Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Intelligent Design: On the Poetry of Catherine Chandler, by James Matthew Wilson

Chandler’s work exemplifies a Catholic literature at once devout without being of merely devotional interest and profound in its concern for the created order of things without lapsing into the existential anguish and crises of faith that have become the stock-in-trade of modern religious writers.

Lines of Flight, Glad and Sorry Seasons, and The Frangible Hour, by Catherine Chandler

Early in Catherine Chandler’s first book, Lines of Flight, she writes of “a six-mile stretch of road” along the historic Route 66, where “two towns align,” one bearing an old friend’s family name and another hers. “A geographic fluke?” she asks.

                     Perhaps. But I,
far-flung, uprooted, off the track, embrace
this synchronicity, this table scrap
of happenstance

The author of three volumes of ingeniously formed, tightly measured, and smartly rhymed poetry, Chandler entertains this inquiry into topographic trivia as a humble analogy to one of the great questions posed by the fine arts in the modern age. Works of art represent (or “imitate,” as Aristotle phrased it) some aspect of the world, and they do so only by manifesting an intentional and formal order. But what is the relationship, if any, between the world represented and the work thus ordered? The classical answer holds that the work is in some sense a mirror held up to nature and its beautiful order constitutes a similitude to the mysterious and total order of the cosmos, the world God has made. In the modern age, a distinctly romantic theory proposed something else; the world itself is formless and unintelligible, and therefore the forming work of a poem or a painting is an artifice and an imposition. It may express the interior, subjective order of the artist’s mind, it may even be a psychological necessity for us, but such an artificial order will still falsify by apparently enriching the world. When Robert Frost spoke of poetry as a “momentary stay against confusion,” for instance, he was suggesting that art made the world appear more coherent than it really was.

Catherine Chandler

If this sounds as if questions of the fine arts impinge upon the larger question of the nature of the world itself and its relationship to God as intended and as created, that is no coincidence. Ancient writers were much concerned with the manner in which poetry revealed or concealed truth; while most poets offered a mere hollow image of rhetoric, the best poets, they maintained, could be inspired by the gods to reveal truth and being. Romantic thinking was largely provoked by questions of Scriptural interpretation that arose in an age increasingly doubtful that reason could know anything but the crude causal relations wrought by historical and physical forces. The great poet Rhina P. Espaillat concludes her introduction to Lines by referring to Chandler’s “use of formal patterns,” and suggests them as “a loving pursuit of created order and maybe even a belief—or a desire to believe—in its existence outside of art.” Espaillat places Chandler at the fork in the epistemological road between classicism and romanticism.

Espaillat’s phrasing captures the modest voice of Chandler’s poems, but it probably leaves the poet’s work sounding more tentative and tenuous than is really the case. For, Chandler is not just a distinguished American metrical poet writing at a time when many poets are rediscovering the intelligence and necessity of traditional practices. Like Espaillat and many others who are often tied to the New Formalist movement in American poetry of three decades ago, Chandler has cultivated a vernacular plain style in her writing that consistently demonstrates that the most quotidian events and most familiar of voices are well fitted to expression in poetic meter.

But Chandler also possesses one of the finest Catholic sensibilities among contemporary writers, one which routinely captures the drama of everyday life in its religious depths. Her work exemplifies a Catholic literature at once devout without being of merely devotional interest and profound in its concern for the created order of things without lapsing into the existential anguish and crises of faith that have become the stock-in-trade of modern religious writers. At one point, for instance, Chandler refers to her “fragile faith,” but only in the context of a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where everyone faces a certain spiritual challenge of attaining what she calls a “beatific . . . day or so” amid the “cheap / boutiques” filled with “plastic, Made-in-China Bernadettes.”

Chandler’s Lines appeared in 2011, when she was sixty, and she has published two more short collections in the five years since. That is too brief a period for substantial artistic development to occur, but one does find a deepening of subject matter, an increasingly daring use of poetic form, and also an elevation of voice, so that the familiar or vernacular plain style so common in contemporary metrical poetry is leavened by a more ornate or high style.

