Hello from the Dogpatch!
My friend and mentor Dr. Alex Kuo (author of My Private China and the forthcoming shanghai.shanghai.shanghai) pointed me toward this poetry collection, and I’m so glad he did! Through a Distant Lens is one of those indie titles that launches with modest fanfare yet quietly and gracefully along the way promises to pick up more and more readers—this reader one of them—for its relatable, artful yet unpretentious poetry. Beautifully curated and arrayed, this assortment of travel poems is further enhanced by a sprinkling of gorgeous photography.
An invitation to “Depart” guides one into this eclectic collection of poetical musings, each piece navigating around the theme of travel, and with each of the four main sections prefaced by a striking black-and-white photograph evocative of the chapter’s overarching theme: A Buddhist Temple in the Himalayas opens the section entitled “Continental Drift; “Borders Less Defined,” the third of the quartet, is coupled with an approach view of Kells Priory in Ireland.
The book’s editor and publisher is Sheryl Clough, herself a well-published poet and essayist and founder of the Whidbey Island, Washington–based Write Wing Publishing. For this endeavor, Clough gathered the work of forty-six poets—the myriad voices offering singular definitions and experiences of journeys, from a memory of a boat trip on wind-blown Hawaiian waters to scatter the ashes of one’s brother to the hilarity of trying to maneuver the simple task of doing laundry in Dublin, Ireland. The layout of the book is accessible, letting the reader plot a straight course from cover to cover or simply thumb through and meander over land, on water, through the air and through time—en route finding beauty, surprises, angst, challenges, pain, and even joy in pain as in Sheila Nickerson’s “On Transplanting the Poppies,” commemorating both loss and gain of life.
“Funny how your mind takes you somewhere else,” Ann Curran’s “There, Not Here” [p. 5] comments at the opening, coaxing the reader to come willingly aboard this vessel of poem-stories to be carried away. The chapter “Continental Drift” drops the reader at India’s majestic Taj Mahal on one page, in the heart of an ancient Chinese dynasty on the next, then has one gazing off the Cape of Good Hope beholding a conspiring of life off the rocky headland. The poems filling this section gleefully dance among the continents, each most decidedly to its own tune while not only moving from place to place but between styles and perspectives. Diane Stone’s “Last Night’s Chicken Curry” [p. 14] delivers a vision of Nepal, distant and landlocked but easily reachable via the pleasing flavors and aromas of the recipe contained within this poem. Whereas Debra Marquart’s “Wild Thyme” [p. 24] is laugh-out-loud funny depicting the less-adventurous tourist compensating alongside her fellow intrepid explorers.
“In my rearview mirror Dallas fades. . . . Phoenix, where I am bound, materializes – / less like Brigadoon from Scottish mists, / than Petra carved from red sand” opines Ann Howells in “Moving On” [p. 28], the poem that opens the second main section, aptly christened “Snapshots from the Road.” Like “Odysseans, drunk on bliss,” to cull a line from Teddy Norris’s “Barging in Burgundy” [p. 43], the poems in this chapter invite the reader into a panoply of images and memories taken from the road. One encounters Marianne Patty’s touching image of “Our Lady of the Street” climbing “up the stairs of her broken world” [p. 29], jettisons back in time with Lois Parker Edstrom’s “Yellowstone Park, 1948” [p. 30], and then meets Gail Denham, who offers up a mix of memories married to that (in)famous war:
We had tea and succulent pastries at Betty’s
Café in York, a refuge for WWII airmen, where
they came to dance and forget war for an evening.
[“Treasured Journeys, A Memory Jumble, ” p. 38]
“Borders Less Defined” offers a sampling that deftly juxtaposes destinations real, remembered, and imagined: flying over the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range in March; the fond memory of once kissing a young beau in the library of the family home while yet another poet writes of being abandoned by her lover on the road; and where heaven is described as a “dingy, dinky tavern” [p. 48] and also where one is tempted to add an exclamation point to Ron Thompson’s sign on the wall announcing Poetry Readings, Never Ending [p. 48].
And then comes a full stop to give pause to those who came before us: a tribute to Chief Charlie DePoe, namesake of Depoe Bay, Oregon, as well as a sobering contemplation of Incan history while in Peru. “Have the dead always been so silent?” Peter Ludwin’s narrator wonders [p. 63].
The last stop before port, the section dubbed “Interior Frames” breaks further free of the confines of what defines literal travel and turns inward, capturing the personalities of the poets and their poems, such as in the opener for this section, Ann Boutte’s “Adventure” [p. 71]:
. . . I’ll settle for
the nest of my easy chair
surrounded by some
needlepoint, a good book,
a challenging crossword puzzle,
and a sharpened pencil, . . .
As well as the haunting quest to return to an earlier time:
So strong, this impulse,
to find the exact spot
near the swinging bridge
where the country store once stood.
[“Yesterday’s Light” by Lois Parker Edstrom, p. 74]
Or to the earth:
If there was a season for planting,
We never noticed.
We were too busy,
Hunting through the almanac.
[“Destination: The Fertile Land” by Ilene Adler, p. 79]
One debarks this surefooted travel tome with a personal list of favorites that were most relatable, and another list of the most surprising, and the ones that were beautiful or sorrowful—and the secure knowledge that this is a collection to thumb through again and again, each time the inclination to be taken somewhere—and taught and inspired along the way—arises.
- Through a Distant Lens: Travel Poems
- Edited by Sheryl Clough
- Write Wing Publishing (2014)
- Paperback / ISBN 978-1495933424 / 112 pages
XO Laurel Leigh