Sunday, March 20, 2016

An Appreciation of THE UNEATEN CARROTS OF ATONEMENT by Diane Lockward

Today begins a new series of posts offering appreciations for recent books of poetry. These posts are not reviews, per se—I put out a call for books from writers I know, and my purpose in doing so was to eat their words up—to enjoy the verse and also find inspiration for my own poetry. My goal is not to critique, but to celebrate.

The original call for books was intended to provide me with enough material for one appreciation per day during April, National Poetry Month (also the cruelest month, and the month to celebrate fools—applicable, perhaps, to me, since this is a big undertaking!). I received way more than thirty titles, however, so it’s now a spring thing, or maybe a rest-of-my-life thing—but that sounds like a pretty good life to me.

So happy spring! Poetry is in bloom.

It wasn’t difficult to pick the first poet to feature in my Appreciation series.

As literary citizens go, Diane Lockward is a dynamo. Her blog, Blogalicious: Notes on Poetry, Poets, and Books, and its accompanying newsletter provide so much useful information for writers. Just today I consulted an old Blogalicious post that lists dozens of books that publish book reviews. Although I have never met Diane, I refer to her valuable information all the time, and she feels like an old friend.

I was also captivated by the title of the most recent of her four books of poetry, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement (West Caldwell, NJ: Wind Publications, 2016). I struggle with titles, and a great title pulls me right in. The importance of a great title is lesson one of book one of the Appreciations series (which I designed to teach me more about poetry).

This collection is not for the timid. Its first death appears in the second poem, and violence and death are peppered throughout the manuscript. The word “unflinching” appears in every third book blurb (with “luminous” occurring in every first and second), but Lockward’s poetry really doesn’t flinch from the ugliness of both nature and human nature.

Nor does Lockward flinch from beauty, which shines radiantly (dare I say luminously?) through these pages. The beauty is all the bolder because it is positioned alongside cruelty and loss and some ugliness.

Lockward is brave in her presentation, in poems that feel personal and incredibly honest. I like this snippet, from her poem “I Want to Save the Trees”:

     On my knees, I beg the oak’s forgiveness.
If I’d known that the filthy knife wielder was rotten
as a diseased Dutch Elm, I would not have let him
shove in his blade and carve a heart into the bark,
his initials and mine forever locked inside,
my tree wounded, forever tattooed like a prisoner.

To me, the pain Lockward describes seems also to be the poet’s pain, and the reader feels it, too—that knife-thrust, that wounding.

Lockward also writes beautifully about relationships, as in the poem “The Phone Call,” about a call—she doesn’t specify the content—that changes everything for the one who receives it.

You will stick together, moving
like two shadows, the sorrow
between you a cord stretched
from one to the other,
the life you build
like a house, one room closed,
cordoned off as in a museum,
behind the rope,
the furniture of your grief ….

I see that couple’s stilted dance, and I recognize it—see myself following its box-steps. I found this description unbelievably moving.

The gorgeousness in the manuscript doesn’t occur in, say, depictions of flowers (although, come to think of it, there are some, and beautiful ones). I found the poems most lush and compelling when they offered unexpected beauty—the iridescence of fly wings as they swarm over a dead bird, in “the frenzied dance of thieves come to ransack a mansion,” or the gift of a dead rat brought by a cat in “the small purse of her mouth.” When Lockward writes, “Even in this there is beauty,” her words vibrate in me, and make me look around my own room in a primed, expectant way.

The lesson to this poet: The law of duality, the power of a foil—how the presence of pain, tragedy, and loss makes beauty that much more palpable.

Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop and four poetry books, most recently The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement. She is the recipient of the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and a Woman of Achievement Award. Her poems have appeared in Harvard Review, Southern Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. She is the founder, editor, and publisher of Terrapin Books, a new small press for poetry.

A brief interview with Diane Lockward …

1.     What did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
I always wanted to be a teacher, and that never changed. I liked to boss people around and I loved the pointer, which, sadly, by the time I became a teacher was no longer in use.

2.     What is the very best word in this collection? Explain.
“Ganache”—that's from "For the Chocolate Tasters," a poem about the joys of working as a chocolate taster. The word ganache is sweet in the mouth and rolls around on the tongue. It gives me pleasure to say that word just as it gives me pleasure to eat chocolate.

3.     Describe your worst poetic habit.
Putting off writing, for sure. I’m not an everyday kind of poet, but I wish I were at least a once-a-week kind of poet. This bad trait has become worse lately, partly because I have a new collection out and partly because of the demands of having begun Terrapin Books.

4.     It’s time someone put out an anthology of poems about ___. Explain your reasoning.
Dolls, of course, because I've just filled that gap with The Doll Collection, the first-ever, as far as I know, collection of doll poems.

5.     It’s your poetic obituary! Finish it up with an essential statement about your poetry.
Diane Lockward was a poet who came late to the party, but once there had a good time, sang some songs, and danced some dances.

Would you like to have your book considered for an Appreciation feature? It is eligible if it is no more than two years old or, better yet, forthcoming. You may send finished books or advanced reader copies to me at Karen Craigo, 723 S. McCann Ave., Springfield MO 65804.


  1. Such a great pick, and for the first day of spring!

    1. Thank you, Lynn! I'm really going to enjoy this season. :)

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