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Night is Simply A Shadow
Greta Wrolstad (1981-2005) was a poet and vital presence in the M.F.A. program at The University of Montana, where she held a teaching assistantship in English and served as poetry co-editor of CutBank. Greta was my student. She was not only tremendously talented but at-home in herself, in ways that are utterly elusive to me. I will be lucky if, in my lifetime, I can approach some of the peace that seemed to radiate from Greta at 24.
Like Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, two poets she read exhaustively, Greta was exceptionally good at describing the natural world—in part, I suspect, because she had the patience to look at seawater and trees for a long time, without asking what she saw to be anything other than itself. Greta was a traveler. Her poems open out like vast geographies, always with a strain of quiet and sense of witness. She did not shy away from representing ugliness, or horror, as in this poem from the sequence “Notes on Sea and Shore”:
To be sailing the Sargasso Sea, where life
is caught and held indefinitely…no wind nor
currents to carry matter away. Day-after-day
afloat on a shoreless sea,
a sea clogged with kelp, felled kelp,
fallen upwards to air collected there
by a hurricane’s pull. Our warm bodies bobbing
bloodless on the brown ocean, strong and steady,
oblivious to this ebb tide—shielded by the Sargasso
Sea caught and held by our own
two hands, caught and held. Still clinging
to Floridian rocks, West Indian rocks,
dross smeared across the mid-Atlantic.
Everything suspends in a final suspension; every-
thing linked and floating, as a
left hand takes the right to keep it warm.
The swerve from a wash of bloodlessness to a sudden, specific warmth is a signature turn in Greta’s work; she jolts you just when you feel a landscape has become eerily inhospitable or inhuman.
“Notes on Sea and Shore” opens Night is Simply a Shadow, a full-length collection just released from Tavern Books (and superbly edited by poets Carl Adamshick, Michael McGriff and Britta Ameel). They shepherded this collection into existence with immense care and persistence; Brandon Shimoda and Christine Bown also contributed to the selection of poems. Night is Simply a Shadow gathers up Greta’s voice and the presence of her most ardent supporters. It captures an intensely lyric impulse in Greta’s work: to gesture constantly toward care for the world and for each other. “O my floating life,” writes Lorine Niedecker, “Do not save love / for things / Throw things to the flood.”
There is a book launch—free and open to the public—at 7 pm on Saturday, June 8th at Division Leap Bookstore & Gallery in Portland.