Two New Collections – Two Distinctive American Poetic Voices – harris and Kingsolver

American poet francine j. harris

My hair is falling out.

So give it to the midnight crows and let them bring it to
a little black girl should she set out seeds of a sunflower.
May they wrap it around a chip of bright amber or tuck
it inside the nostril of a rotting field mouse. Hide age.
Teach her meat, she needs to know. Though the pink tendon
is worse as we age. like a gate at which we like to shut our
eyes. Rub the sore scalp. Sleep to Liszt and catch a snail
which they like it’s ok to make a world in which things
eat each other, Make room for believing. Climb down off
the world dying and feed something. Open up the yard.

francine j. harris from here is the sweet hand, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020How to Shear a Sheep

American novelist and poet Barbara Kingsolver. Photo credit: Stephen L. Hopp

How to Shear a Sheep

Walk to the barn
before dawn.
Take off your clothes.
Cast everything
on the ground:
your nylon jacket,
wool socks and all.
Throw away
the cutting tools,
the sheers that bite
like teeth at the skin
when hooves flail
and your elbow
comes up hard
under a panting throat:
no more of that.
Sing to them instead.
Stand naked
in the morning
with your entreaty.
Ask them to come,
lay down their wool
for love.
That should work.
It doesn’t.

Barbara Kingsolver from How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons)Faber, 2020 (UK edition)

A quickish post. I have been sitting for weeks now with the latest poetry collections of the American poet Francine j. harris and American novelist and poet Barbara Kingsolver. Two essential writers. And with such differences. How they write poems, one at the beginning of her career, one long at it. One a white woman from Appalachia, the other a queer black woman who grew up in the tough city streets of Detroit and now teaches at the University of Houston.

Here, two instruction poems. Different , yes. The poem by harris more surreal and with hints of a sexual edginess but it is less “out there” in terms of how she pretzels language, the lyrical mash up of rich syntax and lexicon in many of her other poems in her third collection here is the sweet hand. The Kingsolver poem lass lyrical, more plain spoken. its short lines. Clipped speech.

But something similar. Changing a lens of how to look at the world. Kingsolver changing the power dynamic between human and sheep. Making me look at sheep shearing differently. harris making me think about midnight crows and that yes, “it’s ok to make a world in which things eat each other.”

More to say, of course, about both poets but here two strong poems to chew over. Their differences and similarities.

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