‘Deep Fahrenheit’ by Amy Gordon

  • “Deep Fahrenheit” by Gill resident Amy Gordon Contributed photo

  • Amy Gordon Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 9/5/2019 7:00:24 AM

In her poetry chapbook “Deep Fahrenheit,” Gill resident Amy Gordon moves figuratively and literarily from childhood into adulthood. Through a semi-autobiographical display of coming of age and coming to terms with age and death, she maps a psychological and literary path that many readers might find parallel to their own.

As Gordon explains, “I think that my turn of mind, my imagination always comes into play. Sure, there’s an autobiography in it, but it’s a lens through which I see the world, which is trying to see magic behind the world. Not mystical, exactly, but the possibility of the fantastic maybe. And I respond to things in the world — climate change for one.”

Gordon’s beginning poem “Field Under Stars” presents us with a woman during feudal times, reflecting on the dominant geocentric theory of the universe of the time: “She understands/for the first time the sun/has no need of her. She doesn’t know/men will be scorned and burned at the stake/for saying so.”

Gordon explains: “I think that women, working out in the fields, probably intuited that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, but it took men to state that as fact for that to be believed. ... If you’re outside all day working under the sun, you must realize that you’re not the center of the universe.”

She carries this optimism about the hidden depth of the common person throughout the rest of her poetry. In the poem “If Quest,” she interweaves observations about people in service industries — people whose jobs so often make them invisible — with suggestions about their lives, their thoughts, their dreams.

“What do you know? What do you know?/We’re all the same and all of us,/all of us, miss someone saying,/How is your little boy?/Are you feeling all right?/I like your tie, I’m scared to die.” (Note: Italics are hers.)

This theme is carried through other poems as well, such as “Underwater” in which she portrays her father’s persona as split between his surface-level image and his aquatically imagined hidden depths.

“Under the sea Dad loves a mermaid,/seaweed in her hair. Above the sea/he never would have looked at her.”

Gordon says that she became an observer by “being the youngest of four in a very verbal family. ... it was a learned way of being, through watching, and you naturally start seeing what is below the surface.”

Gordon’s poetic process of coming of age includes some of the growing pains of adolescence: first love leading to heartbreak; grappling with the point (lessness) of profanity; rebelling against traditional gender roles; and learning how to find beauty in an imperfect, even dangerous world.

Especially in such moments of finding beauty and meaning in the commonplace, traces of her literary inspirations Pablo Neruda, Donald Hall and Maria Wisł awa Anna Szymborska surface.

As another source of ideas, Gordon cites “private mythology that has to do with being in nature and in the woods as a child, reading a lot of books, and pretending a lot, infused with the Greek idea of metamorphosis and feeling nature as something that is alive.”

The poetic journey Gordon guides us through ends with the lyrical “I” just barely coming into her own when she faces the apocalypse in “Sunset.” The careful reader will recognize the bitterness of life ending while having so much to live for, along with the sweetness of having had so much. Thus, the recognition of the fragility of and poignancy of life ultimately leads to carpe diem.

After working as a drama teacher at the Bement School for over 30 years, Gordon still puts on a children’s play once a year in Gill because, she says, “I like working with kids, and it does give me a chance to be with kids for a little while.”

She also has written many children’s books for middle-school readers. Asked about her late-in-life turn from children’s literature to poetry, she continues, “The children’s book publishing world was beginning to feel more like a slog. I sort of lost the joy of it. I was feeling drawn to writing from my more adult side. … I always liked writing poetry. After I retired from Bement, I decided to take it more seriously and go back to school. I got my MFA in 2017.”

During a low-residency, 2 ½-year program at Drew University, Gordon wrote most of the poems included in her chapbook: “I learned a lot from going through that program. … I just read all sorts of contemporary poets I never would have read otherwise.”

She cites writing teachers Judith Vollmer and Ellen Doré Watson as being particularly influential, and of the latter says, “I would put her up there in terms of who’s been important in my poetry life.”

Amy Gordon will be reading at Flourish in Turners Falls today at 6:30 p.m., alongside local poets Cindy Snow and Amanda Lou Doster. Admittance is free, light refreshments will be served, and books will be for sale after the reading. Gordon’s book can also be purchased at prolificpress.com. To learn more about her and her other projects, visit Gordon’s personal website at amyagordon.com.

Nicole Braden-Johnson of Conway is the author of “Unheard Melodies,” a monthly poetry column in the local “The Visitor,” and has also been published in several literary journals. She is always on the lookout for poetry news and events, and can be reached at bradennicole@gmail.com. Visit her website at unheardmelodiesnkbj.blogspot.com.


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