Dreaming of Bobcats – Guest Poetry Blog #25 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, American Poet, Amie Whittemore – Part One of Two

American poet Amie Whittemore. Photo Credit: Emily April Allen

The Crows

I left out a bowl of rice dressed
in violets and honey, unsure
if it was offering or temptation.

A crow appeared
on my kitchen counter
and ate it all.

The next morning the crow
returned with its flock,
shades draping the shagbark,

all of them chanting
their own names:
Crown me, called one.

Sunder, another.
Hearing its name among
those fleeing their beaks,

my heart abandoned its nest.

Amie Whittemore from Nest of Matches, Autumn House Press, 2024

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER AMIE WHITTEMORE AND PART ONE OF HER TWO-PART SERIES

Amie Whittemore is no stranger to these pages. I profiled her here in August 2015 featuring her poem Spell for the End of Grief. Still a favorite poem of mine. I had met Amie earlier that year at a Jane Hirschfield workshop in Key West, Florida. Her poetry had a extra something to it and I decided to not let her or her work out of my sight even as far away as Vancouver Island from wherever she was in the United States.

To explore Aime’s website please click here. Of particular interest: her blog posts on the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. A blog series that came out of her unmet desire to read and write a blog post on an Elizabeth Bishop poem every day!

Amie has written three full-length poetry collections, Glass Harvest and Star-Tent A Tryptich and, forthcoming in March, Nest of Matches. There is a lush generosity and searing wisdom inside the Nest of Matches, a book I am so happy to have before its general release. And such a gentle eroticism, or better said, eros in these poems. A layered eros not just of a compelling queer sexuality but an eros in all her images that celebrate the richness of a life attuned to whom and what is around her. The elegance and aptness of Aimie’s metaphors, how they enlarge her poems enabling them to reach into so many hidden and special nooks and crannies.

And how this collection is held within the nest of Aime’s imagination and literally through the reference to nests in the title and poems inside the collection. Both of her poems featured here reference a nest in unexpected ways. How her heart abandons it nest, ouch, in her epigraph poem above and how in her poem that concludes her post, in reference to a beloved, a lover, she writes: I don’t need to know how many nests/ are lined with your hair. This delicacy of expression yet how the emotional impact can feel to me like a body blow.

And the deliciousness of her lines in Nocturne describing afternoons with a lover and her reflection that to forget how her lover tasted would be to admit a hawk into the house./ Is to wring a rag of water bone-dry. The poetic artistry of describing so unexpectedly what it would be like to forget such a tender and intimate moment arrests me. Again, how Amie raises, without any trace of sentimentality, the emotional impact of her lines, through use of saturated imagery.

So many poems in this collection to savour, especially her twelve poems using the names for various full moons such as Worm Sap Moon, Hunger Moon and, of course, Blue Moon. And one extra moon poem: Moon Poem When All Things Ripen. And how I was taken by her poem IF NO OPENS US WE”LL THIRST. Such a tenderness as the poem moves through her inadvertent harming of her cut flowers that shortens their vase life, then moves to a couple next door arguing, her wanting to tell the woman to walk away and then this poignant reflection that brings the poem back to the speaker: Though I’m trying to enter/ a new season where I don’t/baricade love, make it sleep// on the stoop, I haven’t lost/ my faith in cutting losses.

And then how at the poem’s end she comes back to that couple: Stop it. I want to say to the couple// whose wounds leak through/ our shared wall, sharp and sallow. We have everything to lose. That last line as it moves to a we, how it strikes home. Oh, the isness in this poem of the fragility of our lives.

Now, with such pleasure and deep thanks to Amie here is the first of her two guest poetry blog posts. In Part Two she will feature, first, the exquisite poetry of the late American poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1950-2016) who died far to early in her mid sixties in 2016. Then she will feature the acclaimed Irish poet Medbh McGuckian (1950 -).

AMIE WHITTEMORE INTRODUCES AIME WHITTEMORE

MY JOURNEY TO POETRY

My journey to poetry began rather unpoetically, in the mid-1990s: I was sitting in my freshman English class, in high school, listening to Ms. Risvold describe our poetry unit. For it, we had to find ten poems we liked and write ten poems. As someone for whom reading and writing came naturally, I wasn’t particularly stressed by this assignment, though I had no idea how to write a poem other than to jump on in and make it rhyme.