As Espaillat’s observation quoted above hints, Lines is very much a first book that frequently takes the nature of artistic form for subject matter. In “Oneironaut,” for instance, Chandler writes of lucid dreaming as a technique to tame “recurring nightmares.” “What the bleep,” she writes, “it’s worth a try, like counting sheep.” This sophisticated sort of sheep-counting is tentatively held up as an analogue to the counting of syllable and stress in the writing of the (iambic) poetic line. It may be “merely a device,” therapeutic for us but useless for our living in the world:

                   The bear,
the bug, bamboozled, may revive.
Sniff out the ruse. Eat you alive.

But, no. The life of art and the imagination is more than a diversion, the next poem, “Lines,” indicates. Just as Plato tells us the philosopher risks looking like a fool, beggar, and madman in his longing for wisdom, so the poet can appear pretty useless on the factory floor precisely because the mysteries found in art can so entrance. The “Hunger” for the reality art reveals, a poem of that name tells us, may force us to “pay for desire with blood and bones and hair.” When Chandler attends to the world around us, she consistently discerns pattern, even when the pattern is violent and savage. “Delineations,” about a flock of Canadian geese, concludes,

Patterns of exuberant design,
            cadenza, cadence, wavelength, arrow,
                        slant or straight and narrow—
                                    theirs, mine.

There is a fundamental identity between the order of geese, the patterns of the created world, and those of the poet.

Chandler follows Robert Frost in her attention to the natural landscape, but hers are slightly more varied than the great New England poet’s. She writes extensively about Canada, where she has lived for the last forty years, about the harsh mining country of northern Pennsylvania, where she was raised, and also about Latin America, which she visits annually for extended periods. As in Frost, design in nature frequently appears dark and violent. In springtime, for instance, Chandler echoes King Lear to concede, “there’s a God and we’re its sport, / that winter is so long, and life so short!” And, on Frost’s farm, she recalls the old poet “speaking to God about the world’s despair.” But, just as poetic meter lies submerged within, and gives order to, the familiar idiom of her lines, so Chandler typically finds order and meaning in the slovenly down-at-the-heel disarray of ordinary life. The meaning of the world is not up to us; it rather lies there, no matter how we modern minds may wish to dismiss it as our own subjective projections. Such is the painful lesson of “Mother’s Day,” Chandler’s powerful sonnet on the grief caused by abortion, spoken by the aborted child. “But you and I know, Mother,” what her husband cannot:

your April foolishness; how bit by bit
they snipped me out of you, “took care of it”;
how through the years I’ve been your confidante,
the reason for this night’s unraveling—
the garnet missing from the mother’s ring.

If the order of God’s creation often appears as terrible this is chiefly because we seek to deny and defy it by force of will. This is why, Pascal once wrote, men hate religion; they fear it is true. Chandler’s volume concludes with a well-earned assent to that order as one of God’s creative love. Speaking of the end of time, she writes,

And then there is The End, when all dimensions
may drop away into a hole as dark
as nought; when truth will nullify inventions,
consuming every quark and antiquark;
when present, past and future coalesce
in One who loves. I live for nothing less.

“Inventions” such as poetic meter and artistic form are necessary for us, in part, because they serve as similitudes for the deep, often invisible, order of things. They allow us to express and perceive with clarity what we now only half-discern with the ear of faith. If that is the case, then they will in some sense be “nullified” when that truth appears in its finality and fullness once and for all. The lines of flight of poetry are our extended and partial ascent toward truth.

Chandler’s first book justifies art to God; in the next two, poetry becomes a confident medium for the exploration of the world’s significance and the trials and grief of love. Glad and Sorry Seasons begins with a sonnet on the latter—sorrow in the wake of a miscarriage. Its final note describes the kind of patient exploration of the depths of human experience that characterizes the volume as a whole. Chandler

               scour[s] the universe
in search of you. And God. And go[es] about
my business as my crooked smile displays
the artful look of ordinary days.

That perfect final line gives as an epigram what the volume as a whole achieves. By means of an intricate and elegant art, Chandler captures the meaning of the ordinary. What is ordinary to our life in time? For Chandler, everyday life contains a great deal. We find poems in Seasons on the Canadian and Pennsylvania landscape, translations of the poets of Quebec and South America, witty sonnets on the seven deadly sins, as well as some lighter epigrammatic verse that elicits “mirth and laughter.”

