Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Saturday, December 9, 2017

8th Pushcart Prize Nomination!

Great news!  My sonnet, "The Watchers at Punta Ballena, Uruguay" has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Karen Kelsay, editor of The Orchards.

The poem will appear in the December issue.

Thank you, Karen!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pointing Home

Blood Moon

Very pleased to announce that my slant Petrarchan sonnet, "Pointing Home", will be published in the upcoming Fall issue of The Lyric.

Thank you, Editor Jean Mellichamp Milliken!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

November - SoundCloud Recording

November Dawn, Saint-Lazare-de-Vaudreuil, Québec. Photo by Catherine Chandler

My SoundCloud recording of my sonnet, "November" is HERE.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Artful Look of Ordinary Days

My manuscript, The Artful Look of Ordinary Days: New and Selected Sonnets, was chosen as one of two runners-up in the 2017 Able Muse Book Award, judged by Charles Martin.

The title comes from the final line of my poem, "Coming to Terms," chosen by A.E. Stallings as the winner of the 2010 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award.

Congratulations to winner, Lorna Blake, and fellow runner-up Anna M. Evans.

Many thanks to Alex Pepple and Charles Martin.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear, /Can also thus domesticate a fear"

I am deeply saddened by the recent passing of Richard Wilbur (1921-2017).

Although I love so many of his poems, "A Barred Owl" (which Mr. Wilbur himself, in a reading I attended in 2007, made sure the audience understood it as both "barred" and "bard"!) is my favorite.

HERE is a link.

So wise. He will be sorely missed, but his poetry is for the ages.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Edward Hopper Triptych

Edward Hopper, Self-portrait (1925-30)

My Hopper triptych "Alienated Majesty" is online at The Ekphrastic Review HERE. Paintings "Automat," "Early Sunday Morning," and "Sun in an Empty Room."

Thank you to editor, Lorette Luzajic!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry and Prayer: Chandler and Murphy Reviewed

Weekly Standard / September 11, 2017    /43   

Le Poème de l’âme 15: Un Soir
The Poem of the Soul is a series of 34 works by French neoclassicist Louis Janmot. Influenced by his Catholic faith, Janmot incorporated religious themes throughout the 1835-55 series. "Un Soir" is a midpoint of the set and shows simple, faithful souls in harmony with nature.

Poetry and Prayer
Two new collections that grapple with grief, hope, and faith.
by James Matthew Wilson

The Frangible Hour
by Catherine Chandler
University of Evansville, 81 pp., $15

by Timothy Murphy
North Dakota State, 158 pp., $24.95

            To read the second and final stanza of Catherine Chandler’s “Chasubles”—“Summer’s a smiling charlatan / camouflaged in green / where violet truths lie mantled in / the seen and the unseen”—one might think American religious poetry is now much as it was in Emily Dickinson’s day. The reclusive maid of Amherst wrote hundreds of strange poems in variations of the ballad measure, many of them exploring the feeling one has of God lurking somewhere in nature, always a mystery, never allowing himself to be seen straight, but only “slant.” Chandler’s stanza engages in just Dickinson’s sort of play; nature is a “charlatan,” because her “green” is less lasting than it appears to be on a summer afternoon, and yet nature is also more than it appears, a “mantle” hiding, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “the seen and the unseen.”

            Chandler, like Dickinson, is a poet of divine mystery, but the similarity ends there. Whereas Dickinson’s poetry remains a frontier eccentricity in our tradition precisely because of its odd cramming of intellectual profundity into the quaint form and cute imagery of the folk ballad, Chandler is a demonstrated master of poetic technique who, in The Frangible Hour, attempts some fantastic feats of ingenuity to make stanzaic forms adequate to her meaning, especially in her variations on the conventional sonnet.

