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Local poems, prose from Wilson, Moody

A new chapbook out from Snowy Owl Press commemorates the work of two recently deceased local writers, Lorraine Wilson and Valerie Moody. Both women were part of the Saranac Lake writing community, some of whose members — Ren Davidson Seward, Caperton Tissot, Tom Techman, Yvona Fast and Maurice Kenny — also contributed to the manuscript. The result is an open-hearted conduit to both some striking poems and the women who composed them.

The material here varies widely, from “finished” works to offhand studies, from humorous experiments to meditations on door-to-door proselytizers. Together the poems (plus two prose pieces by Lorraine) make a loving tribute to the honest and memorable work of a shared writing community. We need more chapbooks like this — locally visioned and published, full of life and observation that are relevant to their audience.

These poems are generous as well as technically interesting. In the book’s opening verses (“Post-Election”), Wilson offers gifts to the president-elect:

i leave you afternoons in the garden

down on your hands and knees

i leave you a canoe and a paddle and an Adirondack river

i leave you a basket of kittens

This is a playful response to a heavy topic, both charmingly specific (she also leaves him “my van morrison, lyle lovett and lucinda williams cds”) and devastatingly honest: “my tears of regret / my graveside confession / my unrequited passion.” I wish I’d encountered Wilson earlier, preferably before her death in 2008. The form she uses here — headings and indented subordinate clauses — is flexible, conversational, yet still rigorous. It’s a poetry that works like logic ought to, with quick links and departures of sound alongside the reassuring flow of ideas.

Moody, who died in 2019, displays a fascinating mix of work in the chapbook. There’s the poignant, narrative character sketch “Georgia,” facing a page titled “The Alligator Ate my Homework.” Two formal pieces (“A Double Dactyl” and “A Tanka”) that take their ostensible rules toward both humor and insight. I’m especially taken with Moody’s poem “Rescue,” which begins with a comedic hypothesis — “If you were kidnapped by the Amish at the Farmer’s Market / I would pull my boots on and rescue you” — but proceeds into ominous, reciprocal terrain:

If you were to fall under the spell of a summer tent evangelist,

I would pretend to be the demon freed from your soul.

We could rescue each other,

Take all the unleashed demons with us,

Start our own religion.

This is beautiful, strange work; the type of writing that makes me want to read more, to look for Moody’s next publication, to watch for her classes and readings. For that reason, reviewing this book is a bittersweet gift. We won’t see more work from either of these women and they’ll never know how much we’ve appreciated their vision and spirit. I encourage you to read the chapbook, not only because the poetry is worth it, but to honor an ongoing community of writers and readers who make work like this possible. Copies are sold at Saranac Lake shops and Lake Flower Landing.

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