination Book Award Bronze Medalist in the Education Category ); Local News from Someplace Else ; Wives' Tales

Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (2004 Yellowglen Prize; re-release Wipf & Stock 2018); and Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite Press); and over 550 stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. 
The recipient of numerous honors and co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (Penn State Press) and assistant editor of Presence, she also is the author of four children’s books, and the great grandniece of Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who helped break the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues. For more information, please see


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

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