            The tension between form and feeling in Dickinson seems in retrospect essential to her New England Protestantism, for which nature was at once a sign of God’s determinations and a wild emblem of the devil’s temptations. Chandler’s poems, in contrast, suggest the complementarity of nature and grace, of faith and reason, proper to Catholicism. In one poem, for instance, a swing out in the family’s backyard becomes simultaneously an example of the laws of physics governing nature, an expression of God’s providential order amid apparent chaos, and an instrument of childhood magic that charms her father home from work.

            Her poems begin in the particulars of her mature life in Montreal and her Catholic childhood in rural Pennsylvania, digging into them to discover the significance they conceal. A combination of technical power and intellectual depth shows in her poems named after Pennsylvania wildflowers, in which Chandler’s wit draws the botanical and the biographical together in surprising ways. Even more impressive are the three groups of poems that conclude the collection, consisting of elegies for her mother and father, and “Almost,” which records the almost insufferable vigil at her daughter Caitlin’s bedside, after she has suffered a cerebral aneurysm. In each instance, present grief is reckoned with and overcome by remembrance of the past and a sense that suffering belongs to the divine mystery. In one elegy for her mother, she writes,

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

            Every journey to the underworld is followed by a return to this world with new knowledge. So the poems for her mother conclude with one in which she finds, in the now-empty house, “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.

            The most appealing poems in Chandler’s volume are the sketches of midcentury America found in the sonnet sequence “One-way Street.” They remind me of E. A. Robinson’s affectionate but unsparing and precisely imagined poems of rural Maine. In her sustained attention to the regional, in her mastery of form, and also in her Catholic faith, Chandler has much in common with the North Dakota poet Timothy Murphy. Murphy has published three previous books of poetry and a memoir treating of farm and hunting life in his home terrain, all of which have received critical praise for their taut, restrained metrical forms and their honest treatment of daily life on the Dakota prairie. Much of his work proceeds like a kind of log book, recounting in rhyme battles with alcoholism and sin, the incidentals of a life passed between duck hunts and daily Mass at the local parish. The results have been massive in quantity though uneven in quality, for the same attentiveness to the particular that makes Murphy’s best poems so memorable is sometimes left to carry on about the inconsequential.

            Murphy returned to the Catholic faith nearly a dozen years ago and Devotions is his first attempt to gather his poems about the hard pilgrimage toward holiness, undertaken late in life even as one’s dearest friends and family have begun to die. Appropriately, many of the poems are prayers or about prayer, and the way Murphy captures the spiritual life’s immersion in the everyday can be fascinating. “Hunting on Thanksgiving” is dedicated to the friend described in these opening lines of prayer:

Thanks for my tall, Norwegian hunting buddy.
I love him best when his right hand is bloody
from gutting birds.

It ends with thanks for two other “friends” on whom Murphy has depended, his hunting dog and Christ himself:

Thanks for the bird I missed, for Feeney’s flush,
the faint thunder of wings breaking the hush
of mass conducted in the open air.
Thanks for pulling me back from the despair
that might have lost me eighteen hundred days
I have devoted to my Maker’s praise.

            Elsewhere, he remarks, “The prairie is a poem rarely read,” and once more prays, “grant me more time to understand, / more years to walk and memorize this land.”

            In his youth, Murphy studied at Yale with Robert Penn Warren, “lost in a whiskey haze / with Milton on my mind.” In 1972, he returned home to farm and work as a private investor but continued to struggle with drink. In his waywardness and late devotion we rightly detect an echo of St. Augustine, and so it is unsurprising that the best single poem in this new volume is a translation of a psalm from the saint’s Confessions:

I thirsted, hungered, yearned.
You touched me, and I burned.
How late I came to you,
Beauty ever ancient, ever new.
How late I came to you. ♦

James Matthew Wilson teaches humanities at Villanova. His most recent book is The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Ballad of the Fruitcake

Fruitcake from the Scott expedition to Antarctica

My poem, "Ballad of the Fruitcake" has been published today on Light's Poem of the Week website.

Thanks, Melissa and team!

