I read Marian Shapiro’s book of poems Players in the Dream, Dreamers in the Play on the plane flying to and from Detroit last weekend for a Polish American Historical Association meeting; and I enjoyed those poems very much.
Usually, for me, flying isn’t the best way to spend my time. I commuted by plane from Valdosta, Georgia, to Central Illinois every week for two years, and doing that kind of traveling will sour you pretty much on being in close quarters with extremely strange strangers. But don’t get me wrong, I would have taken to Marian Shapiro’s poems even if I wasn’t flying.
The voice in her poems is a calm, smart, affirmative voice. It reminds me of one of my favorite poets, Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop can take the most harrowing sort of experience and see it plainly and lovingly.
I felt this throughout Marian’s book, but maybe I felt it most in her poem “Inside Looking Out”; two worlds come together suddenly in that poem, and one of the worlds is scary and threatening, but Marian’s voice and the surprise in it makes that world a puzzle and a mystery to be examined and wondered over.
Marian’s not frightened or shaken in her poems, just amazed and wondering. It's the way kids are when they meet "the strange." They want to look and consider; they want to play with the mystery and the strange things they find in it. If you’ve ever seen children looking at a chicken and wondering about it, you will know exactly what I mean.
That's the image I get most fully and most often from Marian’s fine poems, the image of someone playing with the things we don't understand or the things we fear. I don't mean “playing” in any kind of goofy way, but rather in a serious way, the way children and the best artists play with the strange gifts the world offers them.
I see this in so many of Marian’s poems, in the things she writes about and the ways she writes about them. These are poems to read over and over again, whenever we need to remind ourselves that the world's troubles and mysteries are maybe best viewed with calm and wonder and love.
Here’s Marian’s “Inside Looking Out” poem, the one I mentioned above:
Inside Looking Out
Through the slatted shutter, or
the fluttering of a pale peach curtain, I
glimpse a small white dog (poodle? terrier?) leaping,
light with freedom. The owner stands by, benignly.
Lovely day. Summer sun reflected in
puddles of last night’s shower. Laughing girls
as background music. Truck horns on an unseen
highway. Doppler of a distant freight
train. Mozart from an open window.
Who would have thought it! Sudden as
a nightmare, springing from the nowhere
of once and when, black mouth gaping, a wild
mangy creature (wolf? coyote?) wraps teeth
around dog collar as you or I might deftly
loop crochet hook into wool. Blood, cotton balls
of fur, guts, bones in slivers, shrieks and barks,
howls and the soft sound of children weeping. Is
this my dog? Was this my dog?
If you're interested in seeing more of her poems, you can click on the Amazon link to her book Players in the Dream, Dreamers in the Play. You'll find the link by scrolling down and looking on the right of the screen.