How do you deal with what many insurance companies rather blandly call “major life events, ” those significant happenings that allow you to change your insurance policies? We know what they mean—the death of a spouse, parent, or child; a divorce; a new baby.
But many other life events can be called major and significant—a physical move to a new home, new part of the country, or even a new country; a serious illness; spouses separating; a family crisis that leads to division and walls; perhaps even a spouse changing his or her philosophy of life—the one you’ve known for years, the one that’s helped to anchor you as well as your spouse. Suddenly, life is unhinged. The ground has shifted; the landscape has become unfamiliar.
That is the sense of Laurie Klein’s newly published collection of poems, Where the Sky Opens: A Partial Cosmography. What was known as normal and established has disappeared, sometimes within ourselves, and something new has to be recognized and charted.
Klein turns to nature, inviting us (and herself) to consider ways to reorient ourselves when we encounter the unfamiliar. Beauty can be found in this new land, to be sure, beauty that was likely always there from the beginning. But there are also dangers to be navigated.
Think twice before trusting the generous
cottonwood tree, with its quicksilver sheen,
big-hearted leaves and their wind-sourced
repertoire: page rustle to patter of rain,
applause to downpour.
A tree so genial
to the hunting owl
a lushly upholstered limb,
smash all in its path
in that relentless way meddlers
lob hints and insinuations, leave the crater
to slowly scar over, but not before
something with talons digs in, claiming
the tree no longer a fort, a mother, a lullaby.
The poems have a profound sense of calmness and tranquility about them; one can imagine sitting quietly with Klein in her back yard watching birds and small animals move through the nearby trees. The noises of the everyday have moved somewhere else; we know that this is where we should be, where we need to be.
Klein (in her own words) has “switched hats more often than hoboes in a vaudeville skit.” She’s been a songwriter, artist, actress, mime, clown, storyteller, audiobook narrator, teacher, director, writer, and editor. She wrote the classic praise chorus “I Love You, Lord” and received the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred. Through all of these careers, I suspect she has always been a poet; the poems in Where the Sky Opens speak to a lifetime. She blogs at Laurie Klein Scribe and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Where the Sky Opens is an extraordinarily fine collection, offering quiet and calming words to help navigate major life changes.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish