This week’s featured poet, Kate Daniels, is not afraid of conveying what’s on her mind through the tones of her earnest and complex poems. Daniels, born and raised in Virginia, now resides in Nashville, TN, where a life lived in the South consistently spills out in her works through topics of racism, the working class, and the heavy-handed society of upper-class whites. Daniels has accrued three degrees from University of Virginia and Columbia University and has taught at LSU, UVa, Wake Forest and is currently an associate professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Over the last three decades, Daniels has produced four poetry books, has been featured in the 2008 and 2010 issues of Best American Poetry, and has edited two volumes on poets Muriel Rukeyser and Robert Bly. In celebration of her work to date, Daniels was the winner of the Hanes Award for Poetry by the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011.
Old walls are new to me. Someone else’s
babies were carried up this cracked brick walk,
sung over the threshold, bedded down
in the tiny orange nursery that gives off
the kitchen or in the low-roofed room upstairs
where I hope to write. Not mine
who took their first steps elsewhere
and never had their portraits posed by the short
stone fence or plucked the blossoms
from the magnolia someone planted
far too near the dank north wall.
Someone else conceived her creatures
here and struggled with the washer
in the cold, dark basement. Ancient
fuses, busted lights. Other
infants haunted these nights.
Mine are quiet and sleep straight through,
Uneasy in new arrangements of their furniture,
new odors, new echoes. New light on the walls.
New darkness in their hearts. And while
they sleep, I pace my newly purchased
halls choking in wallpaper I’d never choose,
dark paints that sink my spirits. Wrenched
out of context, no depth to new life
yet. On the patio, a pail is full of water
but it’s frozen. My houseplants perished
on the journey here. And the first garment
I retrieve from the packed-up cartons
is a shirt with its pocket torn off, still
wearable, I guess, but capable of carrying
nothing. No money or photos, no map,
no scrap of paper with a telephone number
I need to remember. Not even a pen or a pencil
so I can write my way out of here as fast as possible.
This piece is fairly different from Daniels other work–shorter in length, not as weighty in subject matter, a little more quiet in her language. I suppose I chose this piece over others is quite simple: I love moving, but I’ve never considered what the new owners felt like in my kitchen or my bedroom after we’ve packed up and vacated, or that they might feel uncomfortable. The particular house the narrator is describing sounds like one with character, “old walls,” “cracked brick,” “low-roofed room,” and “busted lights,” but the woman is struggling to place herself in a new section of the home’s story. This piece features a different take on a sense of place, for though the poem is anchored in the telling of the new home, there’s an uneasiness that hinders the connection one might experience after moving in. The loss of attachment is even more tangible as she describes the shirt with ” its pocket torn off,” for it cannot hold anything–no scraps of the old home, no information of where the narrator now finds herself, and no tool with which to remedy the situation. The piece leaves the reader sensing that the new homeowner is “frozen,” just like the full bucket of water on the porch–full of potential, but paralyzed by the confines of the detachment. In the depth of the dark language, she reaches for the extreme: “Not even a pen or a pencil/ so I can write my way out of here as fast as possible.” But the answer is not in writing herself out of the place, but in merely living and filling the home with fresh memories.
To continue learning about and experiencing Kate Daniels, use the following links for an interview/review of her latest poetry collection, A Walk in Victoria’s Secret, with Chapter 16, featured poems on the Story South blog, a poem on Poets.org, and a poem “The Pedicure,” from her latest book.