“Mouthbrooders, by Amy Nawrocki, is a collection of contemplative poems, an exploration of the relationship between the creature self and the life of the mind.”
Read the entire review at Necromancy Never Pays, Jeanne Griggs’s blog about all things literary. I’m grateful to her for her review.
Jeanne Griggs is a reader, writer, traveler, and ailurophile. She directs the writing center at Kenyon College and plays violin in the Knox County Symphony. Check out her new collection Postcard Poems, available from Broadstone Books.
In Postcard Poems, Jeanne Griggs presents a family travel album. These vacation notes take us to iconic destinations, out-of-the-way downtowns, beach rentals, bookstores, art museums, and two-star motels. We hear the voice of a speaker longing to taste stale Cheerios and sip hot tea, watch the children wade in the surf, and make the distances between long ago and yesterday a little more tolerable. Griggs crafts a quiet cadence of absence to say: “Here I am now, missing you.” In the end, this collection helps the traveler in all of us realize that we are never “just visiting.” We piece together the narrative of our life’s travels one postcard at a time.
—Amy Nawrocki, author of Mouthbrooders & The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory
My explorations of voice and point of view have led me to the creation and publication of Mouthbrooders which is now available through Homebound Publications and where ever books are sold.
During six months of vocal cord paralysis, author and professor Amy Nawrocki turned to the written word and fell in love with language again. The result of this exploration is her stunning collection Mouthbrooders, full of the sounds and their echoes—ravens screeching, eggs cracking, and acorns falling. Faucets drip, pens brood, souvenirs slip through fingers. As Nawrocki struggles to find her own voice again, she midwives the voices of catastrophe, of memory, and of the small miracles of everyday life.
A few years back, I ran a workshop at the Miller Memorial Library in Hamden, CT, where we discussed our connections (personal and literary) to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll’s book never really grabbed me as a young reader, and after reflecting as an adult, my associations were more negative than positive. This isn’t really surprising, since at their roots, the imagery and adventures in the children’s tale are scary and uncomfortable.
On the other hand, rereading the text, I began to notice the language and the way that Alice (and Carroll) described the processes of transformation. In particular, at the bottom of the rabbit hole, she encounters the “small passage” and “[longs] to get out of that dark hall and wander those beds of bright flowers.” As she laments, she wishes that she could “shut up like a telescope.” The phrase struck me as peculiar, both visual and metaphorical. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head, and so eventually wrote “Shutting Up Like a Telescope” to probe my own ideas about fitting into spaces.
Here is a different exploration of my reflections on Alice and her adventures. I wrote this exploratory memoir following the workshop:
Finding My Inner Alice
I come to Alice from a tree branch, from a separate limb. Maybe I’m the Cheshire Cat, watching myself watch her. I have no immediately accessible memory of time or place. No matter. I see from my pocket watch that I’ve arrived too late. She’s already gone down, and only by looking back—or looking through—or catching my reflection in my own looking glass—does she manifest.
mother read to us often, and I recall, impressionistically, other books: their
muted green covers, gold edged pages and pen-and-ink drawings. This is how I
can render Toad and Rat and Badger in my mind from Wind in the Willows. I can still touch those pages.
Though I can’t
pinpoint how I came to know her, it’s not hard to picture Alice, her blue dress
and white pinafore painted like so many others in the Technicolor of Disney.
But whether her image is a piece from a specific moment or a combination of
moments, I don’t know for sure.
it seems that my memory of Alice begins on page 8. I imagine that I’ve seen
this drawing before, and that the first time I saw it I felt something. The
image of long-necked Alice, stretched like silly putty and uncomfortably large,
frightens me even now. It conjures in my mind a sense memory, something
tactile, as if I can feel the vertebrae in my own neck separate. But unlike the
thrill of seeing each inch of your life penciled on a hallway wall as you grow
and age, I see Alice’s elastic neck as strangulation, instead of release. The
key I need is out of reach.
watching my feet disappear underneath me, I watch a body in torment, and just
for good measure the Queen of Hearts has come along to say with all the echo of
childhood discomfort: “Off with her head!” The rabbit hole is dark, and the
looking glass reflects a fat little girl who can’t stand to be seen.
Alice’s neck is most vivid because it speaks to my nine-year-old self and the torture that my own body inflicted on me. Betrayed by the little cakes and drinks of “cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast;” betrayed by birthdays and elongating limbs, adolescence simply became “curiouser and curiouser,” and I became sadder and sadder. Even now, Alice’s long neck frightens me out of my skin.
