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Northfield native returns home to read from ‘Daffodils at Twilight’poetry book

  • CHULA

  • CHULA

  • “Daffodils at Twilight”



For the Recorder
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Poetry doesn’t always speak to me. Sometimes the effort the poet puts into his or her work is so apparent that I have trouble relating to the underlying emotion.

I had no trouble reading “Daffodils at Twilight,” however. This collection of verse by Margaret Chula spoke to me: of nature, of country life, of love, of loss.

Chula lives in Portland, Ore., but she grew up in Northfield. She will return to her hometown to speak about and read from her book on Thursday, Sept. 20.

“Daffodils at Twilight” focuses on a number of themes, but its primary canvas is Chula’s experience growing up on her grandparents’ farm. Her mother left her father when Chula was 9, moving the little girl and her four younger siblings from Greenfield to Northfield.

Chula’s poems evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood, although her grown-up self echoes through her recollection. The poem “Fifty Years Later, Mother and Daughter Stop by 307 Conway Street” expresses both the mother’s and the daughter’s reactions to revisiting their family home.

The center of the book deals with her mother’s illness and eventual death a few years ago. This section is tender and deeply moving.

I spoke with Chula by phone last week and asked about the genesis of “Daffodils.”

“It was a 10-year project,” she explained. “People don’t realize how long books take, not only to write and revise the poems, but to find a publisher. (Poets) write about what’s going on in our lives. We accumulate poems, and then try to find an overarching theme to form a book.

“My mother’s illness and death were going on so that became part of the book. ... The book is a tribute to my mother and also a memoir in poetry about coming of age in the ’50s and ’60s.”

She added that the book is populated by characters that are objects as well as people, “some of the things that were around … like a Remington (manual) typewriter. And girdles. We have ‘shapewear’ now, we don’t wear girdles,” she said with a laugh.

She spoke briefly about how she structured the book.

“I try to write poems that are inclusive,” she observed. “From the very first poem, I want to welcome people into the book and encourage them to keep reading. So I began “Daffodils” with a love poem. Everybody likes a love poem. ...

“And I make a point of ending on a quiet note, to have a peaceful resolution. There’s emotional turmoil in poetry.”

Though Chula didn’t come from a family of writers, she began writing poetry at a tender age.

“There was no background in the arts in our family, except my Aunt Helen,” Chula said. “She traveled around the world, so she was my role model for adventure.

“I began writing poetry when I was very little. I spent a lot of time outdoors, inventing games, naming trails in the woods, and writing a diary.”

She recalled being influenced by the children’s books of conservationist Thornton Burgess.

“Each book was about one character,” she remembered, “and the character was an animal. I felt that animals could speak and live their own lives apart from humans.”

She grew up to emulate her aunt, traveling around the world. She and her husband ended up spending 15 years abroad, 12 of those in Japan. There, Chula continued to write poetry and also taught both English and creative writing at universities.

The pair settled in Oregon both because her husband is an avid windsurfer (their area has great opportunities for windsurfing) and because Portland offers “a lot of Asian culture.”

Throughout her travels, Chula has maintained ties to the Pioneer Valley, visiting her late mother extensively. She plans to spend time with her two brothers when she is in town, and she will take one last look at the house on Maple Street in which she grew up, where several of the poems are set.

“It’s up for sale now, and it’s empty. So I’ll be going in to say goodbye,” she said pensively. “You reach a certain age, and you’re saying goodbye to a lot of places and people.”

Despite the sadness of some of her poems, Chula radiates positive energy, even over the phone. She dresses with flair and adores hats, which her mother put on her head from an early age.

At 70, she is looking forward to the next chapters in, and next poems of, her life. She is also looking forward to catching up with members of her high school class (Pioneer Valley Regional School, Class of 1965) at their upcoming reunion.

Chula will read from “Daffodils at Twilight” at the Deerfield Valley Art Association, 105 Main St. in Northfield, on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

She will also read some of her poems (along with two Vermont poets) at the Brattleboro Public Library on Wednesday, Sept. 19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Anyone who wishes to buy her book but cannot come to either event may order a copy by contacting Chula through her website, margaretchula.com.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.

Below, read Margaret Chula’s poem “Arithmetic.” From “Daffodils at Twilight,” Kelsay Books, 2017.

Arithmetic

Fourth grade is hard and even harder when your mother leaves

your father forever. The next day you’re in a new school sitting

at an old wooden desk with an inkwell filled with real ink and knife

scratches everywhere from kids who live in Northfield Farms

and milk cows before coming to school.

On that first day in the new school, you wear an ironed white blouse,

plaid skirt, and black buckle-up boots. Miss Forbes is teaching long

division and, even though you memorized your multiplication tables

at the other school, long division is hard. Especially figuring out

what to do with remainders.

As you’re trying to divide 365 by 6, a boy named Harry moves

his chair closer. You can smell his Ivory soap skin and you want

him to say something — anything. You want a sign that he’ll be

your friend and, just as you’re thinking this, a big drop of ink

splatters on your sleeve. You watch it bleed into the fabric.

You look at Harry’s red face as he says I’m sorry and think:

now we can be friends.

Your other friend is the Dickinson Memorial Library.

You can’t wait to open those heavy doors, greet Mrs. Phelps

at the front desk, and head straight for the window seat,

plush with pillows. Your reading cave. Across the room,

the grandfather clock’s reliable tick and gong on the half hour

remind you that it will soon be dark and you’ll have to ride

your bike home to help Mother set the table. Only six places now.

Today you understand why subtraction is easier than division.