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An Everyday Thing

August 20, 2018

The title of Nancy Richardson’s volume An Everyday Thing comes from the title of one of the poems, about the May 4, 1970 shootings at Kent State, which includes the line “isn’t death an everyday thing for everyone?”

I was interested in this volume because the poems are about Ohio, but many of them are about the baby boomer experience, people who “sat in front of the TV…the day Robert Kennedy was shot,” think a phrase like “worse than the brownshirts” should be applied to something that happened in 1975–maybe because that’s where the poet first heard it—and remember listening to music on “reel-to-reel tapes.” Although I generally think writers should include their personal point of view, this volume of poetry may be an example of going a little too far with the personal, not generalizing the experiences enough to appeal to younger people or those from different parts of the U.S.A. or the world.

Even a poem about something I’ve experienced turns out to be something I know more about than the poem gets across. “Patience,” subtitled “the voting machines of Ohio,” is about the dearth of voting machines in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election; I remember the way the people of Gambier, Ohio and the students of Kenyon College waited in line for hours to vote in the 2004 election. Although the poem describes how “resignation waits in long lines,” everyone who was there tells me that it was more like determination.

It’s interesting to contrast a prose poem, “Bounced,” about working on the Kerry campaign in 2004 Ohio with what it’s like to work on a local congressional campaign fourteen years later. I guess the experience of running out of “chum, you know, buttons and bumper stickers” is universal, although we’re now worrying less about whether volunteers want “Starbucks and chicken Caesar salads” and more about how we can use the limited time we have to knock on doors and record information about what we learn from talking to registered voters. I do love the part where “the Voter Protection people came and put on a ‘training.’ They divided us into smaller and smaller groups.” That would still be happening except that now we’re depending less on campaign coordination and more on our own local efforts at organization.

There are some good lines in these poems. I like “our talk is the conversation of waves,/ more movement than meaning” from “Portland, June 1991.” I also love the last two lines of “Repurposed,” about watching a movie in a repurposed shopping mall, “satisfied that we are in the 21st century/in America, where reality is fantasy.” And she certainly does get Ohio right: “in this city in Ohio where the sky/was a leaden haze.”

The metaphor of the poem “Untying” is beautifully carried out. It’s my favorite poem of the volume:
The motorcyclist, wooly blond
soft skin, left me in a midnight
phone call, breathing silence.
The painter of orange abstracts
pausing in mid-sentence, moved
to the coast of Nova Scotia
where he sent for me in letters.
There were others. Some right
at the wrong time. Some wrong
for all time. I carry their voices
in my ear, their whispers borne
like the dead. Small knots
in the brain. I untie them.
Giving the details in this poem works well (although I was initially a little thrown off by the image of “wooly blond…skin”) because readers can substitute their own examples of lovers who were “right at the wrong time” or “wrong for all time.”

So I learned something from reading this volume of poetry, that a writer who wants to use specific details from her own life to evoke particular feelings in others should try to state the universal experience she’s reaching for at some point, rather than assuming that others will react in the same situation the same way she does.

My thanks to Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit for making me aware of this volume of poetry through Poetic Book Tours, and to the poet, Nancy Richardson, for sending me a copy of the volume.

 

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2018 11:35 am

    Sounds like there is a great deal to think about in this volume of poetry. Thank you for being on the blog tour for this one.

    • August 20, 2018 8:40 pm

      Certainly it loosened some “knots” in my brain!

  2. Gwen Bailey permalink
    August 20, 2018 8:35 pm

    I remember. Such things cannot be unseen; they cannot be unfelt. I always respond to JFK’s election, his death, the moon landing, Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King’s and Bobby Kennedy’s murders, the killing at Kent State with emotions appropriate for my ages at the times they happened.

    • August 20, 2018 8:39 pm

      You were alive when JFK was elected? I was too young to know anything about him until after his death. I do remember the moon landing, because we were allowed to stay up late to watch it on TV!

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