Skein of Light
The luminous poems in Karen McPherson’s Skein of Light pull and gather toward horizons of reflection. In language that repeatedly reveals what it can and cannot do, the poet maps landscapes of memory where sharp-edged questions disturb the stillness. The personal and human are deftly threaded through a natural world made legible in flights of birds, bending grasses, rock striations. And through this open work, the reader steps into a place both familiar and unknown.
Publication date: October 1, 2014
Short List, Eric Hoffer Grand Prize
Karen McPherson is the author of the poetry chapbook Sketching Elise (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and her poems and translations have appeared in numerous literary journals.
A professor of French at the University of Oregon, she has also published two scholarly monographs and a book-length translation into English of poetic essays by Quebec poet Louise Warren. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her life partner, Elise. Her web site is http://www.kmcphersonpoet.com.
Praise for Skein of LIght
“‘In everything / there is an underside, an other hand, / something to which we are not listening,’ writes Karen McPherson and whether the poet is writing of dreamscape or landscape, McPherson’s gorgeous meditative poems dwell in the shifting meanings of that listening. From every angle, present or past, we see how wonderfully tricky yet compelling seeing or understanding or representing anything is, how transient words are when it comes to translating the momentary they try to name. Though, of course, in the joy of that ‘perpetual translation,’ McPherson would have it no other way, and as her readers, we, too, can be grateful for the endlessly exquisite possibilities these poems embody.”
— Maxine Scates
“Even in the play or pique of questions, McPherson’s fierce eye has a relentless focus on the resonant image, her ear on the alluring rhyme. Meanwhile, beneath these poems a clock ticks like a metronome to guide us toward a kind of balance where we might, momentarily, rest and draw strength. Powerful work.”
— John C. Morrison
Excerpts from Skein of Light
Royal Quiet Deluxe
With each smack and thwip I’m back with the noisy cousins
in the blueberry field’s hot heavy sun next to the two
small shacks where writing’s going on.
Fathers at work. Flies buzzing torn screens, clacking industry,
punctuated silences. Papers strewn, blotters
blotted, scrunched-up brows.
In the cabin kitchen blousy-aproned women fuss
at the pump. Kerosene stove. Citronella and seaweed
on a naptime wind, shhhh . . .
Matching finger’s print to cold metal, then sweep
across, conducting timpani then triangle. Each carriage
returns me to the unfinished story.
Beneath the morning’s silent listening
an evening’s bells are wringing hands.
Under this ancient lakebed marshes sing
sad arpeggios. The mountains ring,
unseen, forgotten, vast expanse of sand.
Small creatures in the grass are listening
to how the harrier’s thrust of wing
propels her gliding on an ample
wind just inches overhead. Blackbird sings,
watches the harrier land. In everything
there is an underside, an other hand,
something to which we are not listening.
In every turn of phrase there is a ping
of something tarnished, something contraband
we do not hear. But as I watch the willet sing
in flight and catch the pattern on her wings,
seen only from below, two vivid bands
of black and white, the morning is silent. Listening,
I hear the ancient lakebed marshes sing.
A Map of Maps
for my grandfather, the geographer
Childhood was a mischief of maps,
coded imaginings on every wall—
quilts of the prairie states, Wabash
calabash, scrawl of river lace
Sault Ste. Marie to the Missouri
confluence, periscopic contourings
of range and ridge and rim,
graded blues to the oceans’
deepest troughs, crosshatched
elevations of tectonic plates and slides.
The Mississippi Delta spilled
into my bathtub. Climbing
the stairs a History of the West
1830 to 1910. Above the guestroom
dresser, Antarctica—misshapen dinner
plate in alabaster,
tiny black names etched
around its chipped and fluted edge.
Being anywhere meant standing
on a map. Eyes were compasses,
arms protractor, spine and shoulders
in a back pocket always a notebook
for the legends and the scale.
A child could get lost as long as she
had a map to draw the tracings
of that errancy. Men made them.
But a girl could set out:
Deep South, Far East, True North.
Kind of Blue
after Miles Davis
Slow bass thrumming to a hardtack
shoreline where burnt-sugar grasses riff
the kettle hills. Look up! A high manuscript
is signing as inkspots gather, pull as one
over the southern horizon.
Improv. Spectrum plays chromatic
scales. Umber and cadmium nudge
the borders. A rock is a bird is a rock.
In the Andes a weaver names the constellations:
llama and cria, fox and condor.
That sharp white line cuts this world
in two. Last evening one thick blue stroke
made us see the ocean. Now rock
striations, penciled grasses impose the weft
and warp, and I wait at the loom.
Something comes into our sleep.
There is an ocean underneath
this desert. And a desert underneath
that ocean. Unutterably sad, she said,
where she lay in the cradle of a fallen, burned-out juniper.
When you close your eyes, the land will hold you.
In celebration of the publication of Skein of Light, Airlie Press has commissioned a limited-edition letterpress broadside of one of Karen McPherson’s poems. Signed and numbered by the author.