Thursday, June 8, 2017

Poet Anne Whitehouse's METEOR SHOWER - Resurrecting the Dead through the Elegy

Christal Cooper

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.  

** PLEASE TAKE NOTE:  This is an analysis of Christal Rice Cooper’s interpretation of Meteor Shower.  The only interpretation from the poet herself will be noted in a quote.  Thus far there are no quotes.  Therefore this entire piece is an analysis based only on Christal Rice Cooper's interpretation of Meteor Shower.

Anne Whitehouse’s Meteor Shower:
“Reflecting the Dead Back to Life Through the Elegy”

       On September 7, 2016 Dos Madres Press Inc. ( published Anne Whitehouse’s fifth poetry collection Meteor Shower.     

       Meteor Shower illustration and book design is by Elizabeth H Murphy who is represented by Illusion Studios (  

       Whitehouse’s other poetry collections are:  The Refrain (Dos Madres Press); One Sunday Morning (Finishing Line Press); Bear In Mind (Finishing Line Press); Blessings And Cursers (Poetric Matrix Press); and the chapbook The Surveyor’s Hand (Compton Press).

She’s also written a novel called Fall Love  (Xlibris).

       Meteor Shower is broken up into six parts:  A Girl Who Fell In Love With An Island (10 poems); The Eye That Cries (10 poems); Moving (10 poems); The Mask (9 poems); Grout Pond (9 poems); and Life’s Continuous Chain (7 poems).
       The poems contain the common thread of reflection on One’s Self (“A Girl Who Fell In Love With An Island.”); Nature (“At The Ocean”); Events (“The Eye That Cries”); Things (“Wedding Silver”); and Memories (“Moving”).
       What is most captivating about this poetry collection is Whitehouse’s expert hand in writing the poetic form called the elegy, a lamenting poem, couplet or song written in the memory of a deceased person.

In “One Way Session in memory of Marc Snyder” the speaker of the poem mourns the loss of her and her husband’s marriage therapist.

You were our therapist
for 25 years-
to think I still believed
we had all the time
in the world!

She attributes she and her husband’s therapist Marc with the ability to making their marriage an honest marriage.

Only you had the ability
to turn our gazes inward
to reveal how we’d each
wronged the other.

Soon she no longer mourns her therapist but celebrates the relationship that she and her husband Steve share, and she gives credit of this relationship to her therapist, which allows her and her husband the freedom to swim (from under the rock/ that had trapped me,). 

where we find each other
and hold on.

By the end of the poem therapist Marc Snyder lives on because their love relationship lives on:

the two of us warm
and steady, for this time,
now and forever,
between the two immensities.

       The poem “A Few Things I Learned From My Mother-In-Law In memory of Martha Jane Linton Whitehouse” the speaker of the poem pays tribute to a woman who taught her about the importance of space in order to have healthy relationships.

I had not grown up in a family that respected boundaries,
and it was a relief to have a mother-in-law
who set such store by them.

The next two stanzas the speaker of the poem shares some of the lessons her mother-in-law taught her.  It is in the next to last stanza that she speaks directly to her mother-in-law:

Martha, mother-in-law, gin-drinker, I lift
my glass to you, bare-footed, braving the humidity
on the porch, armed with your frosty martini,
watching the surface of the canal stained pink
by a pastel sunset through dark palms,
blurred by the passage of underwater life. 
The final two lines, a couplet, not only remembers her mother-in-law but also brings back to life the ancestors her mother-in-law told her about.

So that long-vanished ancestors will come to enlighten us,
You tell us the family stories that you have taken to heart.

  In “Glimpse of Glory in memory of Hellen Zeanah Macon Cherner” the speaker of the poem observes her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia, bathed in intense sunlight so bright that she has to look away, but only momentarily; she looks back at her grandmother, who is now playing with her own two year old daughter and her grandmother’s face lights up, with what the speaker of the poem believes is recognition; but then in the next stanza she recognizes that her grandmother thinks she is now the nurse that she once was in her younger years.  She knows this is a sign that she is not getting better but on the cusp of death.

I’d been thinking she was getting better.
I know now it was the opposite-
her spirit was readying for the infinite.

In “Bookends in memory of my father-in-law Hugh Lord Whitehouse” the speaker of the poem and her husband are going though her father in law’s house packing, deciding what things to keep, what things to give away.  Even with the house empty, the house takes on the persona of her father-in-law.

Yet, stripped of so much,
the house still enchanted us,
enfolded and protected us.

After exploring the house’s kitchen , back yard, an d back yard swimming pool the speaker of the poem venture into her father in law-s library and finds bookends that were handmade by her father in-law:

and recognized my father-in-law’s handiwork
in the blocks of wood four inches square,
each fastened at right angles with two screws
to a square of aluminum.

