SEEDPODS by GLENNA LUSCHEIDIANE LOCKWARD reviews
Seedpods by Glenna Luschei
(Presa :S: Press, Rockford, MI, 2006)
Glenna Luschei’s name is well-known in poetry circles. She’s been moving in those circles for many years in many different roles. As a poet she has published seventeen collections. As a translator she has published an additional three books. As the founder and publisher of Solo Press, established in 1966, she made it possible for many other poets to see their work in full-length collections. Now in its fortieth year, the press no longer publishes books, but continues to put out a chapbook series as well as Solo Café, an annual journal. Luschei also served her community as the Poet Laureate of San Luis Obispo for the year 2000. As a philanthropist in 2002 she permanently endowed the editorship of the highly regarded journal, Prairie Schooner. And as if all this weren’t enough, she’s also an avocado rancher.
Luschei’s two loves--poetry and the things of this earth--come together in her latest collection, Seedpods, a chapbook of thirty poems. The attractive cover, a single branch of Japanese Lanterns, immediately suggests Luschei’s reverence for Nature as does the collection’s title. Even the bright green endpapers imply vitality. The title poem, wisely placed first, plants the seeds for what will bloom throughout the collection— dreams, memories, places, living things. Here the speaker feeds mosquitoes by fattening their bellies with her blood; soon she recalls the Long Island Red she rescued years ago from her grandfather’s axe. “I was champion of the rooster,” she says. The image of seedpods then becomes a unifying motif, seen again in “Sierra Suite”: “Ears in drifting pods / hear the ancient song of the sea.” And later in “Jacaranda” the speaker asks if the word jacaranda is “a Spanish name for heaven.” This thinking of things Spanish leads to the poem’s closing lines: “In the rattling of the seedpods / I still hear castanets.”
Throughout the collection Luschei touches all four of the traditional elements: earth, water, air, fire. In “Synch” the speaker describes a harmonious morning scene: “The sun’s kettle / drum tunes up tighter / to burn through fog. / My Hong Kong orchid / gives a bow. . . . // Sun out, birds singing, / everybody planting tulips.” In “Water Song,” a praise poem, the speaker reminds the reader that during a storm, “You fall in love with water again. // You forget the blackened Berkeley hills, / friends routed from their burning homes. . . . // In the ancient path of glaciers, / we praise the green hills.” In “Snapped” we find water, now in the form of snow, along with fire and wind as the poet recalls a storm in the Blue Ridge mountains: “Farmers predicted ice. // Telephone poles snapped. / No power in the Blue Ridge. / We opened our house, / laid a fire with hickory. . . . / Blizzard turned to sacrament.” This holy moment is followed by acceptance of personal loss: “I pressed to drag you back / from the winds that tore you, / until something / in me snapped. / I had to let the snow enfold you.”
Luschei’s feeling of oneness with nature is additionally captured in several poems that focus on the earth’s fruitfulness. In “Treading on Plums” she remembers “The night of the Santa Anas / [when] wind swept blue plums off the trees.” The image further stimulates memory: “The sweet-sour aroma of rotting plums / stirs up my parents / pouring choke-cherry nectar / through cheesecloth.” In “Jacaranda” the poet presents one of the collection’s loveliest, most delicate images: “Periwinkle filigree of tree. / Around it plant a field of agapanthus / and blue and purple arbors / will billow you through summer.”
Like Whitman and Dr. Williams before her, Luschei also praises what is not conventionally beautiful, finding beauty in all of nature’s creations, even the lowly worm, memorialized in “Night Crawlers.” Again she interweaves image and memory. “The odor of rain on cement” calls forth “Nebraska memories” which, in turn, “jolt / night crawlers from their dens.” She recalls a storm, puddles filled with worms, and how she “pushed the night crawlers / back into the grass,” for “We were all workers in soil. / They manufactured the soft / earth that held up radishes.”
Not surprisingly, Luschei also expresses concern for humans. An undercurrent of longing for the past and the people she remembers runs throughout the collection. In “Bare Root,” for example, the speaker, in a new home, poignantly says, “It’s bare root season. / In this strange land / I yearn for the canopy / of foliage, / yearn for my old home.” But her pity is reserved for the hungry and oppressed. In the midst of preparing a Brunswick stew in “The Cardinal,” the speaker’s eyes move to “the photograph in the magazine: / Sierra Leone’s children with amputated arms. / No way to eat.” She then drives to the store to “buy a feeder shaped like a bell / to remember the starved, the lost.”
Nature also supplies Luschei with some of her most charming metaphors. “Rain,” one of several brief, haiku-like poems, revolves around a single metaphor:
our first night in a warm valley.
We are lodged
in the whale of the Andes,
lighting a new life.
Somewhere outside is the sea.
In “Dream of Snow” the speaker asks her listener to “Hold / the opal of my heart / until it warms.” A flower is personified as a lover in “Sunflower”:
It’s only March
and here you are
all puckered up for the sun.
The direct address works with the personification to convey a feeling of intimacy with nature.
Another strategy Luschei often employs to convey intimacy is the question. “Ars Poetica” begins with a question; “Visit to the Painted Ladies” ends with one. The speaker in “October Sun” asks, “Will the leaves be yellow now? // The October sun must still be warm. / Does it float past your door / on a string?” Such questions convey a sense of wonder and bewilderment, but this poet is wise enough to know that they are best left unanswered.
The collection’s final poem, “I Thought They Would Never End,” concludes with words that serve as both question and prayer:
Can my world stay the same
no boundary wars no bombings?
I put my teapot on and lose my head again in steam.
These words circle us back to the beginning, to “Seedpods” where the speaker says, “I stand up for beauty.” That is precisely what Luschei does in this fine collection and, in fact, in all her endeavors. In her poetry, her public service, and her generosity, she makes the world a better place for the rest of us. Readers, let’s stand up for Glenna Luschei.
Diane Lockward is the author of two poetry collections, Eve’s Red Dress and What Feeds Us (Wind Publications, 2003, 2006). Her work has recently appeared in The Seattle Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner, as well as in the anthologies Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times. A former high school English teacher, she now works as a poet-in-the-schools for both the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.