What most impresses in the collection as a whole is Chandler’s cultivation of a higher style at once more sophisticated in rhetoric and more intense in emotional expression than the poems of Lines. “The Crag,” one of several poems reflecting on the loss of her parents, is exemplary in this regard:

The hours buckle, folding into pleats,
and meet like valley synclines, while the moon
is waning on Mom’s alabaster sheets.
Days collapse in pure duration. Noon.
Then six. Saint Nicholas’s church bells chime
the Angelus. A spatial instant, long
in coming, blinks in geologic time.
I hum her favorite Frank Sinatra song.

Gone is the golden mountain of our youth;
gone is its rarified reality.
Still, there lies an element of truth
amid this crushing verticality.
Down. Down in history we go;
past anthracite, the colour of all woe.

The lines of the octave open upon a bleak scene, as a daughter looks over the effects left in her mother’s house. She hears the church bells ring their noon call to prayer in the place of her northern Pennsylvania childhood, before replying with a familiar hymn of her own. In the sestet that concludes this sonnet, the language takes a powerful turn, with the adjective “gone” repeated twice in sequential phrases, and the glowering repetition of “down” in the penultimate line. All of this draws our attention to a brilliant conceit. The time after her mother’s death opens like a great, horizontal emptiness—“pure duration.” Memory, in contrast, is “vertical,” all the past contained in the depths of a single instant and bearing down upon it until it becomes “crushing.” To recall her mother is therefore to burrow into the past as if she were drilling into the earth of the anthracite coal region of her hometown.

“All these Words” follows Richard Wilbur in celebrating the pleasing artificiality of verse even if “the metrician / may be a dying breed, / a dodo bird. Agreed . . .” What most impresses in Seasons, however, is to see Chandler’s facility with verse combined with a precise eye for human feeling and folly. Her account of a hedonistic and ambitious young professional, in “Acedia,” is exemplary in this regard:

You’ve seen him at the gym, the puffed-up puppy
on the treadmill, going nowhere fast;
the Volvo-driving, Twitter-texting yuppie,
the DINK, the wine and cheese enthusiast.

In any substantial collection of poetry there will be what T.S. Eliot called “five-finger exercises,” poems that seem to exist purely for the practice of formal ingenuity, and Chandler’s books are no exception. But the metaphysical claims on which she has founded her work justifies them—if, that is, they require any justification. Her delight in versification is no mere pleasure, but a testing of metrical order as a means of capturing and conveying the order of that which is.

Seasons’ concluding poem connects Chandler’s joining of sophisticated art and the depths of the quotidian with one of its great antecedents, the painting of Edward Hopper, which combined so distinctly the self-conscious stylization of modernist art with the familiar, appealing, if often melancholy, scenes of American life. Chandler’s “Edward Hopper’s Automat” reveals how much the poet has learned from the painter and is probably her finest single poem.

What Chandler learns from Hopper serves her to good purpose in her Richard Wilbur award-winning volume, The Frangible Hour. There, the specter of her parents’ death, which is only subtly limned in Seasons, becomes the subject of extended narrative sequences. During the same short period between 2011 and 2012 in which first her mother and then her father passed away, Chandler’s daughter Caitlin nearly died from a brain aneurysm. Chandler’s poems convey grief, suffering, and loss, but with a restrained dignity that puts these things into the context of gratitude for the love and sacrifice of her parents and a Christian acceptance of all worldly trials as redemptive. On the loss of her father, for instance, she reflects in one poem, “Yet Monday morning none shall ever guess / my Sygian grief at waking fatherless.” In the next, she affirms,

                I set aside the need to grieve,
the bitter and the sweet of Aaron’s rod,
and search for solace in the will of God.

In “Four Songs of Parting” she conveys more fully the love of her mother, which is finely expressed by the synecdoche of an old trunk:

From underneath
a roll of batting and a bolt of chintz
I pull a faded ribbon-festooned box.
Inside, my fairy-stolen baby teeth
and first-shorn locks
acknowledge, in an elegant goodbye,
that I was once the apple of your eye.

“Almost” records the vigil a mother keeps over her daughter and demonstrates why Chandler’s mastery of verse and rhetoric are so essential to her poetry. They enable her to convey the immediacy of her worry with an artlessness that is in the best sense artful:

June. July. My fourth novena starts.
In counting off the decades on your hands,
I meditate on Joyful number five:
to find my child as Mary found her son—
alive and well.

