Saturday, September 10, 2011

Soulscapes by Nora Mahon Olivares

Nora Olivares is Professor Emeritus of English at San Antonio College. I met her while grading AP English Literature exams for the Educational Testing Service in Louisville , Kentucky. Among the thousand or so English people who gather every summer for the grading, many of them bring copies of their books to sell. I always try and support my colleagues toiling in the wilderness of words with a purchase or two.

This collection of poetry is uniformly good. Personal photographs add an interesting touch to many of these poignant poems. My favorite, and an excellent example of Olivares’ work, is “Seascape”:

Sitting among the jagged rocks,
I watched some children prodding
jellyfish, determined to collapse
their ivory-gray umbrellas.

“Too young to appreciate the art
of leaving things alone,” I thought
bracing my knees from slipping and
noticing the little bird holding her
tranquil poise on the swaying waves—
with no schooling in the art of confidence,
no self-conscious exhibitionism,
no excuse for the sojourning,
no complaints of passing time,
just some secret knowledge that
waves were meant for riding.

And, though I had not come
for tutoring, I was taken captive by
this scene, a little girl playing
Socrates to my musings. (55)

The simplicity and clarity of this scene recalls the episode in the Nausicca chapter (13) of James Joyce’s great novel, Ulysses. Leopold Bloom stops on a boardwalk and watches a young girl on the rocks, while some younger children play in the sand and surf.

The only drawback in the collection consists of a few poems that seem a bit over wrought. For example, in “Hope (For Dinah)” the opening lines read,

Daddy just left us
piped the four-year old
mustering premature manhood… (11).

Nevertheless, these occasional slips only mildly detract from an enjoyable collection.

Soulscapes opens with another favorite, “Dawn”:

comes like
a flickering candle
in an empty church
surprising me when
I tiptoe bleary-eyed into the sanctuary
of my kitchen to brew
the morning coffee. (1)

A wonderful, relaxing collection of poems to enjoy with a cup of tea on a mild, breezy Saturday, as I just did. (4-1/2 stars)

--Chiron, 9/10/11

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