Friday, August 28, 2020

Exploring "Certainty" with Margaret B. Ingraham

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup. 

I'm away from my desk, but I'm thinking of all you wonderful Poetry Friday friends! Can you believe we've nearly made it to September?!

I want to invite you to check out Georgia Heard's latest virtual poetry workshop offerings at The Poet's Studio. What a fabulous learning opportunity!

And if you're looking for this week's ArtSpeak! RED poem, I posted it yesterday, it's after a Picasso piece called "A Red Skirt."

Also, I'm delighted to introduce to you a new-to-me poet Margaret B. Ingraham, author of Exploring this Terrain: Poems (Paraclete Press, 2020).  Margaret was kind enough to respond to a few simple prompts, and also to share a gorgeous and timely poem from her new book. We'll start with the poem, and then hear from Margaret herself.

by Margaret B. Ingraham

Certain things my mother knew
and she would not forget them:
like the scent magnolias take
when the sun has pressed
its full weight down inside
the cup of blossom long enough
to spring the hinges
of every creamy petal
and turn each one to chamois cloth,
beige and soft;
or the sunset glow
of tufted titmouse breast;
or mystery of kestrel's flight
soaring to crescendo height when
still wings dangle dangerously
on the precipice of fickle breeze.

Mother lived to open up the world to us
in things that always closed
or hid or ebbed away:
like frothy lace the small waves
tool along the sand at turn of tide;
or caddis fly's empty case
clinging to the smooth flat bell
of a stone in running shallows;
or tender young mimosa leaves curling
to put themselves to sleep
when we'd brush our tiny palms
across the smallest fronds.
These were the things, my mother said,
that nature always ordered
and on which we could depend.

Yesterday I wandered off
the well-marked trail
lured by the hope of hearing
low lamentations of the mourning dove
or distinct call of black-capped chickadee,
tones that float effortlessly
from small birds' quivering throats.
Instead the clearest sound I heard
was one I'd thought endangered long ago:
arduous and heavy-headed hammering
only a pileated woodpecker makes
when it has found the restive beetle
burrowing down inside a dying trunk.

This, of course, was part of what she knew:
some things open,
others close,
and certain things abide.


Isn't that a beautiful reminder of what nature can give us in the midst of whatever turmoil we're experiencing?

And, now... Welcome, Margaret!

The delicious:

MI: When I hear or see the word “delicious” I naturally think first of some of my favorite foods, but the addition of the definite article “the” broadens my perspective a bit – particularly as it relates to Exploring this Terrain specifically and to my poetry generally. Unlike many other poets I know, I never determine in advance what I am going to write about. Rather, I respond to what I encounter and then attempt to capture it and to share it through language. “O taste and see,” declared the psalmist and great poet David, and that is what I endeavor to do as I experience life. And to “taste and see,” I want to add “hear and smell and touch”…because we humans are constantly reacting to things happening around us that engage some or all of those senses, whether we are aware of it or not. My work as a poet is to bring attention to that, I guess. My most sincere hope was and is that the reader will savor with me the marvelous and unique flavor that can be found in every moment, image, sound that I have endeavored to capture and convey through words. The psalmist completes his line with the statement “the Lord is good.” I believe that too and that that “goodness” is demonstrated in all of creation.

Over the course of my writing career lots of folks have characterized me as a nature poet. I am delighted to accept the designation; but my subject matter and scope of vision are broader than that, I think. I prefer to call what others refer to as nature, creation. All of my poetry then explores one of the various and distinct terrains of creation that define and inform our lives. My book is divided into seven sections, and each of those sections examines a distinct type of terrain – some defined by the typography of the natural, physical world and some by those less concrete, but no less real, realms of relationship, memory, heart and spirit. My hope is that my poems makes these delicious for the reader. A food we call delicious may be sweet or sour, tangy or subtle, hot or mild; similarly, what makes a poem delicious can be as broad-ranging as that.

The difficult:

MI: Because Exploring this Terrain is a collection containing work created over a period of years rather a volume concentrating on a single theme, selecting the poems to include or to omit was a bit of a challenge. Once I’d made those selections deciding in which particular section of the book each of the 70 poems belonged was also sometimes a difficult decision. I knew that where I placed the poem essentially signaled to the observant reader what I thought the poem was “about.” But poems, like life itself, are complex and multi-faceted. A number of the poems could have been placed logically or comfortably in more than one section. But by going back in my head not just to the writing of the poem but more importantly to the experience that inspired it, I was able to resolve the dilemma.

