Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

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).