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Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011 02:47 pm

New collection brings Springfield poems to life

Collected Poems by Pat Smith, edited by John Knoll. Ariel Books, 2010. $19.95. The book is available online from www.amazon.com. and directly from the publisher: Blue Wind Press, 820 Miramar Avenue, Berkeley CA 94707. Contact info@bluewindpress.com.
The late Pat Smith was a former Springfield resident, one of the three founders of Brainchild, a women’s writing collective that lasted more than 30 years and published a number of books. Now Pat Smith, who died in St. Louis on Thanksgiving Day, 2009, has a book published, a volume of more than 150 fine poems, lovingly gathered and edited by her husband, John Knoll. Smith’s professional writing career was as an advocate for children’s rights with the State of Illinois. Her poetry is a creative expression of her embrace of life’s joys, sorrows and loves.

Pat Martin of Springfield, an accomplished and published poet herself, has selected several poems for commentary. About “Stopping in the Maze” (p. 137), Martin writes: “Immediately the reader is drawn into this deceptively simple story told in spare language: a group of friends exploring a maze, first running, then stopping to watch lines of ‘self-important ants’ vanishing down a crack. Suddenly, we’re told ‘This bench is big enough for all of us.’ We assume we’re all sitting together, unheard and unseen by a guard up on his lookout chair. We’re taken by surprise. We wonder who this guard is, what he’s guarding. Is he a metaphor for God, the ultimate elevated watcher? This existential angst pervades Pat Smith’s poetry. If the title didn’t tell us we’ve stopped in a maze, would we think we were in some kind of prison?”

Martin says of “At the Georgian” (p. 114): “I remember The Georgian, a restaurant; I missed it when it closed. The speaker in the poem was once part of a group of women who met there and sat at a corner booth that could hold 10. She seems to address the other members who no longer get together. We see the stainless steel counter, the booth, the waitress in white. That her white is ‘more surgical than a nurse’s green’ suggests that surgery has in some way caused the group’s dissolution. Why does she order eggs and toast on a Sunday afternoon? Is she trying to recapture what’s been lost? As I read the poem I felt my own sadness for the loss of another gathering place as well as lost friendships. The last two lines have a surprising twist: ‘we are not here any more/ We are back there,’ both at the corner table and in time. A gentle yet final, unalterable, closure.”

A child is speaking in “Come Out and Play.” Martin queries, “How old? Old enough to be enticed by a neighborhood boy with a camera and the opportunity to have her picture taken! She feels flattered and excited. She’s aware of her appearance, even a little vain. And she’s bold and innocent enough to say she’ll also take his picture. But what about the dime he took and won’t give back? We wonder: how did he get it; why won’t he return it; why is it so important to her?”

And finally, about “Springfield: April 1978,” (p. 67), Martin comments: “I love the personification of spring: a woman, the kind we’ve all known, who loves to keep people waiting, is tardy and oh-so-casual. ‘Oh, am I late?/ Anyone have a cigarette?’ The poem starts out speaking to the reader but in the fourth stanza it shifts to addressing Spring herself. The poet is resentful of Spring’s nonchalant self-importance. The poem’s inconsistent punctuation mirrors Spring’s unreliability. We wonder who is ‘us’ in the third stanza? How telling is it that in winter ‘we’ were able to ‘curl into each other’ and at the end ‘Autumn at least tells us no lies.’ Methinks there’s more involved than a capricious lady called Spring.”

Richard Ohmann, professor emeritus at Wesleyan University and the author of English in America: A Radical Perspective, says of Pat Smith’s collection, “Each poem promises a fresh adventure, and makes good the promise.”

Pat Martin is a Springfield poet whose Needles of Light, by Ann Hartsfield (her pen name), was reviewed last year in Illinois Times. Jackie Jackson, UIS professor emerita, is a Springfield author and poet. Contact her at jjack1@uis.edu.
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