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Wednesday, May 14, 2008 08:25 pm

The sensuality of everyday life

Springfield’s Celia Wesle publishes engaging poetry collection

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Light: Paintings and Poems By Celia Wesle, self-published, 2007, 116 pages, $22.50.
Untitled Document Imagine sitting in your favorite coffeehouse, surrounded by paintings done in a riot of color. A wise friend is sharing a latte, along with stories from her life that make you smile in recognition. Subtract the caffeine and you’ve got the experience of reading Celia Wesle’s Light: Paintings and Poems. Now retired from the State Board of Education, Wesle has been a teacher, artist, poet, and community activist, as well as a daughter, wife, mother, friend, and lover. Like Georgia O’Keefe, she finds sensuality in everyday life. For example, she describes her young stirrings upon seeing her first naked man, a replica of Michelangelo’s “David” at Beloit College. A long-term relationship takes an unexpected twist in “Intimacy,” which begins with lines such as “his wrist upon my temple/ his finger on my lip” and “He lowers my back. . . .” With wicked delight, she reveals that he’s her dentist:

Do I love him? Of course.
How else could I bear
to have him so close,
his hand in my mouth.
But, it is a secret from him
and everyone else — except you
and you, and you.

Her subjects are often domestic: ironing a handkerchief in the era of Kleenex, tending plants, hot pursuit with murder in mind and flyswatter in hand. She shares driving, swimming, teaching, traveling, bathing, mending, and painting, as well as coping with the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Some of the most touching poems are about her parents and her mother’s decline in a Wisconsin nursing home.
Wesle deals with the mortality of her friends and her own aging process. She observes her hands in “At the End of My Arms”: “Suddenly now they’re so ugly/ Are these mine?/ I notice in the mirror/ large scattered brown spots. . . .” In typical Celia fashion she drenches her best feature in color: “But the nails are shapely/ I paint them red!”
The overwhelming theme is captured in the title and the first poem, “Light — My Totem”:

Light coming through jewels
Diamond brilliance
Reflections from my ruby
That circle of emeralds my mother gave me
Colored goblets on the window sill
Quartz crystal on my table.
One hundred watts in all sockets
Sunlight on freshly fallen snow
Moonlight on the wavy lake.


The poems in the book’s various chapters — “Blue,” “Red,” “Orange,” “Green,” and “Brown” — appear on the appropriate color background. No hint is given, so the reader has the fun of puzzling out the theme of each section. The interior illustrations, originally in watercolor, oil, and collage, range from abstracts to portraits. The book’s production was a team effort. Carol Manley, Linda Lenzini, and Anita Stienstra, owner of Adonis Designs Press, helped Wesle create this first “brainchild” award-series publication, honoring a member’s life work. (The Springfield writers’ group brainchild — with a small b — was started in the early ’70s.) The use of a print-on-demand publisher allowed its members full control over the process. Author and Illinois Times guest poetry editor Manley’s introduction highlights the themes of light, color, and Wesle’s ability to live comfortably in her own body with grace and good humor. Wesle’s previous publications include poems in Cheshire, Friend of Silence, Mosaics I, Mosaics II, All the Women Were Heroes, and Stop the Violence. This capstone of her career in the arts is beautifully showcased in a large-format volume to treasure. You won’t leave it in the living room to impress the neighbors — you’ll have it in your kitchen to keep you company.

A reception honoring Wesle and her book will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, June 9, in Lincoln Library’s Bicentennial Room. If you’ve ordered Light: Paintings and Poems from www.lulu.com, please bring it for Wesle to sign.
Lola L. Lucas is the author of At Home in the Park: Loving a Neighborhood Back to Life, about Springfield in general and Enos Park in particular. Lucas’ poetry has appeared in Watermarks, Vintage Visions, Alchemist Review, and Illinois Times.
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