Made with care, using material at hand,
the squares of wood sanded and stained,
and the squares of aluminum sanded, too,
so they would slide smoothly
between book and bookshelf.

The speaker of the poem’s husband reveals to her that her father-in-law made things to earn money during his poor grad days.   In the last stanza, the bookends take on the persona of her father-in-law, his struggles, his ability to turn those struggles into beautiful art, and the great unknown of what those struggles were.

In so much of what he did,
My father-in-law exhibited a painful perfection
that was hard to live up to, hard to live with.
In their serenity and simplicity,
these beautiful objects he made
reveal nothing of his struggles.

       The most compelling blockbuster of a poem in this collection is the poem “Calligraphies” in the voice of famed artist Cai Guo-Qiang (  who is speaking in memory of his father, calligrapher and painter Cai Ruiqin – making this poem both a persona and an elegy poem at the same time.  

                     Cai Guo-Qiang in Houston, Texas. October 2010

       In the first stanza the young Cai witnesses the making of art and the destruction of war right at his front door.

In the old days in China
my father collected calligraphy,
ancient scrolls, and rare books.
We lived in Quanzhou,
across the strait from Taiwan.
We could hear artillery batteries
firing into the mist at the island
that still resisted the mainland.

       Cai remembers his father as an artist whose artwork was synonymous with his father’s identity.  There was no separation – his father inhaled and exhaled his calligraphy, his art.  The next two stanzas describe this act of breathing art essential to his father’s life, spirit and wellbeing.

My father’s calligraphy
was delicate and adept.
I used to stand at his shoulder,
careful to leave space
for his am to move freely,
as I watched him wet the ink
to the right consistency,
select his brush, and dip it
gently and carefully, soaking
the soft hairs of the badger,
and stroke its sides
against the jar, forming a point
like no other, soft, flexible, yielding.

With an intake of breath,
he raised his hand that held the brush,
hovering above the paper,
and slowly exhaled
until he was an empty receptacle,
and then, and only then,
he touched the tip of the brush
to the fine rice paper-
the strokes flowed, deft and sensitive,
forming the ancient shapes of the words.

Then his father experiences his first of many deaths in the form of the Cultural Revolution, when out of fear of imprisonment or loss of human life, his father hides his book and scrolls in a hole in the family cellar.  He then experiences more deaths:

but he was still afraid, and little by little,
he began to burn it, at night, in secret,
in the hidden depths of the house.

                           Burning of statues during the Cultural Revolution

The speaker of the poem Cai remembers his father‘s severe depression and loss.

Afterwards he was not the same.
He lost himself in a strange self-exile
and left us all, his family behind,
finding perilous refuge
far  away in the mountains
in a ruined Buddhist convent,
where an old crone of ninety,
the last remaining resident,
gave him sanctuary.

                    The Paro Taktsang Palphug

While at the Buddhist convent he managed to find a piece of himself back, but only momentarily. 

There he would take sticks

and write calligraphy once more
in puddles on the ground
that would disappear
as soon as it was written,

In the next stanza the speaker of the poem Cai brings his father and his father’s art back to life by creating is own art:

I am his son and my calligraphy
is firework, my art gunpowder,
as evanescent as writing on water.

Can Guo-Qiang preparing a gunpowder drawing for the Arts China Gallery at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in October 2010

Evanescent is a good word to describe these poems – except the poems don’t completely disappear – they are like waves in the ocean – traveling from us and then coming back to us, like a song.

In seconds the fog lifted –
one moment visible
and vanished the next
from a rise in temperature.

--excerpt, “Inspiration”

Left:  Minute droplets of water constitute this after-dark radiation fog, with the ambient temperature −2 °C (28 °F)
Middle:  Up-close view of water particles forming fog
Right:  Advection fog layer in San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge and skyline in the background

       Or better yet like a meteor shower – the poems reaching a part of us that is eternal, not able to be tangibly touched, but able to be seen and felt – like the cosmic debris, echoing in our ears.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
Every angel is terrifying, he heard,
imagining that annihilating embrace
empowering the Duino Elegies.

--excerpt, “Inspiration”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Switzerland as the main character - A memoir by Poet Sarah Gorham . . .

Christal Rice Cooper

Sarah Gorham’s
Alpine Apprentice A Memoir
“Her Tight Rubber Band”

       I am so sick and tired of those travel books that only tell the story about the person and what she went through while living in that specific place.  In the process of reading these typical travel books, you as a reader only connect with the way the writer connects with the place, and not the place itself.

       Reading Sarah Gorham’s Alpine Apprentice, published by University of Georgia Press ( on March 1, 2017) was a breath of fresh air for me, both literally (I could almost breath the white winter air) and figuratively.

In Alpine Apprentice (jacket cover by Erin Kirk New ) Gorham presents the mountainous Bernese-Oberland, Switzerland as its own character, which I connected with as a reader. 

