From time to time we host book publication events in our gallery at Homewood Studios. Fellow writers, family and family friends, even some writers unknown to us who have heard about our place and our loyal audience graciously come by to share their work – poetry or prose, memoir or essay – with us.
One such event – Tad Simon reading selections from his recently published short story collection, The Bleeder – took place recently on a perfect summer evening. Tad was in good voice and in good humor, the audience was appreciative and energetic… but that is not what I want to write about.
Just before Tad began, a petite woman made her way into the gallery, slowly finding one of the few empty chairs. She was familiar to me – Elissa Cottle, a poet from Stillwater. I wondered at her connection to Tad, or to his new book, and remembered Elissa earned her master;\’s degree in writing at Hamline University, where Tad’s wife, Gabrielle teaches. It turned out Elissa and Gabrielle knew each other when they were both in the aster’s program at Hamline. And Elissa knew Tad when they worked together at The Reader.
So the reading continued, eventually ending with loud cheers for Tad. Everyone headed for the food and drinks, breaking into small groups to continue the splendid energy of the evening, Tad in one corner signing books.
Elissa sat down next to my wife, Beverly, asking, “Are you Bev?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m Elissa. George was my first poetry teacher, when I was fifteen, at Twin City Institute for Talented Youth in the summer. It gave me the direction for my life.”
All these forty years later, Elissa still writes poetry, and directs literary readings in Stillwater and Minneapolis, making use of independent galleries and coffee houses to present the work of local poets and writers. Some of Ellissa’s poems were recently published in the Nodin Poetry Anthology.
Elissa went on to tell Beverly, “Sometimes George would read a poem he had written about you or your children. My parents went through a terrible divorce when I was a young girl. Hearing those poems helped me hope for a better future.”
We are all Elissa. At some time or another, we ache for something brighter, clearer, more balanced to enter our lives. This is what poetry is for…to transport us into the enfolding arms of that possibility.
Whether a poetry of deep gratitude or deep sorrow, memory of a bruised childhood, worry about the manic poison of reason, or celebrating the enthralling incandescence of a quarter moon shining down on white anemone flowers in a summer night, the poet brings us to a moment in our own lives where we want to stop, to dawdle, to pay attention.
Poetry moves us, sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, out of our habits of living in the past and in the future, neither of which can we exercise any control over. Poetry pulls us, urges us, sometimes drags us into the present. And the present is where we all live, whether we know it or not…and where poetry lives as well.
For Whom the Poet Speaks
A mother told her son last night she loves quickly. A bridge is small. Watch
Monet step over floating leaves. How quickly
it goes, as leaves watch the stars in daylight.
The poet speaks for the province of the world that believes in the true trick
of art, which fills and drinks the glass cup of milk
at the same time.
For the one to whom she sings a lullaby
about this morning when he inchwormed his little fingers
under her sheet to wake her up. Tonight
she loves making him laugh knowing he will sleep so very soon. (Lying on the table
as a girl, she remembers the one-man warm-up show, the doctor standing over her,
a patient covered in a chilly sheet. He says, grinning, you will
sleep so fast. Try counting backwards. Start at 10. You won’t get
to 9.) And the left arm under the sheet becomes cool, then quiet,
and the body receives a dream because
we want our voice in sleep’s ear.
For every patient life, telling us
wait to conceive me. Because it’s easier
than would be believed. The milk is cold and delicious.
Their sleep is dreamless but they know how quickly
that will change once days are lived. They wait,
unhurried to begin. When their water lilies
will float undisturbed at the sight
above their face.
© Elissa Cottle from an unpublished manuscript, printed with permission.