EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Driving to the Bees by Maggie Schwed
(Black Lawrence Press, 2014)
Maggie Schwed’s poems in Driving to the Bees are simply lovely. Its language is fresh and refreshes. Many are lyrical gems. But the quality that most struck me while reading through the book is their presence. Presence.
And presence was as necessary as Schwed’s poetic language in creating these poems particularly because of their subject: farm life. To read her poems is to be elevated beyond the specific narratives, yet the specificity of the narratives help lead to a fulsome resonance appreciated by the receptive reader.
Her imagery is stellar, for example, from the poem “Octobers”:
Turkeys won’t tolerate the hawk
that occupies a fence post in the afternoon
so she can watch the creek
& all the creatures that come to drink.
As soon as her wings close
the turkeys flock, advance
& bark out wroth
& budge her loudly back
into her sky.
There’s also inventiveness among the poems—for example “Road Sonnet Countdown” that, per number of lines, count down 5-4-3-2-1:
Road Sonnet Countdown
I wasn’t going fast but the road was wet—
you know how it is to be half minded, driving.
Two fawns appeared, one and then another,
both sudden down the slope, green grass
on the far side for some reason just then
greener. We three chose: go,
and the first one went. I wrote you
or dreamed I did. Even though
I was thinking of something else I know
I stopped in time. The second
fawn also stopped
also in time. I saw
There’s also humor (e.g., “Misophonia”). I wonder, in fact, why more poetry collections don’t include humor. That Schwed does attests to her breadth that’s discernible despite the specificity of her topic.
Ultimately, or finally, Schwed’s poetic mastery is the fine and deft balance she strikes between detail and epistemology. She doesn’t overdo the creation of significance. She just presents finely-hewed descriptions and any conclusions from such are presented lightly, or matter-of-factly. For example, this beginning to the poem “Passing Through”:
A lamb falters in the pasture, lies down,
and later when I bring the feed, is dead.
But like before: the yellow eyes are open, lips
closed over the teeth. The slim white face, a woolly ear
bed on thistle; the four small hooves in true.
The sun is hot. I start to drag her from the field,
still-soft limbs bumping awkwardly. I pick her up
her weight in my arms baby enough to carry
the distance through humming grass to the truck.
The other lambs and ewes ignore us, suck, graze;
the dog lolls, too, on sun-warmed fieldstone—
death and I, that unremarkable.
Schwed’s poems have benefited from a lesson she says she learned from one of her teachers, the poet Marie Ponsot: “writing poems is part of the world’s work.” Recommended.
Eileen Tabios recently released an experimental auto-biography, AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY, as well as her first poetry collection published in 2015, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS. Forthcoming later this year is INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Her poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Joey Madia in New Mystics Review and Zvi Sesling in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com