May 10, 2012

Jennifer Bartlett on Mary Rising Higgins

“One must grow used to happiness.”

Mary Rising Higgins, who passed away in 2007, was a public school teacher for 25 years who dedicated herself to poetry the last years of her life. Higgins describes her introduction to the so-called language poets (by Lee Bartlett) as one of the major turning points in her vocation. This passion became translated in the work of a poet who should be considered a major innovator

red table(s combines the experimental with lyricism and disjointed language to make a collection of poems that is, at turns, beautiful, difficult, and always surprising. At first, Higgins retains traditional form – flush left margin, in stanzas. Around the middle of the book, the reader can see her form expand and open into the “poetic field” that would become crucial in her later work.   

Higgins was a master of the constraint, visual poetics, and “word collecting.” 


            dinner music            space altar             ladder

she, the range in each bright   spinning   song
how he could not look back

She speaks of writing through dreams, dictionary meditations, and scored poems based on letters of the alphabet. Her later work became reflective of Olson’s field and what Higgins describes “about sound and movement in the poem. Linescape, really.”


            Evening beads            pattern for swallow

she reflects   herself 

             stand            kindle            splitting

And a bit of geometry   in   both language   and punctuation:

a way to carve out the in)visible

            A required curve looks graceful enough

Although Higgins and her work are deeply loved by folks in the Southwest and those whom she was influenced by and who influenced her, her work remains "quiet." I think this relates to Higgins’s geographiphical location, but also to her non-assuming personality; this is the work of a poet who simply loved poetics for its own sake. 

(You can find more on Jennifer Barlett herself here.)

May 8, 2012

Dara Wier on Gillian Conoley

Gillian Conoley's TALL STRANGER was published in 1991 by Carnegie Mellon University Press.  Now,  almost any title with the word stranger attached to it will get my attention.  I like how the word stranger  functions in many areas:  uncanny thinking, science, and often in poetry, as in James Tate's you are the stranger who gets stranger by the minute.  Even Tina Fey's production company entices for it is called Little Stranger.  Stranger  invites so many sensations: a little dangerous because to us humans what is strange may be as yet misunderstood, a little fetching, as sometimes a stranger is in need of being cared for,  a little unfamiliar, and sometimes very distant, as in alien.  Sometimes a little homespun, as in Howdy, Stranger.  Conoley's book revolves in the orbits of all these.  Here she is:

in the spoiled ash,
in the stirred dust


a shy, secretive being who loves 
how these new homegirls sing


Black horse, red moon,
I want no government,


One day I looked 
at the face in my shoes
and walked off the land

and from the title poem:

I have a different fix on the stars,
and the frontier opens up again,
far into the interior

Download and listen to Gillian Conoley read from Tall Stranger here.
(You can find more on Dara Wier herself here.)