Though Caitlin’s fate is in doubt through much of the sequence, her recovery allows Chandler a moment to affirm the redemptive power of prayer and prosody:

I’ve chronicled her unaccounted hours,
for days are things one can’t afford to lose:
the words tell how, with nothing left but prayer,
I trusted in a surgeon’s hands. And God’s.

The little notebook, thorough, stark, exact,
recounts procedures, numbers on a chart;
and since the point-by-point is based on fact,
she’ll never read of daggers to the heart
or how—amid disaster—the mundane
and blessed act of writing kept me sane.

At a time when many American poets are writing skillful metrical poems in a plain vernacular, Chandler stands out for both her particular elegance and fluency of style and for the profundity of her vision. It no longer surprises anyone to find idiomatic English in a well-made sonnet, but it is rare for a poet to capture the quotidian in its fullness as a creation of God. Chandler’s first book does this by following St. Augustine in probing the sacramental or revelatory character of number—especially metrical numbers—to reveal the intelligible order of the world as an intelligible expression of the divine love. Her second and third volumes employ verse to enter more deeply into the life of meditation and devotion occasioned by the everyday yet extraordinary events of love and grief. She has given us a poetry at once intricate and restrained, familiar and profound, and provides a model for what a flourishing Catholic literature should look like in our day.

Catherine Chandler
Lines of Flight
Able Muse Press, 2011
77 pages

Glad and Sorry Seasons
Biblioasis, 2014
79 pages

The Frangible Hour
The University of Evansville Press, 2016
72 pages

James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor of Religion and Literature in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. He has published seven books, including The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition (CUA, 2017), the major critical study, The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking (Wiseblood, 2015), a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things, and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Wilson is the Poetry Editor of Modern Age magazine, and also serves on the boards of several learned journals and societies.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Early Sunday Morning: Alienated Majesty

Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning, Whitney Museum of American Art

This is the third ekphrastic poem I've written on the work of Edward Hopper. This Miltonic (caudate) sonnet was published recently in Mezzo Cammin, Volume 11, Issue 2.

Bon dimanche!

Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts;
they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s something comforting and intimate
            about the line of small shops in the glare
            of Sunday morning. Something clean and spare,
            bounded, but suggesting infinite
extent. Then all at once we take a hit
            to the solar plexus— we become aware
            of storefront windows whispering beware,
            and that the quietude is counterfeit.
The atmosphere is placidly bereft,
            devoid of movement or of mortal face;
            the softened desolation of the street
suggests a hyper-emptiness, a trace
            of absent presences, a bittersweet
            tristesse, as though humanity's been left
                                    alone to face the heft
of enigmatic darkness to the right,
a monolith that leads our line of sight—
                                    through Hopper's scumbled light—
away from consolation to concern
as we approach our point of no return.

-- Catherine Chandler (2016)


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Canadian Launch of The Frangible Hour

Bibliothèque Saint-Lazare, Saint-Lazare, Québec

I'd like to invite you to the Canadian launch of my third full-length collection of poetry, The Frangible Hour, winner of the Richard Wilbur Award.

Books will be available for purchase and signing, and refreshments will be served.

Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 1 p.m.
Bibliothèque Saint-Lazare 
1275 rue du Bois, Saint-Lazare QC J7T 3B5

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"This thick dimension of stillness . . ."

My Mom on her wedding day

July 10 will mark the 6th anniversary of my mother's death as well as what would have been her 87th birthday.

Friend and Australian poet, Stephen Edgar, who recently lost his mother and whose latest book of poetry, Transparencies, is dedicated to her memory, wrote eloquently of the final days of her life in the following poem, "Under the Radar". I, too, vividly recall that final day with my mother, when I sat by her bedside, counting the ever-increasing intervals between breaths.

Under the Radar

Flaring and fading like the blips
That flash an instant on a radar screen,
The bellbirds’ brilliant little flecks of sound
Illumine and eclipse
The points where silence has been slung between
The branches of the trees. Such flimsy tips
To bear the weight it gathers on the ground.

As when you wade through water, slowed
And heavy, hardly able to progress,
Your senses, working through this thick dimension
Of stillness, share its mode.
Each leaf glint, shadow, bird note, each impress
Of foot on twig that snaps beneath its load,
More slowly but more clearly holds attention.

