Books and Beyond
I recently read Freya Manfred’s book of poetry, “Loon in Late November Water,” Red Dragon Fly Press, c 2018. As you know, April is National Poetry Month.
Freya’s introduction to the book is a two-page autobiography. She tells her readers about her mother and about teaching a poetry class at the university. We learn that she liked kolaches.
The introductory poem tells us that her poems are “born from my dreams” (p. 11). They are in free verse.
There are four sections in the book, and each one begins with a title and a quote from other writers: two from James Wright, one from Rainier Maria Rilke, and one from Mark Twain. These are all authors I like and reread.
The poem “Loon in Late November Water” in section one has the title of her book, so I sense that it gets me close to the overall theme of the book. She describes the loon diving into the water, her colors — white and black, and the long time the bird is under water. When does she resurface? This is similar to Freya’s daily world where she lives with everyday events on the surface, and then goes under the surface to connect with matters of life and death.
She tells us how writing poetry for her is like the loon’s life. She dives deep into the world, comes to the surface, and she wants to live this way, like the loon in late November. Sometimes people see her (like they see the loon), and sometimes they don’t (she is diving).
Now the poem “The Loon Speaks” takes me further into the lives of loons. She compares them to “stern grandfathers and grandmothers” (p. 17) as they are riding the waves. She writes that loons were here long before us, and may be here long after we are gone. The last line: “Here! Here I am. Here! Here I am” (p. 17).
People are in her poems. I like “Old Friends.” Nature is her old friend: “a steady spring rain, or late summer sunshine … sedimentary, rock-solid cousin earth” (p.21).
The second section is titled “Night is the Time of Reckoning.” She writes several poems about her brother’s death; here we can walk with her in sad times like this. We have them too. In the first poem, “Forgive Me, Brother,” she tells us she was reading many poems to help her adjust to her brother’s dying, but she didn’t find the right one. When she found a pen to write her poem, “The cat came to purr on my chest / and I threw her out with such vengeance!” (p. 31). She wants to learn how to forgive herself for living when her brother is dying.
The third section is “Heart Work.” These poems tell us what needs to be done as we get older. She was 74 years old in 2018. “Old Songs for New Weather” describes how music takes her to her past–fun times in high school and college. These memories are guides for her pathway as she gets older, and this pathway is in a “magical landscape” (p. 63). Here are the songs she includes in the last lines of the poem:
“I never will marry, I’ll be no man’s wife” (Linda Ronstadt)
“Take my hand, I’m a stranger in paradise” (Tony Bennett)
“Don’t think twice, it’s all right” (Bob Dylan)
A lighter poem is “Baseball,” which describes how at first she didn’t watch baseball games with her father and brother, but then she learned to enjoy watching the games with them. I think she is saying don’t keep shutting the door on things. Your life will benefit from getting involved.
Section IV is titled “A Wild, Gentle Thing.” This part of the book is about relationships between women and men. Most of the poems describe how difficult daily life can be when you are living close to another person. You love him deeply, but still there are differences that can be powerful in your everyday life. This time I’ll give you some of the titles — a poem in itself:
A Man Lies
She Longs for Another Way to Love and Be Loved
Nothing Pleases Her
A New Home
In the last poem in the book, “Surviving a Longtime Marriage,” she wants to make sense of this way of life –living daily with a person you deeply love, and yet …
You’re in the middle of a conversation
hat began before you were born
and will end long after you die. (p. 95)
And now, you will read the poem I wrote that gives me some solace:
Every moment I am alive
is a sanctuary…
The homemade apple pizza
Howard and I had for lunch,
the blue sky with fluffy clouds,
crows I see in our backyard,
puzzles of snow on green grass,
a letter and newspaper in our mailbox
at the end of the lane.
Every book stacked next to me,
our friend’s gift of trout quiche
in the refrigerator for supper.
my favorite Philip Glass music
on public radio,
the pen I’m using to write
letters to friends and family.
You are all with me at the table.
It is quiet as we listen to each other
and pass around
the sheet of Wild Orchids postage
Jody Mohr, April 2020