Way back in October, 2008, I posted a Poem of the Day which was Deborah Pope's Leaving. I can't remember how or why I came into contact with her poetry, I only know that the moment when I finished reading that first poem of hers was breathtaking, bewitching and humbling. Deborah Pope is a poet of consummate skill, vision and talent, her poems echoing so strongly, with such imagery, of emotion and time and place. Her words depict as stark and brutally open a view on to her life as you could ever imagine, her imagery and sensory evocation so sublime you feel every sensation hinted at. The only other poets to affect me the way she manages to do are Basho and Rod McKuen, rarefied company indeed. In Fanatic Heart Passage highlights a perfect transition from the surroundings to emotions, in Loose Ends she depicts the moment of her father's departure from the family home to his sudden return. On the Mountain, written for Judith McDade, is a simply beautiful farewell; open, uncomplicated and honest.
On the Mountain
- for Judith McDade
You would have been climbing all morning, moving patiently, carefully, over the sunlit rocks, bending to the pitch of the slope, breathing the pine, feeling the cooling air. Somewhere in those hours you would have passed the timberline, moving into the time of the mountains, climbing closer to the beginning, becoming older with every reach. If you had looked back at the green camp lying between two fingers of snow, the small world you were leaving must have seemed no more than the moss at your feet, the clouds at your hand, when you turned and stepped into the sky.
Even in death you are more vivid than any of us, more vivid than this day, a high, deep cloudless blue, the full light of late October, the autumn-turning trees. All over the ground, numberless, lie fallen ginkgo leaves, bright as stones underwater, lovely, yellow ginkgo leaves, pooling the shade, the colour of your wind-scattered hair. Nothing I know answers for this.
Mortal World, Pope's second collection, is perhaps my favourite, wandering through life and love and emotion with exquisite detail, juxtaposed against the environment, the travels, the events of life. Leaving (see above for link) is amongst my favourite of her poems. Bloodspell evokes the physical and emotional moment and aftermath of liaison, of awakening and wondering. There is No One to Tell This Story to reflects on family, on love and her relationship with her sons. Other poems range from commentaries on newspaper articles to travels in Oxford and Nice to moments with her family.
I think you stopped wanting me then, that last afternoon past the pier, not in any way you thought of, but that way that it happens, so that later you only know somewhere you left it behind. I remember you were swinging the children, your shoulders taut, wet, rimmed in the lowering light, smooth like cream I wanted to sink my teeth into, I could smell your sweat, your sweet oil close in the wind, in the scrim of rain widening over water, the horizon unmooring, and thunderheads rising to canyons in a sky turned the colour of veins in my wrist. Still no rumbles, no fissures of light had appeared, and you flung out to catch the breakers at their full. I wanted to be beautiful, wanted not to turn back. Then I looked at the children, tracing,absorbed, so suddenly small on the sand, and I gathered them up like strange treasure and ran.
Falling Out of the Sky is the final volume of Pope's poems that I own. In many ways it carries on where Mortal World leaves off, touching on old loves, family and scares. It is a more reflective collection, from the introspective Lines from the Book of Days, to the hushed terror of Mammogram and Biopsy. Pope is wonderful at weaving emotion with the world around, articulating the seasons, the feel of the moment against the backdrop of her emotional state. Pavane for Sleeping Children is a tender depiction of a mother's love for her children, both sorrowful and weary.
The Angel Poems
Tell it, she said, the Angel who sometimes speaks to me, and so I told the only story I knew, though I gave myself another name. You know the story, too, but you know it by another name. That is the story.
Fanatic Heart; ISBN 0-8071-1748-x, Louisiana State University Press
Mortal World; ISBN 0-8071-1983-0, Louisiana State University Press
Falling Out of the Sky; ISBN 0-8071-2360-9, Louisiana State University Press