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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 10:16 am

Out of darkness come Needles of Light


Needles of Light by Ann Hartsfield. BookSurge Publishing. $12.99.

Needles of Light doesn’t claim to be an easy book to read. “Many of these poems are dark, darker than the reader will be comfortable with; but I believe the path to light must include acknowledging the darkness that lives within us all and coming to terms with it,” writes Ann Hartsfield in its introduction.

This is truth in advertising. Most of the first dozen poems deal with a drunken father who brutalizes his wife and rapes his daughter. Child welfare intervenes but that adds a new layer of horror as sisters are separated. There are echoes of Sylvia Plath because — let’s face facts — Plath has a lock on the words ‘Daddy’ and ‘Nazi.’ Even so, “Collaborator” has a vivid child’s eye view of a marriage gone horribly wrong, the ‘I’ stark in its isolation:

Daddy made his blood red
wine trampling Mama’s
flesh, grinding her bones,
so fragile.
have watched them
drink this sparkling
brew, across the table,
toasting another year,
with shorn hair
gaily saluting
her Nazi lover,
in the crushing
of her own spirit.

The tide turns at page 13, “Becoming a Foster Child,” when Ann goes to live with a kind couple. Suddenly she has “a room of my own/ a closet of clothes/ a clock radio/ a 45 rpm record player/ college.” The poems that follow give hope to any child who’s ever been harmed that it’s possible to find the resilience to love and be loved and to become a successful parent. The cycle of abuse can stop.

Needles of Light by Ann Hartsfield. BookSurge Publishing. $12.99.
Ann Hartsfield is the birth name of Patricia Martin, who is well known in local poetry circles for her many readings and her appearances on the weekly public access channel program Works in Progress, produced by Peg Knoepfle. How many of the pieces are autobiographical? “Fewer than half,” she says, “unless authenticity of feeling counts as autobiographical, in which case all are.”

Pat retired from the attorney general’s office after a long career as an executive secretary. She’s been in a committed relationship with Don Martin for 33 years, “longer than most marriages!” she laughs. Her son and daughter are grown and she spends a great deal of time reading, attending writers’ workshops, and participating in local writing groups. Her Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in French is from Eastern Illinois University and she’s also taken several graduate classes in writing at University of Illinois Springfield. Ann Hartsfield/Pat Martin’s work has been published in Eureka Literary Magazine, Illinois Times, All the Women Were Heroes, and At the Edges of Our Comfort.

Some of the 67 poems written over the course of two decades have the keen sense of wonder about nature that one might find in Mary Oliver’s work. The title poem begins with the lines:

needles of light
embroider the back
of a weary doe keeping watch over
the fawn suckling her nipple

Needles of Light is straightforward enough to be read by anyone, but other writers will get additional enjoyment from her occasional use of forms such as two pantoums and a villanelle. Eccentric typography works in “Falling from Grace” to show a mind fragmenting into madness. She uses neologisms and run-on words to good effect, such as describing summer sunstorms. Sometimes her images are flashes of lightning, brief and searing on the inner eye, as in “Jezebel.” In contrast, “Ghost Story” layers subtle details to arrive at “Between fibers gossamer as silk/ she sleeps, leaving no indentation,/ no rumples, no sign that she was ever here.”

The book is dedicated to Max, her beloved mixed breed dog (“part West Highland terrier, part English sheepdog and whatever else got helixed into his DNA”). Several poems cover the 15 months from his stroke to his burial and beyond when it was hard to believe that such a close companion was gone. Look for the tiny picture of Max on the back cover.

Some poems chuckle with humor such as “Moneypenny Loved Double-O-7.” It’s easy to empathize with “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” — being the fairest of them all is doomed because Beauty itself is not fair; it’s all too willing to attach itself to a newer, younger woman.

Needles of Light begins with the darkness of a child huddling in fear inside a wardrobe and ends with blue skies and a rising sun. It’s a profoundly satisfying journey to take alongside a guide who’s been to the Underworld and lived to turn her face to the light.

The book can be purchased at (BookSurge Publishing, November 2009, 92 pages, $12.99) or at her public reading and book signing at Trout Lily at 218 S. 6th Street on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 11:30 a.m.

Lola 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. It’s available at