Poetry Friday: Deborah Keenan and shafts of light
(plus a bonus on this first Poetry Friday in January)

h1 January 4th, 2008 by jules

Jules here (poor Eisha’s got some computer woes again; her computer pretty much just went kaput on her. But she’s also knee-deep in shortlisting with her fellow Cybils YA panelists, I believe, so that’s at least fun).

I’ve been reading the poetry of Deborah Keenan this week. Last year (it still feels odd to say that), Milkweed Editions released an anthology of some of her previous poetry as well as some new ones in Willow Room, Green Door. Keenan, a professor in the Graduate School of Liberal Studies at Hamline University, is new to me, but I’m happy to have discovered this anthology — at turns challenging, stirring, sometimes heart-rending. And she has this ability to capture moments of motherhood (when she writes about it, since — to be sure — she writes about many other subjects as well) in the precise and compelling manner of Deborah Garrison (whom I hope to cover on an upcoming Poetry Friday, and whom I have a wrung sponge to thank for introducing me to her poetry).

Willow Room, Green Door: New and Selected Poems includes selections from Kingdoms (Laurel Poetry Collective; 2006); Good Heart (Milkweed Editions; 2003); Happiness (Coffee House Press; 1995); The Only Window That Counts (New Rivers Press; 1985); One Angel Then (published in 1985, I believe, but don’t quote me on that); and Household Wounds (New Rivers Press; 1981). I haven’t been reading this anthology straight through; I started with her older poems and have jumped around a bit as well, but I can say that I dog-eared many pages in this anthology, which takes the reader through almost three decades of her poetry. Here is one that I received permission to post in its entirety — with many thanks to Milkweed Editions — which was originally published in the anthology, The Only Window That Counts in 1985. If you like it, here’s another one of her poems online elsewhere (at a page at Hamline University’s site).

The beautiful image above of Peter Paul Rubens’ The Annunciation (circa 1610), which Keenan points out in a note before the poem begins, isn’t necessary to appreciate the poem, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to take a gander and then read. Enjoy.

* * * * * * *

“Folds of White Dress / Shaft of Light”

She had been reading, that much we know.
An empty vase beside her book, no one in this story
thought to bring her flowers.

The angel’s cape is flame, his hair gold fire.
One more angel drops from heaven barefoot, the shoemakers sigh.
He is fine, and his gray wings match his outfit.
She is dressed for a dinner party and he flies through
the window, drops to his knee, beseeches her to accept
the offer. She listens but her hands are placed
on the canvas in shapes of rejection.

She would like to lift her eyes to the baby
angels floating near the ceiling.
She would like to catch the dove in her raised hand.
She may be glad the shaft of light turns her white dress
holy, she may not.

She worries: where can one place a beautiful man
angel at the dinner table, who can make small talk
with him, or offer polite inquiries about celestial weather?

She understands babies, even floating ones,
and she wants the dove to stay near her,
that much is clear, and it is also apparent
her blue cloak cannot protect her from god’s
demand, or the strong hand reaching
toward her, about to make her famous
and pregnant.

“Folds of White Dress / Shaft of Light” by Deborah Keenan, from Willow Room, Green Door. Copyright © 2007 by Deborah Keenan. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions (www.milkweed.org).

* * * * * * *

POETRY FRIDAY BONUS: Anyone else remember Sara Lewis Holmes’ inaugural post back in July, which was a response to a post I did (that fact alone I found tremendously flattering)? Anyway, I find myself re-visiting the poem now, as it’s especially fitting. Go read “The Bones of January” here. And then read it again. And again. So rewarding for an Any Day Read — but particularly rewarding to read right after the busy, cluttered holidays.

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9 comments to “Poetry Friday: Deborah Keenan and shafts of light
(plus a bonus on this first Poetry Friday in January)”

  1. OK, Sara’s poem. About all being undone. Soooooo lovely. And the Keenan poem? Where to place a beautiful man angel at the dinner table??? I love that. I am going to think of that next time I entertain. Girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, beautiful man angel, girl, boy…


  2. I remember Sara’s poem, and about breaking open, and the corners of the room. So heartstoppingly wonderful.

    And I love this one by Deborah Keenan. I will have to seek out her book(s).


  3. Jules, I don’t know Keenan, and oh, how I should. This one’s sublime and subversive, all at once.

    Eisha, I hope you cure your computer woes. We miss you…

    And thanks, Jules, for putting my poem into the proper month. (July! What was I thinking?)


  4. sigh. That is really lovely. Thanks for posting the painting too – it makes it even lovelier to go back and forth.


  5. Thanks, you all. Sara, I didn’t know Keenan’s work ’til now either, as I said. Good stuff. And, as for you posting in July, that’s ’cause you were responding to something. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, m’dear. And, see, it was so memorable that I went looking for it again half a year later.

    I can’t wait to see everyone’s Poetry Friday posts for today, but it’ll have to wait ’til later. Thanks for coming here to visit today and learn all about a new poet with me (well, she’s new to me, not the rest of the world).


  6. Thanks for the heads up on a poet new to me. Love the experience of viewing the painting and absorbing the words at the same time. Now all I have to do is find a beautiful man angel to invite for dinner.

    BTW, love the new blog interviews page!


  7. Good, ’cause we’ll come knocking at your cyber-door soon, Jama, for an interview from you, too — we hope.


  8. Deborah’s my prof. She’s the first person I ever took an MFA class from and she’s an AMAZING teacher in addition to be a fabulous writer. I was tickled to see you talk about her work. I’ll pass the link on to her.


  9. Hi, Brian. Just visited your blog, and I love it.

    I read in some online article some place (can’t remember where) that this journalist was walking along with Keenan, and — while they were talking — a student drove up, jumped out of the car, and gave Deborah some flowers. All for being a great teacher or something like that.

    Okay, time interlude. Just had to go and find the link. Here it is: http://www.citypages.com/databank/24/1204/article11794.asp.

    Thanks for visiting, Brian.


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