without & with...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Ralph Coleman

Wild Strawberries

a field without tar
or power lines
or groundhog killers

a field quiet
as fallen pine needles—
loud as an angry bluejay

a field where poems grow
like wild strawberries


Ralph Coleman was a most extraordinary writer and human being. His gift was in smallness. His poetry is a delicate and almost ethereal presence that hovers very close to perfection. Many of his works, and “Wild Strawberries” is a good example, exhibit a zen-like approach to the world. In that respect, Coleman’s writing is quite similar to the work of Jeff Daniel Marion, one of the masters of Appalachian poetry. One should not make the mistake, however, of confining Marion or Coleman to the world of Appalachia – a world often maligned and misunderstood by those outside its mystery. Both writers are as universal in their transcendence as Basho or Snyder or Gregg.

One of the beauties in Coleman’s poem – the closing piece to his marvelous chapbook A Skiff of Snow – is its balance of discordant features. A world of power lines, an unspoiled field, pine needles, the angry jay. The poet moves the reader into another dimension by showing what is missing – tar, electricity, killers. Civilization’s encroachment, even in its absence, looms shadow-like, but ineffective, over the creative force in the universe. What is not makes possible what is: “a field where poems grow”. A poem about enlightenment, change, possibility.

Silence is necessary – “a field quiet” – the poet tells us. Out of the silence … out of the nothingness … something emerges, grows, endures. It grows wild, plentiful, and without a reliance on cultivation.


SarahJane said...

Enjoyed this, Sam. Poets who think small hold a special place in my heart.

I read an article today about wildlife encroaching on suburbia. It just struck me funny how backwards that seemed.


anhaga said...

I met Ralph only once. We were doing a reading together just after I had written a review of A Skiff of Snow for Now & Then, and he made the effort to come over and say thanks for what I'd written---and it was an effort for him. (I had praised the chapbbok, but in retrospect maybe not enough; it's one of those books that gets better as the years go by, isn't it?) He was impossible not to like, even as quiet as he was, because it was the same strong quietness that engendered this beautiful, Edenic poem, among others.

Ann Richman told me once that discovering and publishing Ralph Coleman's work was the single thing she was most proud of in her career as a publisher---and I think I see what she meant. His early death was an incalculable loss. Thank you so much for posting this, Sam.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read Sarah. I like the notion of the article - the backward slant on encroaching.

James, Ann's comment is a real testament to Ralph's work. He never failed to encourage me, in his way - but you're right about the efforts he had to make as a social being. The loss, incalculable. That's right.

LKD said...

Is Sow's Ear press no longer in existence? I can't find any information about it online.

Where might one purchase a copy of Coleman's "Skiff of Snow"?

Or, for that matter, your "Necessary Motions"?

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Here's the web link, Laurel:


The press is very much alive, publishing a quarterly journal and a chapbook a year. The magazine has published such writers as William Stafford, Amy Clampitt, and David Huddle.

Kristin Zimet is the ed., and Errol Hess is the managing editor. You can check, but I think A Skiff of Snow may be out of print. It went through at least two, maybe three printings.

poet with a day job said...

The "smallness" and quiet of this poem makes its presence so huge. It reminds me of the understated actor: how easy it is to steal a show, even with the shortest screen time and fewest lines, by being mindful, purposeful. I'm reading an advance copy of The World Without Us by Alan Weisman and what he proves is, no matter what, nature always takes its rightful place: understated, mindful, meaningful.

Paula said...

One of the good things about blogging and the variety of posts is to learn, hear something new, to discover a new poet, writer, artist. This is the case with your blog, Sam and the poem By Coleman. I'll see if I can find his book. I love the poem you posted,

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

I agree with you, Melissa, about the strength of the poem's smallness. And Paula, I hope you can find it. You won't regret it.