Driskell’s ‘elegant and very wise verse’ “”

By Linda Elisabeth Beattie, Special to The Courier-Journal, February 28, 2009

Seed Across Snow, a lush collection of intelligent, elegant and very wise verse, is Louisvillian Kathleen Driskell's stunning second book. Her first book, Laughing Sickness, sealed the associate program director of Spalding University's brief-residency

Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program's reputation as a remarkable poet. Seed Across Snow is more striking still.

Readers plunge into Driskell's poetry with

assurance because her voice is so accessible, her

subjects so familiar. "Forgive" concerns a woman

whose focus shifts as her son gets his hair cut.

She writes, "Short, really short, I said, but I

was in fact, not thinking/ of him, was

looking out the wide windows, the traffic


When the mother finally turns to her son she

gasps "at the swath shorn, the wide path of stubble across/ the back of his head. His scalp

was like a plucked/ ridiculous bird, a prisoner-of-war, vulnerable/ His crime? To have a

mother whose head could be turned/ from him so easily."

Driskell's stanzas reflect the rectitude of such prosaic scenes. She writes, "And in that broad mirror, that

magnifying glass, his eyes/ trapped mine — were the unforgiving and blistering sun,/ and I

began to feel the smoke rise inside me,/ the smoldering ruin that my carelessness cost,/ and

his furious attempt to turn this poem to cinders."

The poet's voice is a pitch-perfect blend of humor and angst, reason and resolve. Instead of preaching to her

readers, she invites them to re-examine the evidence of experience. Her revelations are as precise as they are profound.

Driskell's powerful diction also transcends grief with tensile grace. In "Overture" she links memories of

classmates' fatalities with the near death of a neighbor, the demise of a beloved dog and a great-grandfather's

suicide. It's a tightly written poem with orchestral range; its cadence is the urgent surge of life chased and chastened by mortality.

Late in the poem the narrator listens as her daughter sleepwalks. "She moved like a child who knew things, and I knew / I had walked that same way and so I watched her and wondered / who had told her these things and when, when / had I not been around? When? When I was her age, I lay / on the flowered davenport at my grandmother's home / and she told me things no child should know: women were beaten so that their faces / held the purple blooms of late roses, men drank themselves / to tears, so that they were not men to the women / who lived with them, aunties drank lye then, and it was all about shame, as it always is, but also about living story. / I recall that now and I recall everything for what do we have / but the past to parent us?"

Such achingly beautiful lines about in Seed Across Snow. It's a lovely book to read this late winter as our region rotates toward the light and we reappraise the shape of our world.

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