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Crux, aka The Southern Cross, not visible in the Northern hemisphere

Some good news today. Four of my poems, "Nines", "Interim", "Ending", and "My Father's Shirts" have been accepted for publication.

The two journals are Alabama Literary Review and Off the Coast.

A rare event, since "Nines" is a free verse incantation/list poem.

All 14 lines in "Ending" end in the same consonant/vowel combination but also have a newly-invented (by me!) rhyme scheme:  abcdabcd efggfe.

What can I say about "Interim" except that I consider it a 15-line sonnet in tetrameter, about a relationship that's beginning to fall apart.

As for "My Father's Shirts", it's a Stefanile sonnet (not many of these around!). My favorite of the four.

Thank you, Bill Thompson and AE Talbot!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Plain Beauty

For some reason, the link to my curtal sonnet, "Plain Beauty", published in May 2017 in The Rotary Dial is non-functional, so I've included it in this blog post. It was one of six different types of sonnets I read on Saturday evening at the campfire reading at the Parc nature Les Forestiers-de-Saint-Lazare, in the little village where I live. A photo of me reading, taken by Brian Campbell, is below.

Plain Beauty

Glory be to God for homely things—
            For muddy boots and oil-stained dungarees;
                        For calloused hands that knead and scrub and hem;
Threadbare baby blankets; apron strings;
            Those first attempts to write the ABCs;
                        And tone-deaf lullabies at 3 a.m.

All things modest, unassuming, rough;
            Rag rugs, first drafts, eucalyptus trees;
                        Plain-spoken poems (foliage . . . leaf and stem);
They whelm the world in love. It’s not enough.
                                    Love them.

Catherine Chandler, August 12, 2017 Parc nature Les Forestiers-de-Saint-Lazare

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Weenies and Fish


Two of my poems (one a sonnet, one a leona rima) now online in Light Poetry Magazine, Summer/Fall 2017.

More importantly, poems by my amiga, Rhina Espaillat, and a wonderful essay on her work by Leslie Monsour.

Thank you, Melissa Balmain and team!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tonight's Reading

An all-sonnet reading tonight at a park in Saint-Lazare, Québec. Poetry and Music Under the Stars: Six different sonnets. Sonnets, after all, are songs.🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶🎶

 Fibonacci. Didn't write sonnets, but his mathematical sequence inspired my Fibonacci sonnet, "To the Iron Goddess of Mercy." It's all about pattern out of chaos.  ☕
Hopkins, of "Pied Beauty" fame, gave me the idea for my own curtal sonnet, "Plain Beauty." This will be my final poem. Line 10 1/2 is to die for. Or to live for. 💟
 Milton and his 20-line "caudate" sonnet, was a challenge, but I've written two lately, and will read my "Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning." 🎨
Shakespeare. The Bard. First on my reading list tonight is my Shakespearean (aka Elizabethan) sonnet, "Where All the Ladders Start", the title inspired by William Butler Yeats's "The Circus Animals' Desertion".  My poem deals with the roots of artistic inspiration. 🖊
 Spenser. The most difficult sonnet form IMHO. Well, maybe the Pushkin is harder . . . I'll be reading "Hornero", about the Uruguayan bird similar to the North American ovenbird. The rhymes weave their way down the fourteen lines, sort of imitating the chambered nest of said bird. The poem ends in a couplet meant as a friendly jab at my free-verse friends.  🐦

Petrarch.  I'll be reading my Petrarchan (aka Italian) sonnet, "Pointing Home". I've kept the rhyme scheme, but have used slant rhyme throughout. 🏡

Dudes, all.  :-(.  Although . . . I recently wrote a three-sonnet sequence, "Shakespeare's Sisters", inspired by a chapter in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.  I'm waiting to hear back from the publisher.  Wish me luck. It's a humdinger. 👧👧👧

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Summer of 1970

A waterfall at the Seven Tubs Recreation Area

My sonnet, "Summer of 1970" is now online at The Rotary Dial, Issue 53, August 2017 edition.