Once all the world was this. Alone,
And dozing through the spell of midday heat,
You register that chittering outside,
A neighbour’s telephone,
The drone of traffic on a further street,
The ticking house — each floated overtone
Dragged by the soundless groundswell that they ride.

And so it was when you were led
To where her barely conscious form lay waiting
And silence held the burden of the room.
And leaning by the bed,
You swayed in that abeyance, concentrating
To hear far off her scarcely warranted
And weightless breathing falter, and resume.

-- Stephen Edgar


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hot dog! Another acceptance!

No caption needed!

Totally chuffed to report that I've had another poem accepted for an upcoming issue of Light

And no, it has nothing to do with Joey "Jaws" Chestnut's recent 4th of July hot dog-eating win ;-).

Thanks to Melissa Balmain and team!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Publication News: June Update

My typewriter

In addition to my double sonnet, "Into the Lives of Other Folk", recently published at North of Oxford, and two poems (including a Miltonic sonnet) in Mezzo Cammin, I'm happy to share the following:

  • Rhina P. Espaillat's review of my Richard Wilbur Award-winning collection, The Frangible Hour, will be published in an upcoming issue of the Alabama Literary Review. Thank you, Bill Thompson! 
  • James Matthew Wilson's review of The Frangible Hour will appear in an upcoming issue of The Weekly Standard as well as in an essay in Catholic World Report, which is where he is publishing his essays on Catholic poets -- all of which will eventually be gathered into a very large book (perhaps two volumes) within the next five years. Thank you, James!
  • Two more reviews of The Frangible Hour, one published in Presence, the other in Think, are now on my blog pages on the left side of the home page.
  • Light Poetry Magazine has accepted my leona rima (9 lines of iambic tetrameter
    a, a, b, b, c, c, c, b, a ), "There are always more fish in the sea . . ." for an upcoming issue. Thank you, Melissa and team!
  • Think (Western Colorado State University) will be publishing my villanelle, "Multiverse", in their spring/summer 2017 issue on the theme of poetry and philosophy. Thank you, Susan Spear!
  • The Rotary Dial has accepted my sonnet, "Summer of 1970" for a future issue. Thank you, Alexandra and Pino!
  • Measure has accepted several poems for upcoming editions, "Anthracite" and "We" (a sonnenizio). Thank you, Rob and Paul!
  •  I've just signed the official papers for the inclusion of my poem, "Edward Hopper's Automat" in an anthology to be published in Canada next year. Thank you, Susie!
  • I have written a lengthy review of Timothy Murphy's Hunter's Log, Volume Two and Volume Three. Awaiting a reply on publication.
  • Quadrant  poetry editor, Les Murray, has written me a nice letter, and accepting my "Scintillae" for an upcoming issue. Thanks, Les!
  • Three poems have been accepted for the December issue of The Orchards Poetry Journal: "The Watchers at Punta Ballena, Uruguay", "Prayer on December 26", and "Spirit". Thank you, Carol Lynn and Karen!
  • Three of my poems will appear in the National Poetry Registry of Canada, Library of Parliament anthology of Canadian poets. Those poems are "Superbia", "Full Snow Moon", and "The Lost Villages: Inundation Day".  Thanks to Canada's Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke!
Feeling blessed!

Monday, June 12, 2017


Five years ago today, the most beautiful and strongest person I know, my daughter Caitlin, began a long and ultimately successful journey back to health after suffering a cerebral aneurysm. Love you, my sunshine! ♥ And thank you again to Dr. Michel Bojanowski and his team at the Centre hospitalier de l' Université de Montréal, Hôpital Notre-Dame.

Below is my poem, "Almost", dedicated to Caitlin.

— for Caitlin

i.          Silverweed

Silverweed, also known as cinquefoil, is the symbol of maternal protection of a beloved daughter, as the leaves will bend over the flower when it rains—  Natural History Museum, Cable, Wisconsin

Telephones that ring at three a.m.
mean bad news,
yet you must answer them.
You lose
your voice, then find a stratagem,
your shoes,

your cell, your cool, your car keys, certitude.
You must believe.
You mustn’t come unglued.
Don’t leave
the rosary beads behind. Saint Anne! Saint Jude!
You weave

along the boulevards at blinding speed,
and though you make
a deal with God, you need
to shake
that weighty metaphor for silverweed.
Or break.

ii.         The Vigil

You’re in a coma in Intensive Care.
A portion of your skull has been removed.
A feeding tube delivers sustenance.
A ventilator tube delivers air.
I sit beside you on a folding chair.