Erin Kirk New, middle 

       It was the late 1960s and 15-year-old Gorham (( lived with her parents and four younger sisters in Washington D.C. where she attended the Gordon Junior High School.  It was at the school that she was bullied. 

"It had happened to me: my scant seventy-six pounds launched into air by three muscular, fully developed girls, then shoved back onto the toilet, where I trembled fro two class periods, making absolutely sure the bullies were gone before safety-pinning my stockings back together again and venturing out."

                       Sarah at age 17

As a result of being bullied and fear of the political trauma of the day, Gorham exhibited inappropriate behaviors out of desperation, which included her bullying her four younger sisters.

Sarah Gorham far right. 

  Her parents out of their own desperation did what they though was best for all five of their daughters and sent their oldest daughter Gorham to The Ecole d’Humanite, a boot-camp type of boarding school, located in the mountainous Bernese-Oberland, Switzerland.    

       Gorham spent two year at The Ecole d’Humanite, founded in 1934 by Paul and Edith Geheeb.    

       Gorham reveals in her preface how Switzerland never left her consciousness; in fact it has held in her consciousness like a tight rubber-band for over 40 years.

"Two years in a Swiss boarding school has elongated over my lifetime, a rubber band with no spring back.  It is tucked deep into my character, making absolutely clear – though every cell in my body resists this in its constant replenishment – I am still that adolescent, like it or not.  Family, profession, and all accomplishments fade to black."

                               Sarah Gorham in March of 2009
       That adolescent in a woman’s body has quite a list of accomplishments: She received her BA from Antioch College, and her MFA from the University of Iowa.   

                          Sarah Gorham, standing in the middle, fifth from left. 

      Gorham is a poet, essayist, and is president and editor-in-chief at Sarabande Books (, which she co-founded with her husband poet and playwright Jeff Skinner (   

       The two, who reside in Prospect, Kentucky, celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary this past May.

Left, Sarah and Jeff on their wedding day inYaddo's Rose Garden.
Right, Sarah and Jeff celebrating Sarabande's 15th anniversary. 

       She’s published four books of poetry:  Don’t Go Back to Sleep (Galileo Press, 1989); The Tension Zone (Four Way Books, 1996); The Cure (Four Way Books, 2003); and Bad Daughter (Four Way Books, 2011).

She’s also written the collection of essays, Study in Perfect (University of Georgia Press, 2014).

       Alpine Apprentice A Memoir is about Gorham’s school schedule, the classes she took, the books she read, the food she ate (potatoes!), letters, and the typical things that all teenagers have to confront:  sex, the opposite sex, alcohol, drugs, friends from different cultures, and homesickness.  In the below excerpt she talks about Swiss German versus High German, which can also be translated to the teenager making the choice between being a child or an adult.

"The experts might say it’s better to master one tongue at a time.  Forget modern dance till you’ve mastered ballet. Don’t improvise till you can read music.  But when you’re tugged in two directions, as any adolescent is – Am I child or adult?  Follower or leader?  Bad girl or good? – the choice is not so simple.  The miracle of Swiss versus High German is that you can have it both ways.  You can flip from one kind of person to another.  You can hang with your homies and please your teacher.  You can swear boorishly and serve as a fine example for your Kameraden.  Care to appear highly articulate or super intimidating?  You have the tools.  Pluck an Olympic-size word from the air.  Impress them.  Then right before they roll their eyes to the heavens, let go the sloppiest, salt-of-the-earth, most repulsive insult you can think of.  Impress them more."   


       Intertwined are numerous photographs throughout the book as well as descriptions of the character Switzerland, its origin, its history, and its terrain, which at many points is poetic, and in my opinion, Gorham at her best.

"Warning, the Waters of Switzerland are deceiving.  Glassy brooks slip through pastures and trip down hillsides carrying the invisible filth of cow hooves, but the water is completely transparent; it suggests purity, not poison.  A fairy tale lake in bright shades of green appear around the bend of a steep looping trail.  You are far from the lagoons of Florida; the little sunset ponds of New Hampshire; the bays of Wisconsin; Martha’s Vineyard, Bethany, Assateague – the populated beaches of your childhood.  This lake is gem-faultless, polished and gleaming.  Look!  Heroic nixes are, even now, beckoning . . . vapor shaped and gauzy.  They ride the rolling peaks of wind-formed ripples.  Pray tell, what century is it?  Hear them murmur, whispering till they have you doffing your clothes on the pebbled sand jumping stark naked into their clutches.  Your breath is snatched away (sting of a snake, knife cut).  Now you stroke faster and faster to keep yourself warm, then slower and slower, floating sleepy now, nodding too far from the shore.  Few words are equal to the water’s temperature and sensation as it slips over your face. If you froze to death right here, who would care?  Would you care?"