×

Pioneer Valley Poets: Somerville poet’s latest touches on our relationship with grief

  • Slate Roof Press member poets Kate Stearns and Anna Warrock glue graphics into the covers of Warrock’s new chapbook, “From the Other Room,” newly published by the Northfield press. FOR THE RECORDER/Trish Crapo



For The Recorder
Friday, May 05, 2017

Grief has a way of altering not only us, but the world itself. As Somerville poet Anna Warrock writes in a poem titled, “What We Ought to Do,” the news of a loved one’s death, “reshapes the room.”

Warrock’s new book of poems, “From the Other Room,” newly published by Slate Roof Press of Northfield, touches on loss, grief and living.

Warrock’s poems have been published in journals and anthologies. She has taught poetry to the elderly, college students and teenagers, and led workshops for nurses, social workers and others in using poetry to “shape the facets of grieving.” One of her poems is permanently inscribed in the bricks of the Davis Square MBTA platform in Somerville. Others have been set to music and performed at the Boston Museum of Science’s Hayden Planetarium.

Slate Roof books are always beautiful and Warrock’s book is no exception. Designed by master letterpress printer Ed Rayher of Swamp Press in Northfield, with input from the poet, each Slate Roof book features carefully chosen papers, graphics and typography. Slate Roof member poets help with tasks such as gluing in graphics and the books are all hand-sewn.

The slightly metallic plum cover stock of “From the Other Room” feels great to hold. The tactile experience slows you down, allowing time to peer through a cutaway window in the cover where a beautiful and mysterious detail from a painting by Shelburne Falls painter Christin Couture offers a glimpse into what might be the “other room” of the title. Of course the poems reveal that room to be otherworldly as well, a room in which the dead converse just out of earshot from the living.

The book’s opening poem, “New Moon Snowfall,” only five lines long, expresses what can be the deep bewilderment of the grieving process: “Sorrow/ does not leave me./ It changes/ into/ something I know.”

Yes.

Anyone who has experienced grief — and that is, or will be, all of us— knows that we don’t “get over” it. We are swallowed by it. We absorb it. It changes us.

In “Spring’s Lament,” a poem that feels perfectly timed right now, as the trees in Western Massachusetts begin to leaf out, Warrock addresses what can be the shocking realization that, in spite of our having lost someone we love, the world goes on. When you are grieving, the world’s beauty can seem incongruous, even unbelievable.

“Even the great hole/ in the earth that swallows/ everything — terror, abiding love — greens up,” Warrock writes.

And: “So a tree turns green and green and green.”

The book open on the table before us, Warrock talks about the poem.

“As much as I want to stay with my grieving, I can’t,” she says. “So, there’s something that’s kind of both greening but also relentless (about spring).”

The end of the poem, Warrock says, is about, “The reluctance to let go, and also, wanting to figure out what’s in that reluctance. ... This poem is interesting to me because of the craft of it, in that turn of ‘forgiving’ to ‘forgiven.’”

She says, “For me, there is a shadow under the green and there will always be a shadow under the green. And initially, the impulse is to say that like the green, the shadow is very forgiving. But thinking about the relationship to the departed, maybe there’s some forgiveness needed all around.”

The darkness that comes with a person’s passing is forgiven, Warrock says. The person who has died is forgiven, as is the living person who is left with the unanswered and unanswerable questions about their relationship, the “What ifs …” and the “I wish I hads …”

This poem honors Warrock’s sister but other poems in the book reach outward to explore the experiences of a Sudanese refugee or back in time to the realms of mythology and history. Some of the poems are about her mother dying when she was just sixteen.

“When my mother died, I think this is fair to say, I had already thought about writing because my public school encouraged children to write and in the grade school,” Warrock says. “They had a little newsletter and all the grades had to write a little something. By the time I got to junior high, there was a little journal. And when my mother died, I was angry because now I knew I was going to have to write about her. And I wanted to write about quite a lot of other things, you know?”

She laughs lightly and smiles.

We talk about how grief can become the one connection you have to a departed loved one, and thus can be hard to give up. Especially as time passes and our memories fade, we might find ourselves clinging to grief in order to keep that person close.

Speaking of her mother, Warrock says, “There was a certain point in my 30s and 40s when I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t see her in the way that I used to be able to absolutely see her, simply because time had passed.’ …Oddly enough I can see her now, very clearly.”

Memory is elastic, just like grieving, and cyclical. Just as spring comes around again, year after year, each new death brings up her mother’s death, Warrock says. And, since each of us has lost or will lose a loved one, Warrock’s poems can provide insight into our own cycles of grief. At her book launch in Cambridge, Warrock says that audience members approached her afterwards with tears in their eyes.

“So it’s reaching people,” she says of her book, “and that’s a useful thing. It is my story and it is your story but it’s also art. You can go back to it. And a month later, it will be different. There will be a different part of it that speaks to you. And that’s the function of art.”

Find out more about Anna Warrock at annamwarrock.com. Order “From the Other Room” and find out more about Slate Roof Press at: www.slateroofpress.com.

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She is always looking for poets, writers and artists to interview for her columns. She can be reached at tcrapo@mac.com.