By: Connie Colwell Miller.
Publisher: Sol Books, 68 pages, $9.95.
This Minnesota poet's collection is perfect to read as we transition from the glitz of summer to the more mundane days of autumn because these poems illuminate those ordinary moments which, taken together, compose a life. "I think we have forgotten/ why we wear our bodies" is how the collection begins, and subsequent poems remind us of the joys, as well as the aches, of our physicality.
With a light touch, Miller investigates family ties, natural cycles, life in and of the body, ranging from a mother nursing a newborn to a baby boy discovering his penis to an all-too-recognizable woman facing "the thing inside" that causes her to keep eating corn chips until she has to unfasten the top button of her jeans.
Readers of this collection will find plenty of local references (driving toward New Ulm, watching a hawk on the Minnesota River, looking at the night sky in Duluth), often described in language so right that it feels like meeting an old friend. I'm particularly fond of "the two/ breasts of Mankato" and the rows of evergreens "nude/ from the midriff down," but you'll find your own favorites.
By: Norita Dittberner-Jax.
Publisher: Whistling Shade Press, 72 pages, $12.
An autumnal note predominates another Minnesota poet's collection.
"Thanksgiving" opens on a familiar note, car doors slamming as the speaker's offspring, spouses and roommates in tow, parade into the house bearing covered dishes. "Ten of us laughing, elbow to elbow, what more could I ask?" the speaker says, and there's the rub. Coming together on just one day underscores our separateness for the rest of the year; we barely say hello before we say goodbye.
And so it seems with life, as children leave home, friends die, winter edges inexorably nearer. Titles of other poems suggest variations on this theme: "All the Lost Homes," "January, Two Weeks In," "Saying Good-Bye to My Daughter," "Regret for Things Lost."
In "Thanksgiving," the speaker says:
"This is the time
between the old and the new,
a thin layer between grief and possibility."
In accessible language and imagery, the poems in "The Watch" explore this twilighty axis with courage and candor.
HOUSE HELD TOGETHER BY WINDS
By: Sabra Loomis.
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 96 pages, $13.95.
This collection had me from the first lines of the opening poem, "Fur Coats" -- "There may have been a jaguar. Or a leopard found its way in from ancient parties on the lawn" -- and kept me through the whole volume, which I devoured in one sitting and then returned to repeatedly.
I'd call these poems magical if the word didn't suggest dwarves and video games. Think an older, deeper magic, hazily perceived, equal parts fear and fascination. Think fragmentary moments in childhood, richly experienced but only dimly understood. Now infuse these childhood memories with adult consciousness: pieces fall into place, but the gaps -- and the mysteries -- remain.
Loomis' language is musical without ostentation, whether she is evoking the natural world or the enigma of family bonds. Reading the poems aloud is a pleasure. Come to think of it, reading them silently is a pleasure, too.
Patricia Hagen is a professor of English at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.