Many thanks to co-editors Alexandra Oliver and Pino Coluccio. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


X.J. Kennedy

It's X.J. Kennedy Parody Award time again!  I'll be sending in three this year. Wish me luck! By popular request, here is my finalist poem from two years ago, "Pack Rat", a parody of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Renasacence".  Enjoy!

—after “ Renascence”  by Edna St. Vincent Millay

All I could see from where I lay
Was stuff saved for a rainy day.
I turned and looked around the place
And saw what I’d kept, just in case.
So with my eyes I traced the walls
Of my apartment’s rooms and halls,
Straight around, above, below
To where I’d turned five lines ago;
And all I saw from where I lay
Was stuff saved for a rainy day.

Over these things I could not see
For bins and boxes bounded me.
I tried to touch them with my hands—
Those giant balls of rubber bands,
Those Wallabees I never wore,
Those doodads from the dollar store!

But sure the floor is there, I said:
Somewhere beneath the sofa-bed;
I’ll get down on my knees, and yes,
I’ll look my fill into the mess.
And so I looked, and sure enough,
Beneath a pyramid of stuff,
Between the window and the door
I came across a patch of floor!
Big deal! I thought, in no time flat
I’ll manumit the welcome mat!
I’ll advertise an open house!
Then all at once I spied a mouse.

I screamed, and —lo!— the murine froze
Then scurried up a pile of clothes.
I tried to bash him with a book,
A homemade cosh of Life and Look.
My cats joined in the raucous blitz,
My dogs joined in but called it quits;
I stumbled over cans and crates
Of grub with old expiry dates,
Until it seemed I must behold
Agglomerate made manifold.
I set a cheddar booby-trap
And lay down for a midday nap.
I dreamed of empty Mason jars,
I saw garage sales, church bazaars;
Who should appear to plague my snooze,
But Mickey shitting in my shoes!

I saw and heard and knew at last
I’d have to clean up good and fast;
I’d have to go through every heap,
Decide what I would cast or keep.
My Universe, cleft to the core,
Would smell of Lysol evermore!
I fain would toss what some call trash,
Delete my history and cache;
But never in a million years
My Philco with its rabbit ears.
I would not, —nay! ‘Twas too unfair
To throw away my teddy bear.

All hoards were of my hoarding, all
Redress was mine, and mine the haul
Of every ragman; mine the job
Of every slattern, every slob
Who, in their spurn of suds and soap,
Depend upon a forlorn hope.

I said it mattered not a jot,
But each bag held a second thought.
I was attached to all my things
With miles of multi-colored strings.
I filled a burlap gunnysack,
Then wept and put each item back.

A sad girl dressed in dark Capris
(those pants that end below the knees)
Went shopping on Rodeo Drive,
Bought thirty thongs then came alive.

A man with melancholy eyes
Amassed a treasure trove of ties,
Dependent on his silk cocaine.
I knew the feeling, felt his pain.

No ache I did not feel, no twinge
I could not share. Each jag, each binge,
Each blowout sale, each dumpster was
An avatar of Santa Claus.
All obloquy was mine, and mine
The ordinance to toe the line.

Oh, awful burden! Yin and yang,
Mr. Clean, the hazmat gang,
Descended on my stockpiled rooms
Equipped with buckets, mops and brooms;
Then came the Lifetime Channel crew,
Nosy neighbors in a queue,
A shrink to rouse me from my funk,
A blue container for my junk.

My lucid dream was such a load
It contravened the building code;
The floor gave way and I was thrust
Into the cellar’s dark and dust;
My dolls, unseated from their shelves,
OMG’d among themselves.
My tax returns, my water bills,
My overrated sleeping pills,
A platform shoe, a roller skate,
Some weed from nineteen sixty-eight,
Came crashing down upon my brow.
I was in deep, deep doo-doo now.

