We live in a violent and confusing world, there’s no doubt about it — all we have to do is turn on the television or our computers to see the latest bad news (and yes, most of the time, the news is bad). Weaving poems about national tragedy with narrative poems of home, poet Marjorie Maddox finds hope and promise in her newest book, Local News from Someplace Else.
Many of the poems in this collection explore tragic news events that have marked the later years of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century. Indeed, if I wanted to use the cliché, “Ripped from the Headlines” to describe many of the poems, I could, but many of Maddox’s works do more than simple retell the event. For instance, in “Seven-Year-Old Girl Escapes From Kidnappers” she invites the reader to be with a young determined victim: “And we climb with her/out of that abandoned basement” so that we can understand both the place where the victim is escaping and the place where she is escaping to: “a city not brotherly/a ghost-world of gray.” In another poem, “Woman, 91, Frozen to Floor” we learn about a victim who kneels on her kitchen floor, hoping for warmth but finding herself surrounded by broken pipes and water that that turns to ice , her “muscles about the room/bullies her, pins her knees/to the slick floor.” Other poems explore the different eyewitnesses of the United Airlines Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania on September 9, 2001 or meditate on a daughter’s years in school years after the Columbine shootings.
Always, Maddox seems to be asking, what should our proper responses be to these grim events. Perhaps the answer is found in the poem “Backwards Barn Raising” where a narrator addresses the 2006 Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, asking “And what can we do but wail with you/grief burning back to ashes//those splintered schoolroom boards/that heard the bullets?” but also responding with admiration, “Even out of this/you build forgiveness.”
Still, what dominates this book is not poetic headlines of the sad and violent news of our world. Instead, Maddox spends many poems celebrating the news on the homefront — defining home in her poem “Settled” by explaining “Burrs in their Pennsylvania wind/we’d drift, stick at most a year/in these hill four hours from everywhere.” In her collection, we see a young daughter pretending to travel in a make-believe time machine, a woman swimming at the YMCA while she is pregnant, and a couple learning to ride bicycles again. Some of her poems depict everyday landscapes such as diners, doctor offices and backyards. There is a quiet spirituality about this life that Maddox is examining, one of contentment in spite of the everyday fears that threaten to engulf us. My favorite poem, “Anniversary Coffee” depicts a couple quietly celebrating an important even in their lives in a place they know well: “Those behind the counter/know us and know//when to save what we want.” The narrator concludes the scene saying, “You are/not what I ordered but what I order now//across the café table, across the morning/spread with such delectable savor.”
Maddox is a fellow Pennsylvania poet, and I have been a fan of her work for a long time. Local New from Someplace Else is a great addition to my collection. For more information about this book, see the publisher’s website, or visit Maddox’s own webpage here.