Last issue I had intended to publish an essay about the power of protest poetry, particularly highlighting the work in the 2016 anthology Of Poetry and Protest: from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, edited by Philip Cushway and Michael Warr, against the backdrop of more unjust verdicts, more tragic shootings, and more international terrorism targeting Muslims. But honestly, as I contemplated my intended task, my exhaustion from the lived experience of all the spring strife at Evergreen, of the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, of the death of a dear friend, and of world events got the best of me. As the WIP deadline loomed, the writing just wouldn’t come. I missed the deadline.
The inertia I continue to feel reminds me of how I struggled to create last summer, too. I found that writing two essays, including one with an accompanying poem about Orlando, zapped my capacity to generate anything that registered on the same emotional plane as those pieces. I wrote something lighter, something that my brain and heart could handle: an essay about writing sonnets collaboratively, an essay that demonstrated how writing can come from places that are not always conceived initially from the need to produce narratives consciously from a social justice lens.
These summer months feel the same and different. While I could justify all too easily skipping this month, too, the difference is that I know that I have a responsibility to write. Something. It is not a responsibility to the dedicated readers of WIP. It is not a ploy to keep me in good standing with the indefatigable WIP editor. It is a commitment to myself. It is a knowing that anything I write breaks through the wall that I easily can construct around myself that encourages me to believe that I have nothing of value to say.
So, the deadline is here. I need to write. I need to trust that the very nature of writing is its own political act that fulfills my obligations to this important publication. I need to accept that I cannot produce my best work every time I write. My job is to write. Period.
I reach back to my recent April trip to Ireland where I celebrated a friend’s book launch and gave a few poetry readings. One early morning I found myself in the garden of one of Ireland’s most prominent poetry editors, Salmon Poetry’s Jessie Lendennie. In 1981, cognizant of the trends in Irish poetry that kept women’s voices at the margins, Lendennie began Salmon Poetry. Her vision continues today in a modest bookstore in Ennistymon, tucked between the Cliffs of Moher and the City of Limerick (or at least that is my orientation).
Through curating Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry (Salmon Poetry, 2016), Lendennie accomplishes the creation of a poetic history where most anthologies fail. Her collection’s assemblage of Irish and American poets speaks to one woman’s vision, resilience, and belief in poetry to move the world.
As moved by her garden as I was by her storied place in international arts and letters, not to mention her hospitality, I wrote the following poem on my only morning in Ennistymon:
for Jessie Lendennie
Before the day takes off, before
I watch the crow lift into the morning sky
as if from out of the painting above
the fireplace mantle, I step into her garden
waiting and breathe dear life
into my restless, wanderlusted lungs.
One wall of the garden a wild tangle
of hair, the other an ocean of ivy.
A single pink tulip towers
toward the day from the ground
below, reminding me
that the year is still
early, to say nothing of this morning,
to say plenty that I’ll leave unsaid
about last night’s reading by the fire
crackling inside. At one end of the garden,
an arched passageway to the house
listing with books meticulously
chosen. At the other end an unfinished
room, a sanctuary city all by itself.
Between both, a door that opens
to a shed of stacked doors
stored beside the garden’s edge
as if an unnecessary caution
to the tempered wind. And no doors
hoarded here are needed
when the garden, so lovely
this singular morning, dares
in its absence of the obvious,
in its rich, eager soil, to behold
every stem anticipated
of her wild, waking dreams.
Rereading the poem today, I’m reminded of the adage that hope springs eternal. From summer’s vantage point, I’ve needed some hope to restore myself after a spring where I witnessed chaos, experienced the most unnerving workplace threats, and endured the exhaustion that kind of trauma produces. I think everyone I know has needed some hope, something to attempt to lift one out of the shock, grief, and other disorienting emotions that continue to accompany these spaces.
The poem I wrote for Jessie seems the appropriate place to land this month, for I find myself in need of what her garden offered with such little effort other than my waking up and stepping into a source of potential growth. In today’s uncertain, agitated local, national, and global climates, this recollected memory feels like hope. And this planting myself in hope’s sights is one of the reasons I continue to write and read poetry.
Sandra Yannone’s poetry has appeared nationally in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Gay and Lesbian Review, Calyx: A Journal, Lambda Book Report, and Weave. She is currently a member of the faculty and directs the Writing Center at The Evergreen State College.