The first poem I wrote was about a deer killed by a hunter and I found myself so moved, in a very 14-year-old way, by my own work, my own attention to imagery and rhyme, that I shared the poem with my parents and extended family (I have a vague, embarrassing memory of it getting passed around at Thanksgiving).

As it turned out, after completing the assignment, I couldn’t stop writing poems. Soon enough I ventured away from poems about deer toward poems that examined my own adolescent angst. I was listening to Tori Amos back then and loved her surreal, surprising imagery and started experimenting with making less sense in my poems. I discovered the Beats and ate up Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Gary Snyder. My best friend and I read Jim Morrison’s poems on bus rides to field trips where we talked to no one else and wore our strange, wonderful outfits.

My senior year English teacher, Ms. Kruse assigned us a poetry unit in which we chose a handful of poets to emulate and so I discovered a deeper appreciation for Dickinson, Whitman, and Stein. I saw my poems continue to evolve into weirder creatures and I liked it. My family—not a family of poets—supported me even though I was a weird beast to them.

My grandmother talked to her former boss whose friend or niece or next door neighbor’s cousin (whatever it was, was a tenuous connection at best!) was Debra Monroe, an accomplished nonfiction writer, who kindly read my teenage poems and wrote me a three-page letter I have to this day, which provided the best gift any reader can give a writer: she showed me what I was doing. She examined each poem and explained what worked and didn’t, why a certain image was fresh or stale. She told me to read contemporary poets, to keep going. (Fun fact: now we’re Facebook friends.)

Then off I went to the University of Illinois to become a journalist—or so I thought. I knew I loved writing and that seemed like a practical way to make a living doing it, even though as an intern reporter I dreaded talking to strangers. At university I discovered creative writing classes; until then it had not occurred to me you could take a class solely devoted to writing poems, or stories, or essays that didn’t fit a five-paragraph structure or have a clear, arguable thesis, that could wander and muse. I was hooked. I took every class I could and switched my major to creative writing. Through the excellent guidance of my honors thesis director, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, I grew into my craft and learned I could keep going—I learned about MFAs, writing residencies, about this world that I had no idea existed.

And yet—I come from a family of hard workers, of farmers and electricians, book-keepers and office managers. Pursuing a graduate degree just to write poems seemed foolhardy. I left my home state of Illinois and moved to Oregon and became a high school English teacher instead. I wrote poems on my own but felt isolated, unsure how to grow. I felt itchy with the desire to write. Then, in my first year as a full-time high school English teacher, my paternal grandparents died, a few months apart. My dad inherited their house and, worn out by teaching and homesickness and grief, I moved into it for a year. Taught at the community college. Applied for MFAs because I couldn’t shake the desire to be a poet. And that’s what I felt like, that first day at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, meeting other writers, all of whom asked, “are you one of the poets?” and all I could say was yes.

It’s been fourteen years since I finished my MFA and I sincerely don’t believe you need an MFA to be a poet or improve your craft. But, for me, that was what changed everything. I learned to take my work seriously. I learned to persevere in the face of rejection after rejection. I learned to tear apart poems I adored to turn them into better poems. I made friends. I fell in love. I found the path I continue to walk on.

Nocturne

Like a violin waiting the bow,
when I thirst, I dream

of bobcats,
dream of bluegills, alligators,
whales, creeks, hot air

balloons, fatherless
animals, windless
coasts, abandoned homes.

I push into the unabashed
territories of longing—violets,
mornings, meadows, tongues—

and the world is delicious again.
We have no idea how to live here.

To forget how you tasted
those leggy afternoons—when our bodies
spilled like wine across the floor—

is to admit a hawk into the house.
Is to wring a rag of water bone-dry.

When I’m in the thicket
with my smaller hungers,
I don’t need to know every cave

and what it stores, cool
and damp, for you. I don’t need
to know how many nests

are lined with your hair.
There’s nothing tame about twilight,
this old song shaking the sweetgum leaves.

when I thirst I dream
like a violin waiting the bow.

Amie Whittemore, ibid

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