Thursday, May 9, 2013



(Time Being Books, St. Louis, Missouri, 2011) 

(Salmon Run Press, Chugiak, AK, 2001)

(Plain View Press, Austin, 1998)

I thought to read three of C.B. Follett's books to see what might surface from a big sample of her poems. I observed right away her mastery of description.  But I would want something more from a poem than its ability to describe.  And Follett delivers. What elevates these words from description to poems is the ability to present (and describe) a situation or object in a way that affects the reader deeply, and in at times unexpected ways.  What I found most effective were the poems that didn't just deliver their revelations but delivered them with such keenness they were like knives to the gut.

In One Bird Falling, such a poem is

Hard, These Moments of Daughtering

to watch your  mother sinking in shadows
to watch her clinging to vestiges of control
to know they too are slipping loose.


to find the tender openings for suggestions
to get past her verbal paper cuts
to see her tiny sips of food
the barely wetting of her mouth,
her determination


to get calls in the night,
to be a continent away,
to be told what we should be doing
when we already know
when we've already tried.

I bet many readers who've taken care of elderly mothers will empathize with much in this poem--I do.  The notion of "daughtering" in the title is well-conceived. Not only is it a play on the normative mothering but it makes the role of being a daughter a verb rather than a passive state.  And, when taking care of Mom, I did find that I had to proactively work at being--remaining who I am--her daughter.  Because it was "hard" to experience what's listed in the poem.  I don't know what's more difficult: the "verbal paper cuts" (my mother was a nice person so perhaps it hurt more that she didn't realize the effect of certain of her words; nor does it console much to understand that her words more manifested her helplessness rather than attack at me) than her "determination" in the face of the inevitable.

It's interesting that Follett here lapses to an abstraction, "determination," rather than does what she does so well elsewhere which is to "show not say."  I believe in her choice's authenticity, though.  She didn't slip as a poet; she only acknowledged how words cannot capture (at least in my personal experience with my mother's daying) what underlies this "determination": a battle against, and a difficulty in accepting, the unstoppable approach of death.

In Visible Bones, a poem with similarly powerful decriptive powers is

Clay Bowls

I make them from Sandstone Buff.
The shape of them, the cool rounding
lulls me into seamless meditation.

Their sides rise
under pressure from my thumbs,
my flexed fingers, wetness
runs off them,
the after-rain smell of them,
clean and primal.

They vary, deep
with straight canyon walls,
or flared, some are ridged
with the tracks of my cupped hands.

I want these bowls to hold grain, soup
to be useful, bring the earth's comfort
to the moment of food.


Over the countries
people have empty bowls.
They do not feel what I feel,
are not filled:
their spirits, their bodies.

This poem made me look at my pottery collection with new eyes.  Sadly, with appreciation in future sightings of these bowls would be the memory of this poem--how they've diminished somewhat in becoming merely decorative rather than also utilitarian.

Not to work, not to contribute--instead to exist passively as, occasionally, to be viewed (from a distance--can be a diminishment. For clay bowls and other objects ... as well as people.  Follett gently offers here a lesson.

So far, especially with my described effect of "knives to the gut," I may give the impression that Follett's poems need to deliver some pain to be effective.  Not so (though I find them most effective for that pang they generate).  In At the Turning of the Light, a poem that also manifests the poet's descriptive and philosophically-oriented bent is the very clever "About a Small Note Card From Him to Her."

"About a Small Note Card From Him to Her" is clever in part for its structure.  There are six sections: Object, Shape, Contour, Consideration, Dimension and Message. In between each section is a small drawing of the profile of a note-card in various positions: e.g., laid on its side, standing up, and open.  The six prose-poem texts to each section offers description and/or meditations on the note card, e.g.

Insubstantial. Weighted by what is said there. How could it carry so much in its small, off-white, paper-folded self? It was part of something else: the vase, the dropping red-petaled heads, and yet, complete in itself. All that is needed, contained. A few words carrying the weight of many.

The poem’s last section is

I have not told you yet about the words, those that send between the writer’s hand and the receiving heart some message beyond edges and plane: that carry more than the meaning of paper, ink, craft, that bring the being of the one to the being of the other—Zen and tactile. You don’t need to know the words, it’s enough to know they are there, bringing completion to the purpose of construction.

Follett didn't need to share a particular message because the moment is universal enough to claim the imagination of readers.  A love note.  A gift note.  A note of apology. A holiday or birthday note.  Follett doesn't need to waste words on the obvious.  Entonces, what you are left with instead is a new reconsideration of the note card ... and perhaps how powerful can be the most tiny thing.  How powerful can be the smallest gesture.  How powerful can be the briefest moment. How thoughtful if not careful we might be at times at living.


It's worth expressing a note of appreciation on the fine production of these books, graced by reproductions of CB Follett's own artworks.  Well done!


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue.  She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books.  Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics. Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.

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