Chalkmarks on Stone
6 x 8 inches
Chalkmarks on Stone, Carol Moldaws
second collection of poems is masterfully evocative. In these rigorously
composed, sensually grounded, lyrical poems, the world is distilled
with compelling logicfrom 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, Moldaws 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 poets occupation is both to reflect and experiment
into a poetry of grace, beauty and surprise.
Carol Moldaws poetry is a form of
fixed attention, generous-minded and passionately, physically immediate.
Carol Moldaws poems unite tact, delicacy,
keenness of sight, and daring. A butterfly, its thorax, legs, eyes,
and circumflex-marked wings minutely studied, alights on the poets
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 poets
attention. Moldaw has a sure hand, a light touch, a subtle ear, and
a strong and compassionate heart.
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.
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 (Scribners
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 Moldaws
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
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.