A monitor with multicolored lines
deciphers whether you will make it through
as medications drip into your veins.
A path of staples holds your scalp in place.
I’m thankful that you cannot see my face.

June. July. My fourth novena starts.
In counting off the decades on your hands,
I meditate on Joyful number five:
to find my child as Mary found her son—
alive and well. And when this vigil’s done,

and you are home again—as you must be—
when grace drives out the shadows, you will tell
of how you sensed the doctors come and go,
and heard You Are My Sunshine in your sleep,
and somehow knew your mother would not weep.

iii.        Off-the-wall

It’s late. Soon I will yank them off the wall―
these posters urging one to think about
the selfless act of signing off on heart,
on corneas, kidneys, liver, lungs and skin.
My satisfaction will be pure, perverse.

At 2 a.m., with no one in the hall,
not caring if they ever find me out,
I exercise my right to fall apart,
ask God’s forgiveness for this venial sin,
and jam the jagged pieces in my purse.

It’s far too early yet to know if she’s
to live or die; and I shall not assume.
The day shift nurses and the orderlies
arrive as grace notes trim the waiting room.

iv.                Pena negra

Los caballos negros son. – Federico García Lorca,
from “Romance de la Guardia Civil Española”

I will not mince my words and call it brown,
as in brown study. No insipid blues.
I will not misinform with pastel hues
or undertones for adjective and noun.
The world is saturated monochrome.
Beyond the window, trees (I guess) are green
and sunsets golden as they’ve always been
before this hospital became my home.

My pen suspends above a livid page―
an invitation to incarnadine
its surface with resentment, ravings, rage.
But red won’t do. The words that span this line
that runs between the points of hell and back
can only be conveyed in shades of black.

v.                  Afterwords

I gather up the get-well cards and flowers
and dress her in her street clothes, socks and shoes,
then wheel her out into the summer air.
She is alive. Alive against all odds.

I’ve chronicled her unaccounted hours,
for days are things one can’t afford to lose:
the words tell how, with nothing left but prayer,
I trusted in a surgeon’s hands. And God’s.

The little notebook, thorough, stark, exact,
recounts procedures, numbers on a chart;
and since the point-by-point is based on fact,
she’ll never read of daggers to the heart
or how—amid disaster—the mundane
and blessed act of writing kept me sane.

(Hôpital Notre-Dame, Montreal, June, July, August, 2012)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

North of Oxford

HERE is the link to my double sonnet, "Into the Lives of Other Folk". 

The poem was inspired by something Robert Frost said in an interview many years ago, i.e., that he wrote one of his "best poems" while on a stopover in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He said he wrote it in a hotel room while standing on his head!  The title of that poem is "On the Heart's Beginning to Cloud the Mind."

Thank you to Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, Poetry Editor at North of Oxford.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Plain Beauty

Here's a link to my curtal sonnet, Plain Beauty.

The poem is on page 3.

Many thanks to Editors of The Rotary Dial, Alexandra and Pino.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Rotary Dial

Some good news!

My curtal sonnet, Plain Beauty, has been accepted for publication in the Canada-based online poetry journal, The Rotary Dial.

Thanks to editors Pino and Alexandra.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

National Poetry Registry of Canada

I'm happy to announce that three of my poems, "Full Snow Moon," "Superbia," and "The Lost Villages: Inundation Day," have been chosen by George Elliott Clarke, Poet Laureate of Canada, for inclusion in the National Poetry Registry, Library of Parliament.

All three poems are in my second book, "Glad and Sorry Seasons," published by Biblioasis in Windsor, Ontario in 2014.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alabama Literary Review

Three of my poems, "Memento", "Lessons at Fall Kill Creek", and "The Woodlot" are now online HERE. Volume 25, No. 1 (2016). On pages 25, 26 and 27.

Many thanks to editor, William Thompson.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"From the beautiful to the brittle": The Frangible Hour

An excerpt from Rebekah Martindale’s review, “Inside the Garden Gate” for Think Journal. 

