EILEEN TABIOS Engages
AS IF IT FELL FROM THE SUN: An Etherdome Anthology: Ten Years of Women's Writing, Edited by Colleen Lookingbill & Elizabeth Robinson
(EtherDome Chapbooks/Instance, San Francisco & Boulder, 2012)
AS IF IT FELL FROM THE SUN is an anthology that presents a group of poems from poets previously published through an EtherDome chapbook -- each grouping is generous, making each illuminating about each individual poet. EtherDome, started in 2000 by co-editors Colleen Lookingbill & Elizabeth Robinson, was intended to present a chap by a female poet without a previously published chap or book. What this means, in part, is that the anthology does not just offer poems but also a manifestation of Lookingbill's and Robinson's vision in creating the EtherDome project -- a vision purely (as "pure" as is possible) based on the two editor's aesthetics with little mediation by poets' prior reputations.
This notion of presenting a publisher's vision is important but difficult to accomplish; I know it as a publisher moiself of a small press which I founded in 2001. I know how difficult it is -- and particularly as a small press with numerous constraints -- to be able to enact sufficiently what one intended to do through publishing. In fact, I would say that, to date, I have failed with my press in sufficiently presenting my underlying publishing vision even as each individual book project has been, if I may say so, stellar. But such stellarness has more to do with the individual poet's prowess rather than with my stellar activities as publisher. This makes all the more admirable the achievement of these two editor-publishers in offering such a strong sense of what they wanted to achieve with Etherdome, a feat even more laudable when their searching process through the years was fluid enough to remain open to possibilities and, yes, even disagreements on (initial) choices by the other.
And such can be proven, indeed, by this EtherDome anthology. Its two co-editors' Introduction is useful in presenting what they intended when they began the project; in summary, they wished to expand publishing activities for women poets who, they felt, as a group were not aggressive in promoting their work into the publishing realm. Their introductory essay addresses the role of the chapbook as a response to limited funds as well as a promoter of intimacy, the difficulty of representation (as they note, most of their poets are white, middle class and heterosexual), among other factors. As a result of this usefully honest introduction, one then can look at the poem-samples and reach certain conclusions about the two editors' visions. The poets presented in this volume are Merle Bachman, Faith Barrett, Margaret Butterfield, Erica Carpenter, Valerie Coulton, Caroline Crumpacker, Susanne Dyckman, Kelly Everding, Renata Ewing, Amanda Field, Kate Greenstreet, Anne Heide, Brydie MPherson Kuchi, Erica Lewis, Susan Manchester, Linda Norton, Roberta Olson, Megan Pruiett, Lisa Rappoport, Sarah Suzor, and Stacy Szymaszek. Most were unknown and several since have reached visible success as measured by publications of subsequent books, e.g. Greenstreet, Lewis, Szymaszek, Coulton, Norton and Dyckman – which, if one is inclined along those lines, one can certainly read as a validation of the merit of the editors' choices.
The overwhelming impression I glean from reading this anthology -- in terms of what the poems seem to share -- is the clear evidence of pleasure. The poems not only effect pleasure in the reader but it seems that there was much pleasure in their making, both of individual poems and their subsequent groupings into chap collections. It's interesting to me how there is so much social-ness in Lookingbill’s and Robinson's considerations on their roles as publishers, but then the chosen poems themselves end up (to this reader anyway) mostly effecting a pleasurable admiration. One senses the balance between authorial (and a publisher can be an author, too) social concerns and the requirements of the poem was maintained such as to effect harmony. The anthology's opening poem, "Women's Pictures" by Merle Bachman, is a wise (partly viz lack of didacticism) and inviting example. The poem begins
--the way things fold-up inside her.
a velvet pocket, a locket, a poodle skirt, a flirt
the quality of April light,
a delicate abatement of worries.
the figure of a woman rises, her skin-so-soft, her
light trapped in the slats.
a well-scrubbed infant a pot boiling a plain apron, a cigarette
inside the woman's body, furrows, pockets, a new idea sprouting
buds of arms and legs--
and ends with
A gown burns
it must, her flesh
incandescent on a darkened deck
imagine a body designed
for love, the smoke of it
a sacrifice to keep us content
Just from the above excerpts you can feel the resonant lucid acknowledgment of life's vicissitudes but also how bitterness need not be the result -- I think this effect surfaces because of the poet's/poem persona's intelligent self-awareness as well as unblinking gaze at the world.
With that prior paragraph, I feel myself tipping into inarticulateness. That's so because, really, the poems here need to speak for themselves. While I can share that I am intensely moved by them, anything I say would be insufficient. What can I say about -- here I open the anthology at random for a sample poem -- the last page of Linda Norton's "Miscellaneous Opalescence"--
I walked among the Cabots and the Lodges and stopped at the grave of the botanist Asa Gray, and the yellow leaves fell upon my shoulders as if I were an heir to something. An arboretum, a library, a porch, a problem. A trellis covered with vines of Concord grape. "She does not leave another to baptize her but baptizes herself."
