Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, Wendy Videlock is joining us to share the work of the poet Virginia Hamilton Adair and discuss the natural world around us, the vivacious language and choices made in these poems, and experimentation. Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you next time!
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose these poems?
Wendy Videlock: I think they really represent Virginia Hamilton-Adair’s style, range and thematic interests. And of course they’re some of my favorites of hers. She really knows how to surprise the reader, how to pace a poem, how to pack a punch, how to avert our expectation. In “Keyring,” those first two lines, “My grandfather, when he was very old, / to one small room confined,/ gave me a bunch of his keys to hold.” assure us we are in good hands — the syntax, compression, and sonic interests alert us to that right away. Though she chooses a common subject, (one’s grandfather) she treats the subject uniquely, rendering the rather common subject uncommon indeed. And that close! Perfection. She embodies in this piece the diction, tone, and wonder of a child, and that “chuckling sound” the keys make is just a brilliant touch. She seems to work with what Frost called ‘the ghost of meter’ and often ends her poems on a note of mystery that widens, rather than closes off, or confirms our view. I think this little poem really exemplifies that.
“Yea Though I Walk” is a potent little piece with three discernible turns. I’m very drawn to a poetic that’s interested in pacing, that can equally surprise, delight, and devastate. She begins by lulling us into a pastoral scene, with sweet little lambs bobbing along and rather romantic perceptions of shepherding —then leads us to a stark reminder of efficiency, hunger, even cruelty: a wounded lamb unable to keep up, is left by the road we are told, its hooves wired together. The speaker imagines the shepherd returning that evening to collect his dinner. She then switches register again, panning out to a wider view, reflecting more meditatively, “The good shepherd of myths, psalms, and parable/ have always made me uneasy. / Something wrong there, leading me / however gently, to the slaughter”. This describes not only the shepherd and the lamb of course, but also how the poem leads us along with its shifting registers and perceptions — adding yet another layer of engagement to this devastating little poem.
AH: What was your first experience with this poet’s work?
WV: I was given an anthology by a friend a few years ago called Poets of the American West, edited by Robert Mezey, and discovered one slim and wily little poem of hers called “Mojave Evening.” In it she closes the poem by describing coyotes at dusk this way: “their eyes coming out to hunt/ like all the other stars’. Again a common subject given remarkably uncommon treatment. I was hooked.
AH: Adair’s work is often inspired by the world that was around her. What has been inspiring you lately?
WV: Yes, I’m invested in the natural world as well, the character of the landscape, the wildlife, the changing skies, the cosmos. I’ve been experimenting a lot with prose lately, and testing the boundaries of genre bending, of specialty blending, of literary integrations and the imagination. So many marvelous opportunities for metaphor, intimacy, wordplay and surprising new insights. A writer never has enough time. One of my disappointments in the modern poetic is that it often goes straight for the cerebral, the hyper-ironic, the center stage “I” and the poet’s intention being its central purpose —very often neglecting the enchantment of song, the natural world, the elements, the very facts and shared understandings of our existence. Adair reminds us that poetry’s roots are in song, and that none of those things need be sacrificed in service of the poem.
AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any news to share?
WV: My upcoming book, The Poetic Imagination: A Worthy Difficulty is a collection of new and previously published essays, reviews, and prosimetrum (known in eastern tradition as haibun) on the elusive nature of language, landscape, the imagination, and the often misunderstood nature of verse craft or prosody. I’ve also got a new book of poems I’m readying for publication. I think both should be out by the end of the year or early in 2022.
Wendy Videlock lives in a small agricultural town on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies. Her work appears in Hudson Review, Poetry, Dark Horse, The New York Times, Best American Poetry, and other venues. Her books are available from Able Muse Press. Her upcoming collection of essays, The Poetic Imaginarium: A Worthy Difficulty, will appear in the fall of 2021. To see more of Wendy’s work, please visit: www.wendyvidelock.com, or tune in to this recent webinar she did with Tim Green, editor of Rattle: https://youtu.be/OheIJ9Gg3C8
Read some of Wendy’s work at Poetry here.
Discover her full-length collection Slingshots and Love Plums at Able Muse Press.
Virginia Hamilton Adair was an American poet. Originally, she published a few pieces from the 1930s to 1950s, but then took a break that spanned fifty years. After this break, she found acclaim with her poetry during the last decade of her life. At eighty-three years old and after she had gone blind, her first poetry collection Ants on the Melon: A Collection of Poems was published in 1996. Over her lifetime, she had written over a thousand poems.
Read her poem “Buckroe, After the Season, 1942” here.
Find her poetry collection “Beliefs and Blasphemies” here.
Read more of her work at The New Yorker.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com