Monday, May 11, 2015

May 11: Poet of the Week, Ellen Bryant Voigt, "Kyrie"

I had a difficult time choosing a poet to feature this week.  Most weeks, the poet sort of asserts her/himself in my mind, and I know almost immediately.  Sometimes, it's the poet's name.  Sometimes, it's a favorite poem or book.

This evening, after much thought, I have chosen Ellen Bryant Voigt as the Poet of the Week, mostly for her fantastic collection Kyrie.  I saw Voigt read from this collection when it was first released, back in 1995.  I remember being stunned by the poems.

Kyrie is a series of sonnets about the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 that killed over 25 million people worldwide.  The sonnets are untitled, written in the voices of soldiers, children, victims, and survivors.  Simply reading one or two of the poems will not give you a true understanding of the power of this book.  Reading Kyrie is devastating and beautiful at once, like looking at a daguerreotype of your great grandmother as a young girl.

This book makes Saint Marty want to be a better poet.

From Kyrie by Ellen Bryant Voigt:

To be brought from the bright schoolyard into the house:
to stand by her bed like an animal stunned in the pen:
against the grid of the quilt, her hand seems
stitched to the cuff of its sleeve--although he wants
most urgently the hand to stroke his head,
although he thinks he could kneel down
that it would need to travel only inches
to brush like a breath his flushed cheek,
he doesn't stir:  all his resolve,
all his resources go to watching her,
her mouth, her hair a pillow of blackened ferns--
he means to match her stillness bone for bone.
Nearby he hears the younger children cry,
and his aunts, like careless thieves, out in the kitchen.

If you haven't read it, you should

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