Tombstones are the covers of books, and there is no rare air, just blood and smoke and a library of bodies and souls. "Genius is the activity which repairs the decay of things."
And I am like the apple I picked and ate there at Mount Auburn that October when the leaves were falling, divinity my compost.
-- when there is so much intelligence and elegy (?) within it? Ah, but this sample does remind me to note two other characteristics -- besides pleasure -- that the poems seem to share. Intelligence, of course. The other would be, how to put it?, a certain weight from history. Yes, these poets have done their research prior to putting down the first words on the page. They, as the sun might look down upon all of the planet, have sought to see--to understand as much as they can about humanity in order to better write for and about it.
Self-awareness. Perhaps self-consciousness, too? If only because the presence of consciousness from the idea of the poet projected by a grouping of poems seems so strong. What I'm fumbling to say is that there is evident thinking and deep engagement here by the poets of their concerns. And it enervates the poetic lines, making the spaces between lines, words, letters just brim with a fulsome intensity. Here's another example which I offer from, again, just opening the anthology at random:
You never know who you will meet: landscape
previously as windowscrap goes and
grows until the noblemen standing by that
square have disappeared, been forced out
of the painting by hills and cypresses and whatever
else. Outside the frame they pace in soft pointed
shoes, displaced, complaining, looking for the way
--from "Small Bed Diary" by Valerie Coulton
Not beauty, but the intensity of beauty, in the anthology's pages is why I feel the anthology is so aptly titled, by the way. "As If It Fell From the Sun" hearkens to me such loveliness, lucidity and luminosity and much of the poems are just wonderful this way.
Okay, but what's "women" or "woman" about these poems? Perhaps it's the delicacy that imbues so many of these lines? Is it the ever-present hint of "sweet"-ness (a la "The sun makes sweet poets" from Kelly Everding's "THE WEATHER IN SPACE")? Perhaps it's the stepping-lightness of the words in many of the poems which often create enchantment? For such things as delicacy, sweetness and stepping light are not (well, with certain exceptions) factors I associate with "man" though that may bespeak the limits of my imagination or knowledge. There is no definitive answer except what lies in the existence of the poems and their publication. Even then, such an answer is "imprecise" (to paraphrase—and recontextualize—the title of Caroline Crumpacker’s poem, “WE EMBRACE IMPRECISION A SIDE-EFFECT OF DISTANCE”). But impreciseness inherently means existence. So these poems exist and, for now, that may suffice in the way one can read a judiciously-excised excerpt from Crumpacker’s poem:
There being no such thing as silence only racket
and no known calibration for the elements needed
to make it disappear
we contrive silence as lack of attention lack of speaking
We want assurance
I was going to end there. But, for the heck of it, I'm going to open the anthology at random again and present what I see. Without knowing ahead of time which poem or excerpt of poem I'll be presenting, I will make a bet that the following will move you to admiration, and while I know not at the moment what you will admire, I bet it will be a quality that will be intense:
THE WEATHER IN SPACE
By Kelly Everding
We were speaking when the stars began:
a realist, you said, would consider them dead.
I wondered aloud what nebula
would call his a home--
children inching closer with sticks and shovels,
flagrant in their disregard of luminosity.
You said we inhabit a minor planet, and I thought
you meant music my god you got the chord right.
Perplexed you spread your arms and said
The sun makes sweet poets,
despite the many suns snuffed tonight. Blink.
I mentioned an eminent meteor, or was it imminent?
It's nice by the fence, and I pose
for the satellite's camera, pinpoint light passing
through the Pleiades. You are on another
subject already, treason, and the wind
picks up, a treasonous wind relocating your words.
Select a chair, you said, when there were no chairs.
A dangerous transference, words thrown
from the mailbox--all stamped dangerous.
Do you believe in osmosis? you asked inching
closer, a coliseum blinking.
You say you're cold. In space meteors are mostly ice,
and you touch me your hands like ice.
I begin to see a pattern.
Look, the Big Dipper. We've seen it all our lives--
traveled that ancient path since we were amoebas.
Everyone has daughters bent to a loom,
weaving and unweaving, their stories a delay,
fortunes or doors. Don't change the subject.
It is nearly dawn and we wait for shadows.
Solar plumes lick the stratosphere, curl and blacken.
How synchronistic that this anthology entitled Perhaps It Fell From The Sun opened to the poem that bears the line: "The sun makes sweet poets"-- a metaphor for this anthology that makes from the publishers' vision a radiance so matured even darkness becomes luminous.
Deeply intensely satisfying and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. But she is pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA, a collaboration with j/j hastain, is reviewed by Susan Schultz at Jacket2 HERE, and by Amazon.com Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp HERE. Another book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed by Thomas Fink in Press 1 and by Nicholas Spatafora in OurOwnVoice.