Carol Moldaw

 

Chalkmarks on Stone

Poems



120 pages


6 x 8 inches


ISBN: 1-888809-07-8


$12.00

 

 

Chalkmarks on Stone, Carol Moldaw’s second collection of poems is masterfully evocative. In these rigorously composed, sensually grounded, lyrical poems, the world is distilled with compelling logic—from her home in New Mexico to a canoe in Thailand to a Jewish cemetery in Malaysia. A shifting vowel signals the end of a marriage; a peony blooms “over-brimming its vase”; with its proboscis, a butterfly taps out “the secret names of God”. Like the matryoshka doll of one poem, Moldaw’s poetry reveals selves within selves using a formal intricacy disarming in its ease. “Another Part of the Field”, a long meditative fugue of 6-line poems uses the I Ching to explore what lies beneath the surface of each day. Here the poet’s occupation is both to reflect and experiment into a poetry of grace, beauty and surprise.


Carol Moldaw’s poetry is a form of fixed attention, generous-minded and passionately, physically immediate.

—Diane Middlebrook


Carol Moldaw’s poems unite tact, delicacy, keenness of sight, and daring. A butterfly, its thorax, legs, eyes, and circumflex-marked wings minutely studied, alights on the poet’s hand and there taps “out a secret code,/ the secret names of God.” That is the scope of this remarkable and elegant volume, in which “carafe” rhymes with “cenotaph,” and the modest objects and acts of daily life glow, along with tragic facts, in the blessing of the poet’s attention. Moldaw has a sure hand, a light touch, a subtle ear, and a strong and compassionate heart.

—Rosanna Warren


Carol Moldaw has written a book of adult knowledge, of adult griefs and joys. Hers are poems of intelligent consideration and a deft and heart-born music, filled with the gleam of particularity and a lushness of language and substance.

—Jane Hirshfield


Carol Moldaw was born in Oakland, California and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds an A.B. with honors from Harvard University; a revised version of her senior thesis on Louise Bogan is published in Critical Essays on Louise Bogan (G.K. Hall, 1984). She received an M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University in 1986. A recipient of an NEA Literary Fellowship in 1994, Moldaw has held residencies at MacDowell and The Virginia Center for the Arts. Besides Chalkmarks on Stone, Moldaw is the author of Taken from the River, published by Alef Books (NY) in 1993. Her work has appeared in many anthologies: Under 35: A New Generation of American Poets (Anchor/Doubleday, 1989), Walk on the Wild Side (Scribner’s Sons, and Collier Books, 1994), New Mexico Poetry Renaissance (Red Crane,1994), The Practice of Peace (Sherman Asher, 1998) and Another Desert: Jewish poets of New Mexico (Sherman Asher, 1998). She is also a co-editor of a special feature of Frank (Paris) on New Mexico writers. Her poems have been published widely in journals, including Agni, Boston Review, Colorado Review, First Intensity, Kenyon Review, Manoa, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Orion, Partisan Review, Puerto del Sol, River Styx, Solo, Southwest Review, Threepenny Review, and Triquarterly. Many of Moldaw’s poems have been translated into Turkish by Nezih Onur. They have appeared in the leading Istanbul newspaper, Kitap, and the anthology Sür Atlasi (IV). A book of her poems in Turkishwas published in 1998 (and later as Through the Window by La Alameda Press).After living in Manhattan for four years, Moldaw settled in New Mexico in 1990. She lives in Pojoaque, 20 miles north of Santa Fe, and teaches poetry privately.

 

Understated Grace

By Blake de Pastino

 

If you haven't discovered Carol Moldaw yet, that may be because you don't know who you're looking for. Even though she's known in many circles outside New Mexico, in these parts, she's just different things to different people. Some folks know her as a teacher from Pojoaque, living in the quiet clutches just north of Santa Fe. Others know her as the wife of celebrated poet Arthur Sze. But still others know her as a poet of high order in her own right, a writer whose caliber has been displayed in publications like The New Republic, The New Yorker, Partisan Review and uncounted other journals and anthologies. That's the Carol Moldaw to look out for, judging by her latest book, because it's books like Chalkmarks on Stone that can really make a name for a writer.


Her second collection of poetry — and her first book in five years — Chalkmarks on Stone is a compendium of Moldaw's latest works, many of which have already been published piecemeal in those fancy magazines. But don't let her exposure in high gloss fool you; there's little that is trendy or glamorous about the poems you'll find here. Quite the contrary, they are uncommonly quiet and sere, delicate and intricate, so softly spoken that, in a sense, it's no wonder that the poet who created them could go unnoticed even by her own neighbors.
Over the course of 25 works, Moldaw gives us an object lesson in understated grace. More to the point, she gives meat to the theory that poetry is most effective when it is also most physical. Somewhat like her fellow local poet, Joseph Somoza, Moldaw tends to write verses about everyday stuff--cut flowers or cottonwood tufts, the birds of the Bosque or a rental home--only to draw those seemingly simple things into vast, beautiful metaphysics. The innocent-sounding poem called "Summer Sublet," for example, begins with a haunting image--"Sunlight sharp enough to slice/black-eyed Susans from their stems"--a warning that there's more here than meets the eye. And her poem "Seed Bolls," about the burning of cottonwood clusters, reads like a poignant treatise on mortality: "The flame flared all at once but didn't last,/leaving us bits of char and crackled seed." Even her account of a black-out in Carlsbad Caverns comes across as touchingly profound: "wasn't that hair of a second in total/quiet and darkness, though fleeting,/one of the best moments yet?"


With all of its love for the everyday, though, Chalkmarks on Stone does not make the easy mistake of overdoing the mundane. Moldaw has no fear of the exotic--no hesitation in writing a poem about Persephone, say, or using the occasional allegory to get her point across. But she is undoubtedly at her best when she combines these two elements, mixing the concrete with the spiritual, which she does to near perfection in the book's concluding segment, "Another Part of the Field." A continuous poem series that was two years in the making, "Another Part" painstakingly represents the hexagrams of the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes. Moldaw recreates 63 of the traditional verses in a string of six-line poems, most of them having three "coins" or beats per line. Even though this may sound like some hokey New Age gimmick, Moldaw's homage to the I Ching is in fact earthy, material and accessible. In response to the traditional hexagram called "Darkening of the Light," for instance, Moldaw draws up a witty, six-line scene about trying on a vinyl miniskirt, with a relative looking on, cajoling, "Don't hide your light under a bushel!" In another, she writes about driving down Route 280, counting "the shades of green." In another still, her topic is nothing less than "When heaven and earth first met." Despite their obvious differences, all of these pieces flow seamlessly, and it's Moldaw's sticky, meticulous voice that holds them together. With their easy openness and Zen-flavored physicality, the poems of Chalkmarks on Stone announce a talent that readers should remember.