There Is Music in Northfield Women Poets’ Anthology, Penchant

Eleven truth-telling women passionately grieve and celebrate the myriad facets of their complex lives in the new Northfield women’s poet anthology, Penchant. The title implies an inclination, and the title poem, by Karen Herseth Wee, explains that each of these poets possesses a drive:

"An uncontrollable urge to write, reveal, chant
aloud that which otherwise stays hidden in the body or mind-"

But this is not a book merely of blatant or trite self-confession—although it is often personal and intimate. This is a book of many themes. One of the themes is poetry itself, the music of words, and the ability of that music to fill us with emotion. This is a Pen-chant, beginning with the poetic act of observation in Beverly Voldseth’s poem "Her Bath," and ending with Andrea Een’s invitation to "sing as if your life depended on it." If it is true that the audience for poetry is made up mostly of poets, then this volume encourages readers to examine the world with their own eyes and, through the incantatory power of language, to make of that examination, music in their own voice. But more than that, this anthology is a work of art, a concert of voices rich with lived experience, voices practiced in the craft of poetry.

These women have all lived through decades. Every one of them has been writing for longer than a quarter-century, and they employ their craft skillfully to circumscribe experiences and insights in the way that only poetry can.

This is a volume I will read again on a lonely evening when it seems no one understands me. For here I have found eleven women, all different from one another in temperament and in voice, who, for years, have nurtured one another’s love of poetry. They also have created a safe haven in which to honestly explore life through words. This long-lived community is a testimony of graceful acceptance. In this place where women gather around words, we, the readers, are welcome to enter in.

Here we discover, as JoAnne Makela writes, "there is no other place that welcomes my words so…[and] the most important time is set aside for laughing." Tony Easterson, too, writes about this community in "Between Tuesdays," telling us that "at the game of careful stories, everybody wins." Susan Thurston Hamerski celebrates the birth of fellow poet, Mary Moore Easter, sharing the joy of successful community and inviting us to participate. She proclaims, with mirth, a delightful manifesto, imagining a world in which "we call out to each other more often in tenderness than in despair," a world where

"…we stand before each other, willing to confess
everything, and find it all reasonable
if not even good, or
at the very least, forgivable."

The wide world, as well as the intimate, unfolds in this anthology. Karen Sandberg celebrates birth [of any child, whether mine or hers, or all of ours] in the poem, "Baby Emma and Baby Sophie Smile at the World." Marie Vogl Gery invites the reader to "open the long-closed door of your heart," reminding us that we are, and that so much of the world is, made to be loved. Mary Moore Easter guides us to understand connections- between past and present, between people who love words, and even between strangers on a bus in Africa. She knows that we are joined together in "all the dreams we carry with us / through the streets from one place to the next."

This is a large world, emotionally and geographically. These poems deftly carry us from one place to the next. Riki Kölbl Nelson leads us on a journey into a cup of jasmine tea, which, through her memory, takes us to Shanghai and Beijing, Jogjakarta and Ho Chi Minh City. In following poems, she takes us to her birth land, Austria, then back to Minnesota to remind us of two important truths: "Travel is never easy;" and "home is where I am."

Sigi Leonhard escorts us into journeys of profound emotional depth: first onto a frozen lake, where the black ice is like dark glass; and then into the world of grief, "walking from one room / to another, images attacking the mind…" Her poems line up to reassure us that while "there is no solution" we somehow make art out of our lives, and that the small things we managed to make of our experiences,

"everything
Played its brief melody in the concert of daily life, and the music
They made together, including the dissonances, strange solos,
Unasked for arias, the music was ravishing."

The attribute, "ravishing," in its purest sense, applied to something able to fill us with emotion, particularly with joy, may be honestly applied to the poetry-music in Penchant. Scott King, the editor of this collection, believes these poets speak to the importance of history and community, that this is "a collection of poems that, despite the odds and against the rule of profit at all costs, attempts to make a difference." I am certain I am not the only reader who would affirm that the collection does indeed make a difference, as every word and deed and work of art, which move us to consider the multi-faceted truths of life and love, death and grief, make a difference by enriching us.