Thursday, January 05, 2006

Crossing into 2006 with Skyway Poet's words


Chico poet Audrey C. Small is part of a small coterie of writers, the Skyway Poets, who meet monthly, alternating between Chico and Paradise, to listen to and critique each other's work.

Small's first chapbook, "Crossings" ($6 in paper from PWJ Publishing,, out of Tehama), collects more than two dozen poems, about half previously published, and illustrates them with three of the author's carefully drawn string figures.

According to a note on the author, Small often uses these figures -- cat's cradles -- when she presents her poetry or short stories. "Her mother, Paula Collinson, originally taught her some string figures and encouraged her to use written sources to expand her interest in this ancient art form. Audrey has taught and shared this interest in the San Francisco Bay Area and Butte County, as well as in travels with her husband overseas." The book lists several sources on constructing string figures, among them Caroline Furness Jayne's "String Figures and How To Make Them: A Study of Cat's Cradle in Many Lands" (Dover Publications) and Camilla Gryski's "Cat's Cradle, Owl's Eyes: A Book of String Games" (William Morrow and Company).

The poems in "Crossings" don't tell a single story but rather stories of multiple crossings that weave themselves into a pattern, as string weaves in and out to produce "Caribou in the Willows," or "Many Stars" or "the Salmon River with the Last Peak on the Plain" (shown on the cover), each lending its title to a poem. "String Figures" reminds us there was a World Wide Web long before the Internet:

Figures one by one
enact in fact or memory
an endless line of circle oval pentacle.
Lizard / bird / marsupial
may move away
but come back
another way
to dance or play
caught in the web
of infinite variety.

Here are deep forces at work, suggests the poet in "Forces":

In spring
when we were young
we planted gnarled sweeds
in our gravelly yard
and the sun-warmed earth
of summer brought yellow
and orange bursts
of nasturtium.

There is another force too, between human and human, evoked not only by this poem but by "Countless":

Some things in numbers
lend a beauty
single objects lose:
the clustered grape
and heather.
Days spent together.

There are crossings of oceans, from "Martin Mere, Lancashire" and "Ullet Road Church, Liverpool," "over the sleeping Aegean" to Greece ("The moon grows round as a chariot wheel, / turns to bronze, then a silver shield / fielding spears of stars."). In "Sibling" there were

Welsh pebbles shifting,
slipping with delicious friction
beneath our dashing feet ...
Life carried us seaward.
Gone now the Irish Sea
of childhood, sounds of the shingle beach ...
Today a golden sun
washes my pebble paths --
boundaries of my wedded home
by Contra Costa's echoing shore.
There are memories that cross our minds and shape our years.

January 4th is "My Father's Birthday":

As rain falls on snow
large white patches
that were pasture
stand out across the canyon,
but trees, ever darker,
guard winding paths
out and away.
Ridge pines remain erect
while these housebound shrubs
bent beneath snow-load need help
some probing, some shaking.
Facing the wrong direction
they harbor both cold
and heavy burden. ...
The snow is heavy and the wind fierce,
but what is left at twilight
stays: dark trees,
new green of lawn
and those smooth, faraway fields.

In "Siberian House," the "name of a Chukchee Indian string figure," the poet writes:

Have you ever played cat's cradle?
My mother and I did.
She would insert her hands
in the closed loop of string
and, drawing it taut,
start us with the "Cradle."
Best was to watch her make,
in slow motion, a Navajo "Butterfly"
and feel her delight in its fluttering.
But of all the string figures --
not the easiest she taught me -- I come back to "Siberian House."
I feel in my hands
the building of the house
the throwing loose of the loop
the collapse of the roof
and the running away of two figures.
Yet it wasn't like that.
Yes, the slates fell in,
walls and floor were smashed
by the bomb's blast,
but the figures had already left.
In the end war and separation never happened:
the string always came out whole.

In 2006, may we be spared as well.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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