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Silver Tears and Time
by Sharmagne Leland-St. John
2006, Quill and Parchment Press
48 pages, $14.95
 
Review by David Matthews
 
Silver Tears and Time is an apt title for this collection of poems that turn so often on the passage of time, varieties of loss, and the power of memory to sustain us in our living.
 
The opening poem, "Wild Dark Love Song," is dedicated to Richard Sylbert, who died in 2002. The poet's loss is depicted in images of stark landscape, autumn, winter. She imagines her husband has "gone to live in jagged mountains," gone to dwell

In the shadow of the Cader Idris
In misty mountains,
Where meadowlarks are known to wing,
And wild geese fly,
Across the winter sky.

Yet there is not a trace of self-pity, nor denial that he is gone, his death real, as Leland-St. John weaves from memory and loss poems and songs that feed her spirit and ours. "He's gone from her forever / This wild dark love song."
 
"Windy City 2003," also a remembrance of Richard Sylbert, shows a poet as much at home in urban settings as in the wild. Here the sense of loss is even more palpable, "the windy city has lost its breath / and soul without you here," as she remembers the streets they used to wander, their old stomping grounds that in his absence have lost their magic spell:

the art galleries echo
but it's your voice I long to hear
explaining all the paintings and sculptures
now empty and alone
memories etched on canvas carved in stone

Finally, the memory is not of the city but of the loved one, "your memory etched in the marrow of my bone." With memory may come the pain of loss, but with it comes too a greater richness, for having known and loved this person, a richness that will always be as much part of who the poet is as the marrow of her bone.
 
Poems dedicated to cultural icons (George Harrison, Janis Joplin) place Leland-St. John's coming of age with the generation of the 1960s. The opening lines of "Desert Nights," for George Harrison, "PBS Reno / just played / the Concert for George," establish the poem's setting. Stepping outdoors, where the moon is bright, she finds that the brisk night, with the crunch of ice beneath her feet, calls up memory of "a bundled up childhood / of sledding / down white hillocks / in a small Eastern town / so far away in time and memory."
 
The poet is struck by the conjunction of art, artifice, human creation, and nature. The night sky above this high desert plain and George Harrison's music together deliver a sense of connection to a greater whole that exists independently of subjective consciousness.

To see the night sky
in all its glory,
and to hear George Harrison's music
lilt across this high desert plain,
is breathtaking.
And to know glaciers were right here
long ago.
This was the very edge of them,
for a while.
A strong connection is growing.
 
Sitar strings sing
and reverberate
in this desert night,
his music still flowing.

 
"On the River Boat That Day" tells of lovers who drifted apart. The poet remembers a time when "'you' and 'me' was still 'we.'" The images are light and airy, "that day / with the sun / behind your fair hair / like a halo." It did not last. The lovers have gone their separate ways. Still, she is reminded

of your halo hair
and the smile
you wore
on the river boat
that day
as we drifted
so far apart

Memories of love past and lost here and in poems about the poet's father, affairs that did not last, friends and lovers who have gone their separate ways may be bittersweet, but never bitter. Even in loss these memories serve to sustain, never diminish..
 
Silver Tears and Time closes not with a poem but with a short, prose anecdote titled "My Buddha Garden." Leland-St. John tells of finding her mother's porcelain Buddha on her brother's patio after he died. She took the Buddha to the house she and her husband bought on the Stillaguamish River, where they planned to retire, and placed it on the deck along with pots and Tupperware, anything that would hold potting soil and the seeds she brought with her from the Pacific Northwest and her home in Southern California.
 
The rains came, and the tiny seeds began to sprout. The herbs began to bloom and flower, and my deck came to be called "My Buddha Garden." Now there are small terra cotta flowerpots all along the railings, overflowing with columbines, and cosmos and Canterbury bells, and nasturtiums and geraniums....
 
I thank my mother for this belated gift and for the joy she always brought me. Then I relax, in her white wicker chair, with the rose chintz cushions, at my glass-topped table, and feel her spirit all around me, as the bees hum and the river sings.

The poems of Silver Tears and Time pull no punches about the loss that is so much a part of life, and for that these poems are all the stronger in their affirmation of life, bearing witness to the capacity of memory and memento and art to enrich our world and nourish our spirits.

 


 

Unsung Songs
by Sharmagne Leland-St. John
2006, Quill and Parchment Press
38 pages, $12.95
 
Review by David Matthews
 
Sharmagne Leland-St. John writes straight from the heart as true poets do. Unsung Songs exhibits a wide range of interests, themes, and tones, from the romantic lyricism of "Oh Life," exemplified by these lines: "Love where have you gone / Just when I thought I'd found you / Snowflakes dance like feathers round my head" to the deadpan puncturing of the male ego and its assumption of sexual implication where there is none in "I Said Coffee."
 
A woman thinks of her loved one who is far away in "I Sing You the Morning," whose opening lines speak with elegance and simplicity, while "I Will Dance for You" addresses issues of racial and cultural slurs, discrimination, sensitivity, and tolerance in language that is uncompromising in its principles without being didactic or combative.
 
Unsung Songs demonstrates that Sharmagne is more than a champion of poetry. She is a distinctive poet who breaks her own trail with clarity and vision. This is a book to read and return to with ever-renewed joy.
 
 
 
In the interest of disclosure, I should note that Sharmagne Leland-St. John is the editor of Quill and Parchment and that I have contributed poems to this space since shortly after its inception in 2001. Since January of this year I have served the publication as a volunteer guest editor, although I suppose by now I am something of the guest who came for a weekend and stayed on indefinitely.

Sharmagne will be presenting and signing her books at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles on October 11, 2007, at 7pm.

 


 

 

 


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