Saturday, August 05, 2006

Pamela Stewart and "Not Light"

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have added the titles of some of my personal library in LibraryThing. I still haven’t yet paid for a lifetime membership, so the number of titles entered remains at 200. In creating tags for some of these titles, I used the tag limited edition poetry for eight of these books, all of which are chapbooks, that is, collections of less than forty pages. A chapbook allows a poet to make some of his/her work available to the reading public at a reasonable price. Often, a chapbook precedes a poet’s first full-length collection; some poets, however, have been known to release chapbooks of their work before a second or third full-length collection.

Pamela Stewart, a poet who has published five full-length collections and whose work has not gotten much exposure, has also published five chapbooks of her work. Two early chapbooks were included in The St. Vlas Elegies, her first full-length collection, which was published by L’Epervier Press in 1977. That same year, Maguey Press released Half-Tones, a chapbook containing twelve poems. One poem that she kept back from Cascades, her second full-length collection, is titled "Not Light." This poem remains one of my favorite ones; my students have responded positively to it as well when I take them through it, stanza by stanza. Under Fair Use, I am including the poem in its entirety.


Dayflowers cluster at the steps.
The hedge is spiked
With lilacs that have dried
To brown cones. Thirty years ago,

A plum tree was planted when I was born;
It’s taller than me and the roots
Must spread, now, everywhere
Under a lawn, under
The glowing flowers that lose
Their color at this hour. I want

To wake you up from afternoon sleep
But my dress has faded
In the fading light. This garden,
Once deliberately made, is wildly
Uncared for and I think
All the flowers eat light
At dusk so their colors

Can startle us tomorrow.
Tonight, there are no
Distances, just the large
Darkness through which I make
My way. I reach
To touch where I can’t see,
And feel a pulse—
A sound the tree-frogs make
To sever fields. I could sing

Like a rude bird to wake you,
Remain here always, sleep-walking
The day, wrecking the night. Or
I could eat the flowers that ate
The light, and take the milk

From broken stems to return
Folded in a dress. And, then,
Enter the house with light inside me
Like a firefly caught
In a dark bouquet I carry into the room
Where you have moved again

Beyond the weight
Of flowers, beyond the light of stars.

Pamela Stewart

Half-Tones. Tucson: Maguey Press, 1977. 25-26.

One of my teachers once said that a woman has to use her body in her poems to get published. “Not Light” differs because the emotional situation is revealed through the images and metaphors. I could explain the poem for you, but I know that those of you who have gotten this far down the page are a bright bunch, and I need say no more.

This book remains available from Abebooks. Originally, it sold for $3.00; now it can be found for as little as $6.00 and as much as $37.00, depending on the condition.