Lyric Compression

posted in: Poetry | 0

Two poems by Baltimore poets Joseph Harrison (2020 Passager Open Issue) and Fay Ashby (2019 Passager Poetry Contest).
4 minutes


In this edition, two very different poets, Joseph Harrison and Fay Ashby.

Joseph Harrison grew up in Virginia and Alabama and now lives in Baltimore. After thinking for decades about Emily Dickinson, her poetry and her life, he wrote a series of poems in her voice. He said he liked the fact that her poems “exemplified a kind of lyric compression, with maximum pressure put on the individual word.” In his poem “My Sister Cut Me Into Pieces” from Passager’s Issue 68, he reflects on the various ways that Dickinson’s poems were edited and rearranged—by her sister, by a later editor and publisher, and by others.

My sister cut me into pieces
As soon as I was dead.
Worlds upon worlds I’d organized
She’d organize instead.

My lines grew titles, sprouted rhymes,
Gained period and “sense,”
And all my artful books were strewn
By clueless negligence.

And when a man stitched up my leaves,
With microscopic eye
Aligning all my holes and stains
Right where they used to lie,

Just as my long-lost reassembled
Lineaments shone through,
Forgetting all his labor’s love
He rearranged me, too.

Joe Harrison’s poem “My Sister Cut Me Into Pieces” from Passager Issue 68. The critic Harold Bloom said this about Joe’s work: “Harrison fuses formal control with a rich interiority and composes many poems that deserve to become canonical.”

Every year, Passager sponsors a poetry contest and publishes the winners in a special issue of its journal. One of those winners in 2019 was Fay Ashby. Faye retired after almost 49 years from a job with the federal government. She volunteers at two museums and is a member of the National Alliance of African-American-Art Support Groups. She said she was a serious fairy tale reader as a child and has always loved making up stories to tell her children and grandchildren.

Here’s Fay Ashby’s poem “Gramma, Rules.”

He was a verb
Go run march
She was an adverb
Slowly carefully gently
Their sentence was short.

He was a noun
Man man man
She was an adjective
Small tiny timid
Big Mistake.

She was a run-on sentence
He was punctuation
He tried to restrict her
She wanted to be free.

Not everyone wants to live by the rules.

. . .

Fay Ashby’s poem “Gramma, Rules” from Passager’s 2019 Poetry Contest Issue.

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Due to limitations with online formatting, poems in the transcripts may not appear in their original form. Our apologies to the poets!