The most difficult of the difficulties (whew!) I routinely encounter as a poet is finding the right – or should I say best -- last line with which to conclude the poem. I am not exactly sure why this is the case, except that the experience or realization enshrined in a poem never really ends for me. It does for the reader, however, and in that context I often believe that the last line is the most important in a poem.

Of course it can be argued honestly that the first line is of paramount importance because it is largely responsible for engaging the reader. English professors often congenially squabble about the greatest first lines in various literary genres. As interesting and stimulating as that

discussion can be, I choose to avoid it. And I don’t think about my own opening lines that much either – because I know that they are most often “given” to me. I don’t mean this is a mystical or “woo-woo” way as some of my friends would characterize it. The first lines of my poems generally come as a simple gift, the consequence and reward of attentiveness to the world around. They are usually triggered by something auditory (like a bird’s song) or visual (like the way the light moves or casts a particular shadow). Unfortunately, those first lines are usually fleeting as well. If I don’t jot them down almost immediately, they vanish as surely as the fog. That is the beginning of the act of writing a poem for me, but only the beginning. What the first line or lines demand of me then are days of recollection and concentration, often hours of research, weeks and sometimes even years of revision before I am ready to present the piece to an audience. So the process can be difficult; but it is a difficulty I embrace because, for me at least, the exploration always leads to discovery and blessing.

The unexpected:

MI: In the context of COVID-19, “the great unexpected,” most everything else that was unanticipated seems to pale. Your question, however, was specifically focused on the unexpected in relation to my book, so I will confine my answer to that. There was no how-to manual for launching a new book in a pandemic, and all the conventional means of reaching readers that I’d scheduled– like a launch, book talks and signings, in-person events – had to be scuttled. Connecting with readers face-to-face has always been especially meaningful for me and I do miss it. But I would never have anticipated how creative and united the entire literary community, in all its several roles, would be. Your invitation to be part of your Poetry Friday blog is just one example of the happily unexpected opportunities and support I have received. There was a virtual book launch on You Tube produced by my publisher Paraclete Press that allowed me to engage with folks I otherwise would not reach. There was Poetkind Podcast and there have been other virtual and online readings. During the podcast interview the host Susan Mulder asked, “How can you read poetry during a pandemic, at a time like this?” Reflexively I responded, hearing my own voice before I was even aware that I was speaking: “How can you not read poetry at a time like this?” That was unexpected. But I stand by those words. I thank you for the opportunity to pose and answer that question here and to share one of my poems with your readers. You selected it, of course, and I am pleased with your pick. Its entitled “Certainty,” and if we ever need to consider and hold fast to that which is certain, it is at a time such as this.

Anything else?

MI: Yes. Thank you, Irene, for affirming through this Poetry Friday blog the proposition that poetry does and must have an important place in this uncertain world of coronavirus. I am honored to have been invited into this space and given the opportunity to share what I am sure will be an unfamiliar poem to most of your readers.

During this strange time, and after it has passed, may we all be attentive to and grateful for the certain things that abide.


So many thanks to Margaret, and to Rachel at Paraclete Press, for reaching out to me about this book. I love sharing beautiful poetry books with others!


  1. What a thoughtful poet with graceful answers. I very much enjoyed Margaret's responses to the prompts. And, it's nice to see that she has gathered a collection of poems from those written in response, rather than those written to a topic. I can't seem to make the jump of writing to a topic. So, she gives me hope.

  2. I enjoyed reading Margaret's answers & meeting her through your interview, Irene. That simple word "Certainty" brings to my mind the blessings I hope all know to look for to ease their lives. And the lines "hat nature always ordered
    and on which we could depend." feels like something we can freely give to our children, to our friends, along with poetry, too! Thank you!

  3. Reading Margaret's poems invites us to slow down and look more closely at what's in front of us–taking in nature's magical beauty and details. Thanks for sharing her and her new poetry book through your rich interview Irene, xo.

  4. Great stuff! I so agree: how can you NOT read poetry at a time like this? Thanks for sharing Margaret with us, Irene!

  5. A lovely, thoughtful interview. I adore "when the sun has pressed/its full weight down inside/the cup of blossom long enough/to spring the hinges/of every creamy petal." Luscious writing.

  6. Irene, many thanks to you and Margaret I. for such a thoughtful blog post. Questions and answers allowed me to ponder, fill my mind with sensory details, and feel a level of peace come into my being. "that nature always ordered" and other lines from the poem are remarkably clear, small truths.

  7. to spring the hinges
    of every creamy petal

    Wow! Thanks, Irene and Margaret...


Your thoughts?