Sunday, June 3, 2007

Poetry Monday: Ellen Bass

If you've never read the whole of Mules of Love by Ellen Bass' , you're in for a treat. I wish I could read it again for the first time. I've taught it several times in my creative writing classes, and Ellen has generously come to speak to my students about her work.

I've taken writing workshops with Ellen, and she is a gifted teacher. She has a way with saying just the right thing (and of letting silence do its important work too . . . in teaching and in writing, she's a master of negative space). She also has a great sense of humor!
Now Ellen has a new book out, The Human Line--just released by Copper Canyon Press. Look what Billy Collins says about The Human Line: "Ellen Bass's frighteningly personal poems about sex, love, birth, motherhood, and aging are kept from mere confession by the graces of wit, an observant eye, an empathetic heart, and just the right image deployed at just the right time. The Human Line is full of real stunners."
Below is "Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh," a poem from The Human Line. (Click here to read more poems from the book.)

And exclusive to this blog, here is some commentary by Ellen about the poem: Ellen says, "I was working on a poem in which I needed a word for Janet, the woman with whom I have lived, loved, and raised children for twenty-five years. Searching through an old thesaurus--I still use the thesaurus my older brother handed down to me, published in 1962--I came across such a wonderful plethora of words that I thought they deserved a poem of their own."

Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh (by Ellen Bass)

I can't always refer to the woman I love,
my children’s other mother,
as my darling, my beloved,
sugar in my bowl. No.
I need a common, utilitarian word
that calls no more attention to itself
than nouns like grass, bread, house.
The terms husband and wife are perfect for that.
Hassling with PG&E
or dropping off dry cleaning,
you don't want to say,
The light of my life doesn't like starch.
Don't suggest spouse—a hideous word.
And partner is sterile as a boardroom.
Couldn't we afford a term
for the woman who carried that girl in her arms
when she was still all promise,
that boy curled inside her womb?
And today, when I go to kiss her
and she says, "Not now, I'm reading,"
still she deserves a syllable or two—if only
so I can express how furious
she makes me. But
maybe it's better this way —
no puny pencil stub of a word.
Maybe these are exactly the times
to drag out the whole galaxy
of endearments: Buttercup,
I should say, lambkin, mon petit chou.
Set down War and Peace,
just for a moment, and lift
your ruby lips to mine.
And talking to the dishwasher repairman,
the vacuum cleaner salesclerk, the woman
in the Blue Cross billing department
I could explain that I'd already sent the co-pay
for my soulmate, my duckling,
my chocolate-covered cream puff.
Maybe it would brighten her day, too.
Hello, I might say, you precious,
you jewel, O queen among queens,
darling, honey pie, angel,
my sweet patootie.

* * * * * * *
Ellen Bass's poetry books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)and Mules of Love (BOA, 2002). She is also co-author of The Courage to Heal (HarperCollins). She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University, in Santa Cruz, and at beautiful locations around the world, including Big Sur, British, Columbia, and Mallorca.


Montgomery Maxton said...

from some sample poems on her site to so googling she has been added to my "must buy and read" list.


sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the pointer, Kate.

Anne Haines said...

I really love her poetry, have for quite a while -- haven't yet picked up the new book, but am looking forward to it. Thanks for posting this!

Kate Evans said...