Thank you, Rebekah, and editor Susan Spear.

Catherine Chandler’s The Frangible Hour captures moments in time from the beautiful to the brittle.

The book’s opening sonnet begins with a moment of intense personal experience, the instant when beauty is recognized as “an unendurable embrace.” Reminders of beauty’s fragility cover the temporal spectrum—Seconds: the moment of awe, Minutes: the fleeting “quiddity of daybreak,” Days: the “yellow-green” of the leaves, Weeks: the “garden plot of rhubarb and asparagus,” Months: the summer itself whose demise is imminent, Years: the child, who is transformed into adulthood as the poem proceeds. Then finally, Hours, in the closing couplet as the woman returns to the garden gate, “stockings wet with dew” and delays her housework for “an hour or two.”

Chandler evokes the Koine Greek pathos of beauty, hōraios, which associates beauty with “being of one’s hour,” which is not forever. References to time—hours, days, weeks, seasons—measure the poems in Part I and reappear frequently. Chandler also evokes the liturgical calendar as she moves through the “Lenten brume,” of “Wherein the Snow is Hid” to images of Easter morning in “Zeeman’s Paradox.” Her poem, “Chasubles,” links the liturgical with the temporal.

Roots suck down the spectrum’s red
to steel a brutal crust;
leaves must take what’s left of light—
epitome of trust.

Summer’s a smiling charlatan
camouflaged in green
where violet truths lie mantled in
the seen and unseen.

The seven elegies that make up Part II, subtitled “Days of Grass,” are reflections on Psalm 103:15-16: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

The first five poems are dedicated to specific people (and a dog). The last two poems, which are more general meditations on death are in lighter verse forms. These bouncy rhythms not only give the poems an eerie tinge, but also quicken the pace, creating a nice transition into Part III: from the poem “Heal-all”:

Bring me a barn loft of heal-all
and up with my heartbreak I’ll climb.
I won’t drink it or eat it
because, though I need it,
my wounds want the heal-all of time.

Part III continues with short, often witty, poems celebrating great and small moments. It presses on us references to time, such  as “summer,” “spring,” “winter,” “lifespan,” “point,” “day,” “month,” “year.”

The humorous sonnet, “Olēka,” in which the narrator is confronted with the unused spices in her double-decker spice rack ends Part III on an ironic note: the awareness of how few days are memorable.

Part IV brings us moments of regret, recognition, and despair. Again, it is the reminder of hōraios that give the poems poignancy and cohesiveness. Both beauty and brittleness are captured in the slant rhyme Christmastime sonnet, “For Melina, 8, Sleeping.” Here it is the unsaid word lurking just below the surface that threatens the sleeping girl, but it also invites the reader to recognize the hōraios in her.

Soon enough some callous, hard-nosed kid
at school will razz you for your artless faith,
and blab the truth you sense behind the myth.
I wish you sugarplums, as my unsaid
revelation like an axiom,
swirls above the silence. Does no harm.

Part V, the final section of the book, consists of meditations on death and grief. The harrowing five-part poem “Almost” documents the near death of the author’s daughter. Now time is measured in novenas and decades counted on her comatose daughter’s hands. Chandler ends with an elegy to her father, closing her book with prayerful couplets. These final couplets rise up as concrete formations of a spiritual honesty that has infused the book all along:

A birth. A life. A death. A promise barely kept—
these tenuous words of denouement: a song of praise.

She deals in tar & tallow, turpentine & twine,
lifts one last chantey to the dawn—in song, she prays.

"The metaphysical within the physical": The Frangible Hour

New Review by Janet McCann for the print journal, Presence. Thank you, Janet and also editor, Mary Ann  Miller.

The Frangible Hour, Poems, by Catherine Chandler (The University of Evansville Press, 2016)

The Frangible Hour is a delight to read, especially for those who appreciate formal poetry.  The book seems an especially appropriate choice for the Richard Wilbur Prize, as the poet, like Wilbur, is a master of forms, and the poems are infused with a metaphysics that makes of the natural world a luminous place.  Not that the poems are always upbeat, but the spiritual dimension is always present.