I tried to move, but I could not,
For every thing I’d ever bought
And stashed and never used or worn
Had come to haunt or else to mourn.
Then all at once I heard the sound
Of first responders. I’d been found!
And while I waited for release
An unexpected sense of peace
Suffused my soul from head to toe
Amid the strains of Let It Go.
Right then I knew I’d be OK,
I’d live to die another day.
And though determined to be free,
I ached for one last shopping spree.

I longed for Michaels’ bric-a-brac,
The tees on Walmart’s close-out rack;
The bagatelles, the bibelots,
The fripperies and furbelows;
The pennies waiting to be found,
Action Comics by the pound;
Photos, trinkets, objets d’art,
Souvenirs from near and far.
For soon I’ll be the feng shui queen,
My kitchen will be squeaky-clean;
Each item in its proper place,
A plenitude of breathing space,
The clutter gone, I’ll cease to hoard,
Sterility its own reward.

How can I bear it, lying here,
While overhead they joke and jeer,
calling me batty, boffo, flake,
chucking that piece of wedding cake
I’d saved for forty years (inside
the freezer) with its groom and bride.
O, multitude of multisets,
Belovèd Johnny Cash cassettes
That I shall never, never see
Again! O, save just one for me!
O God, I cried, forgive my sin;
Don’t send me to the loony bin!
Then suddenly I overheard
A conversation, word for word:
My terrifying fall from grace
Had been declared a hopeless case.

I listened closely. They were gone.
My prayer was answered. Thereupon,
García Márquez’ ghost appeared;
He took control and commandeered
Each pink flamingo, garden gnome,
Each knick-knack in my Home Sweet Home;
He made them fly, he made them dance,
He put my spirit in a trance.
Was this a reverie, a spell,
Or was it rapture? Who can tell?

I know not how such things can be;
I only know there came to me
A redolence of stinky cheese
Disguised by droplets of Febreze;
A sound I could not quite divine—
A squeal, a scratching and a whine.
The mouse! I wasn’t dreaming, then!
Awakened in the world of men
And women, I was tickled pink—
It all was there: the kitchen sink,
My slippers, none the worse for wear,
My seventh set of Tupperware;
A paint-by-number aquarelle,
Three hundred rolls of Cottonelle.
The Stars and Stripes, the Christmas wreath,
Two grown-up children’s baby teeth;
My mother’s brooch, my father’s hat,
Ten tokens for the Laundromat;
A yearbook, gold and navy blue,
A rose pressed to page forty-two.
My vision of the spic-and-span,
The grim and greedy garbage man,
Had served to vindicate my itch:
I was the paragon of kitsch.

Ah! Up then from the floor sprang I,
Exclaimed Yeehaw! and slapped my thigh;
I let my hair down, lived it up,
Swilled bourbon from a coffee cup.
I frolicked in my birthday suit
And didn’t give a fuck or hoot;
I hugged the ground, the grass, the trees,
Oblivious of Lyme disease.
Inebriate with happiness,
I’d realized that more is less.
My confidence at last restored,
I jumped for joy and praised the Lord. 
Each Hallelujah!, Cohen-style,
Made recent wretchedness worthwhile;
I felt that God had made me see
The elegance of entropy,
The value of the button box,
The brass of she who understocks.
And as I said my last Amen,
And disavowed the cult of Zen,
In natural affinity
Wee beastie smiled and clicked with me.

Diogenes slept in a jar;
I may start sleeping in my car;
For I have crammed my closet space
With foibles of the human race.
Life often splits the soul in two,
And makes off with one’s honey-dew;
It sours the milk of Paradise,
It wrecks the plans of men (and mice).
North and South and East and West
Are jam-packed with the dispossessed;
And she who stacks her beauties high
Will tumble with them by and by.

Catherine Chandler
1165, Rue des Sittelles
Saint-Lazare, Quebec  J7T 2N8

Phone : 011-598-94-700-629 (Uruguay)
Phone : 450-510-2564 (Canada)


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 Stygian 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.