UNCOMMON GEOGRAPHY by THERESE HALSCHEIDMADELINE TIGER Reviews
UNCOMMON GEOGRAPHY by Therése Halscheid
(Carpenter Gothic Publishers, Island Heights, N.J., 2006)
VISIONS OF LIGHT
Therése Halscheid writes a unique “religious” poetry, a kind that comes out of very early religion. It leads back, beyond pantheism, to ancient customs and “First People.” It is influenced by folklore, and by the sun. It is steeped in primitive awareness, and an impassioned connection to earth. This earth-sense seems unconsciously (but intriguingly) Freudian as connections are made to the female body and mind. The body gives pleasure as part of nature, and thought is made organic.
The work is Buddhist in respectfulness, in awe, and in its ultimate human orientation.
Influenced, perhaps, by the spiritual poetry of Mary Oliver and surely by Native American folklore, Halscheid uses the power of the line and the breath of space-on-the-page to reach for what she needs to articulate. She comes close to forests and swamps, she learns the dark places.
Luminosity becomes a motif. Meditation on trees leads to awareness of a mystic aura:
...every leaf wears/
My own fingers/
are becoming illuminated...
My hands continue to shine...
(from “The Exchange”)
This is a visionary poetics, presenting the lessons of illumination. The poet hears signals from ancient, solid things of earth —rock, soil, mountain, and finds communion with its creatures, snake and elk. She mediates through a faith in the great wholeness of everything. Sky rises over these poems. There is a persistent examination of the relationship of soul to body, of human spirit to “round earth,” and of earth, sun, moon—all perceived as sentient—thinking of us.
The woman/ speaker/ shaman-like, becomes empowered as earth is:
Who else sweats light from a stone...
Repeated organic references connect the female body to the elements. In “When Clay Speaks” the poet celebrates the artistic process and the act of loving a woman’s body. The medium imagined is both the clay and the woman; but the primary medium here, in careful, sensuous use is language.
There is devotion to human life, bearing hopes for cultivation and care. In “City Garden,” the poet discovers that the manmade garden becomes more wondrous than the first Garden (Eden). The one she observes is a small piece of earth going back “across the narrow brick walk...” and “coming to life from underground”. Once, birds arrived, then
sun and the moon... began dragging themselves/ across the haze of an urban sky...
And the garden began to know itself
As a forgotten way of being --
It’s a re-Creation mystery with a modern human focus.
The poems are lyrical meditations but also persuasive arguments—for the power of intensely focused seeing, thus knowing, and, finally, merging. There is a modern emergency too, in the fusion of nature and speaker; it is not theoretical.
The transformations, shifts of awareness and of being, are deeply realized. With language. The poet’s work is not “magic”: it is fine craft bringing the speaker and the listener to awakened consciousness and a merging with the concrete and ethereal world. Thus, religious.
Madeline Tiger's most recent collection of poetry (her eighth) is Birds of Sorrow and Joy: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000, Marsh Hawk Press, 2003. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She has been teaching in the NJ Writers-in-the-Schools Program since 1974, and has been a “Dodge Poet” since 1986. She won the Artist/Teacher Award of Playwrights Theatre of NJ in 1993. She lived in Montclair from 1963 until moving to Bloomfield in 2000. She has five children and six grandchildren, and lives under a weeping cherry tree.