Poetry of Elmira
Margaret K. Menges
Paintings by Thomas S. Buechner
Collages by Daniel Menges
In Lament's Grocery, Elmira, a small town in upstate New York, becomes a persona who drifts from one poem to the next, unearthing historical vignettes and scenes from daily life. In doing so, she creates a panoramic portrait of the landscape. Sometimes she's a bystander, sometimes a more major character. Often she bumps elbows with strangers and the poems bloom from the detritus of these brief encounters. Sometimes, it's the briefest of pictures: a woman on the street pushes a leaf with the rubber tip of her cane. Elmira searches for connections and often plays with time. Some of the poems make reference to specific anecdotes from the city's collective history or the writer's personal history, but the collection is neither memoir nor documentary.
In some cases, the poems tend toward a magical realism. Some poems are based upon actual events: a bus driver, on the last day of his job, buys coins to give away to each child on the bus. Others events did not happen, but perhaps could have. Often the fact or the personal vignette becomes the diving board that springs Elmira into other waters. And, strange as it may sound, at least two poems germinated from the fertile dream world, where images paint themselves, seemingly, without our permission.
From the book:
Elmira Waits Each Year
for ten perfect days in April
when the three pink crab apple trees
on Water Street decide on cue to bloom
together, then agree to let go
together on the count of three,
carpet the sidewalk, transform
it into a runway filled with petals
that cling to the wheels
of strollers, to the treads of sneakers,
catch in the wet paws of dogs pulling
children to a hundred back hallways,
kitchens, love mapping strangers
with pink blossoms, this mysterious
community of the Pink Blossomed Ones
with all their daily rituals, plates
with plates, cups with cups, blankets folded
just so at the end of each and every bed.
Elmira Keeps Track of Numbers
As best she can, all the facts: the gross national product,
real estate transactions, annual rainfall, the length
of the wobbly social ladder. What's left: all things
shimmering, inexact. She's added up her firsts and studied
their sums. She collects them like gold stars on nearly perfect
papers, saves them in a trunk in the attic, hauls them out
on dusty floorboards, rainy days. That day, for example,
when she sat in Dr. Elizabeth Whittaker's first class
as first female full professor at that first college
offering graduate degrees to women. The experiment
Elizabeth conducted that day concerned the properties
and effects of acids, ways to neutralize them. In front
of Cowles Hall, a male professor welcomes his colleague, but wants
to be assured that she is not receiving the same
salary as he is. She is.
Photographs: Courtesy of the Chemung County
Historical Society, Elmira, NY
Margaret K. Menges grew up in Elmira, NY.
She received her B.A. and Masters Degree from
Elmira College and taught English in the Elmira
Heights School District. With artist Kathy Huddle,
Margaret collaborated on the book Children of the Sky.
Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals such
as Poet Lore, Rattle and The English Journal. She has
also contributed to the anthologies Earth-Shattering Poems,
Roots and Flowers and Dancing with Joy.
Lament's Grocery is a 64 page hand-stitched paper book with spine $16.00
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(Release - February 6)
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