Catherine Marie Chandler was born in New York City and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She holds a Master of Arts from McGill University. Chandler has lectured at McGill for many years and also held the post of International Affairs Officer.  Her previous books include Lines of Flight, This Sweet Order, and Glad and Sorry Seasons; this new collection, The Frangible Hour, is the winner of the 2016 Richard Wilbur Award.

The poems offer us a full palette of forms, and it is fun to recognize them all, the sonnets, pantoums, ballads, ghazals, rimas dissolutas, triolets, and so forth.  But her use of form is flexible and not intrusive.  Form does not bully sense into compliance, but rather creates a barely heard melody behind the meditation or observation.  She uses pleasing off-rhymes and the rhythms are never metronome-like.  When forms have both loose and tight definitions, she uses the looser one—the ghazal for instance for purists has a lot of rules, but she follows only the more basic ones.  The music forms a counterpoint to the expected grammatical flow of the sentence. There is a wry humor in some of the poems and this too fits the patterns she chooses.

Science and math inform the poems, noticeable even in the titles. Footnotes at the end fill in some of the complicated bits, but happily the reader does not need them to intuitively grasp the poem. In fact, the accessibility of the poems is part of their appeal.  One poem is described as “a Fibonacci sonnet with ostensible mathematical references to the Argand Diagram and Huygens’s Principle of Diffraction,” but we do not need this information to appreciate the poem. There are words we may not know but their sense is usually telegraphed by their content. The epigraphs are well-chosen, also, from the Bible to Robert Frost to newscasts; they intrigue and direct. Sometimes they refer to the incidents that generated the poetry, as in the short poem “Exhuming Neruda,” which shows her command of metrics and her ironic wit.

“Poet’s story becomes a murder mystery: Chile exhumes Pablo Neruda’s remains.”
                                    --CNN headline, April 10, 2013
At Isla Negra, Neftalí, you sang of joy and pain,
of poverty, Matilde, birds, of artichokes and rain.

And once at Isla Negra, they searched each corner of
your hideaway, but all they found was bread and wine and love.

And now at Isla Negra, they are digging up your bones,
they’ll fly them to the capital, then rearrange the stones.

At Isla Negra, Neftalí, far from the abattoirs,
a leaf drifts to the earth amid the keen of grass and stars.

Chandler’s images create a natural world that is frightening but must be seen in the context of faith.  The imagery in “Wherein the Snow is Hid” to this reader recalls Sylvia Plath’s “Point Shirley,” as the picture and rhythms seem to echo the Plath poem. The poem begins

along potholed ruelles, plowed rough and high,
lie last December’s snows
with jagged firn from months when I,
in numb goodnight,
have curled up in the company of crows.

Nature is bleak and threatening, offering the chance of eternal winter.  The speaker concludes, though, that

                                       …I know the pond will bloom,
The wild geese will return.  They always do.
And so it is I cope
with winter. For although it’s true
one’s fear of God
At times might rule out razor, river, rope,

hope holds me here, ludicrous and odd,
valuing March above
July’s colossal verdant fraud,
because a mass
of freeze-thaw scree bears witness to a love

that once approached the melting point of glass.

Indeed the poem seems to answer Plath’s, whether intentionally or not—the passage of time and seasons does not prove the meaninglessness of the individual life, as in Plath’s poem, but in a strange way affirms it.

The book is divided into five sections,  and includes poems about nature, faith, the inhabitants of a small town, plants and herbs, glimpses of a Catholic childhood, loss of a father, and near-loss of a daughter—especially persuasive are those about her daughter’s near death from an aneurysm.

In this collection, form and meaning are so welded that the rhythms still repeat after the reader has closed the book, keeping their message in memory.  The Frangible Hour is an inspiring book, especially for those who seek the metaphysical within the physical.

Janet McCann’s work has been published in the Kansas Quarterly, Parnassus, Nimrod, Sou’wester, America, Christian Century, Christianity and Literature, New York Quarterly, Tendril, and others.  A 1989 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship winner, she taught at Texas A & M University from 1969-2016, and is now Professor Emerita. She has co-edited anthologies with David Craig, Odd Angles of Heaven (Shaw, 1994), Place of Passage (Story Line, 2000), and Poems of Francis and Clare (St. Anthony Messenger, 2004). Most recent poetry collection: The Crone at the Casino (Lamar University Press, 2014).