To travel is always an education, sometimes a luxury, often a necessity. It can be a blessing to spend time just under the skin of another’s geography. To read a poem may be to travel as well. To read a poem from Assignation at Vanishing Point is to journey: across seas, into history, through time with the spirits of other lives lived in exile and in search.
I have been reading and re-reading this collection since I received it in March. I was drawn by the poet’s own story, British-born, the daughter of an English/Irish mother and an American serviceman, single mother of a young daughter, poet and academician.
Strong with impressionist language, the music of lists, the colloquial nature of deep insights and attitudes, the poems, while crafted photographs of a particular journey, evidence personal and universal feelings of loss, exile, disconnection and longing. In “Stanton Moor,” Satterfield writes about her interpretation of stone circles:
Before me on this ancient ground,
jagged teeth against dense sky, razor-edged
to the touch. No trace of souls who’d settled,
just scattered remnants of lost inhabitants, the countless cairns
spread far as the eye could see. . .
The use of landscape, particularly the season of winter, works the theme, the challenges of life’s seasons/“stations” as in “Wintering”
The worst winter in ages—pipes freeze, nerves fizzle,
tempers flare then even more descends
as one more snowfall starts, a swirl of lakes
over laden boughs, what is already
perilous… The slushy ruts thaw, refreeze,
and once again the work of digging out
These poems are so carefully arranged, there occasionally appears to be a sort of enjambment between several poems. A link between senses: “if you have trouble understanding the message/you will be able to hear it again” (p. 32) and “Because I couldn’t see, no story took shape—/I am still in this absence… (p. 33). And seasons in from “Shugborough Hall” to “Wintering”: “The flowers blown, the petals spent.” (p. 18) to “The worst winter in ages…” (p. 19)
I approached this work as one poet taking another on a tour. A friendly invitation, but not one without cost, as in “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” Satterfield imagines going to find her double in Ireland and wonders “how much it cost,/and who’s paying?”
Initially, the use of the historical figures in several of the poems was an obstacle in my reading. Did I need to know about the references, the lives or writings of saints, philosophers and others? Does the work stand on its own? And what does that mean?
Was I missing an essential element or a level of richness? I am still struggling with this, trusting the poet’s process for seeing her experience, trusting my own vision of finding meaning and connection. Satterfield’s images and references may lead to the search “As in errancy I inhabit: hunger equals industry.” (p. 8) When I use a mix of languages in my own poetry (Irish or Spanish), does that have the same effect upon my readers? Likely. And yet it is an integral part of my process.
This is a collection that favors reading and re-reading. In the moments one plans another trip, we will remember “a rush of wind as mother steps outside to peg the wash,/bends again to light the hob whose blue flame leaps/at last into being, a dream of how far one has travelled…” and will continue to do so.
Causes Jane Satterfield Supports
Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)
Association for Research on Mothering (ARM)