Such was the idea put forth by painter (and frame maker) Charles Prendergast in explaining his theory of crafting frames. Recently, I had the chance to learn about Charles, and his better-known brother Maurice, at the New Britain Museum of American Art and to experience their collaborations. My feature article “The Painting and Its Frame” explores the relationship between the image and frame. You can find the full text at Woven Tail Press. Here is Maurice’s Approaching Storm framed by Charles’s wood frame with gilding and paint.
. . . Often my museum experience brings me to artists who have completely abandoned the frame—whether it’s painters whose raw canvas stands on its own or sculptures and installations where the boundaries are figurative.” Read More
About this time every year, when the leaves begin to fall and the soil is perpetually wet and cushiony, I begin to long, strangely enough, for comfortable measurements. The three deer who’ve visited our lawn came back this second morning, so that’s a start. The tiny, unrecognizable bird (sparrow? finch?) fluttered in and out of the green down of a dense cedar pine. She disappeared into the brush, gone long enough for me to miss her, then darted back into sight without a “word to tell me who [she] was.”
Scanning the autumn woods and contemplating birds and future snow, I spot a recently constructed woodpile and recall Robert Frost’s poem “The Wood-pile.” Like my fluttering finch and grazing deer, I’d like to be “someone who [lives] in turning to fresh tasks” enough to forget the handiwork raking leaves, snapping photos, tracing straight lines. Enough to read the landscape with the mind to “go on farther.”
This close-read of the poem appeared in the winter 2007-2008 issue of Umbrella: A Journal of Kindred Poetry and Prose.
In the often overlooked poem “The Wood-Pile,” Robert Frost explores the human life cycle, particularly the process of aging. The speaker is in a middle stage of life, about to embark on the winter of old age, which corresponds to the setting of the poem. Because the speaker is “out walking” in this cold setting, “far from home,” he is transplanted and in an uncomfortable environment. The reader can surmise that a transformation is likely to take place here. The first scene’s elements, “hard snow,” the view of trees “all in lines” that were “too much alike to mark by name or place” give a bleak and uncertain sense to the scene. In this manner, nature is discomforting. It is only the “hard snow” that keeps him there, as the culmination of his life work in old age will give purpose.
He encounters a bird; the bird leads him to a woodpile bound by a tree and a stake. We can read that the bird’s literal purpose is to show dissimilarity between man and bird and the misunderstanding that occurs between them, largely due to the bird’s innocence or naiveté. Bird and narrator are separated literally by a tree: “He was careful/To put a tree between us when he lighted.” Metaphorically, they are separated by age and wisdom. The bird represents a youthful figure, being “small” and foolish, taking “everything said as personal to himself,” as one unsophisticated in the ways of the world might do.
Similarly, like a young person, the bird mistakenly thinks the speaker is after his tail feather. The white feather, in contrast to winter’s white, could be taken as a symbol of innocence. Like the trees that are “too much alike to mark or name a place by,” the bird gives “no word to tell me who he was.” Both the tree and bird’s identities are lost in anonymity. Before the speaker is able to forget the bird for the pile, he must let the bird lead him there. These lines serve not only as transitions, but as thematic devices. Perhaps in his own younger days, he might have gone the way of the bird, but now does not wish the bird “good-night.”
With his description of the woodpile, the speaker contrasts earlier images by stating “not another like it could I see.” Unlike the trees and bird, the decaying woodpile is unique. He also moves from living images to the “dead” woodpile, and here the poem takes a dramatic turn. Frost states, “It was older sure than this year’s cutting,” telling us that the woodpile represents the declining years of life. A pristine quality prevails near the pile as “no runner tracks…looped near it.” And: “The wood was gray and bark warping off it/And the pile somewhat sunken.” Such lines evoke an aging man, his hair grey and his head balding, his body and bones sloped drooping. The vine, like a man’s work, wraps or consumes his life, a theme that echoes in the last lines. The growing tree and falling stake contrast, and represent what holds the aging man—his living familial ties and his cane.
At the emotional fulcrum of the poem, the poet looks at what has come before—the bird, the pile—and works toward a contemplative resolution. The final lines are the antithesis of what has come before, showing us there is purpose. On the one hand, the poet asks what kind of person could leave such art idle, while on the other asserts that art has a function of its own. In aging, we often think our usefulness will decay and we will be abandoned by “someone who lived in turning fresh tasks.” But Frost does not leave the pile “far from a useful fireplace” without final value. Though abandoned, it “warms the frozen swamp.” In a remarkable reversal of common thought, Frost conjectures that it may be in the winter of life when we find fulfillment. He certainly concludes that work and art have persistent, smoldering meaning, even beyond a living end.