wings of words...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Rita Sims Quillen

Back When I Wrote Poems

I was younger, stronger, quicker then
With beautiful white wings of words.
I could soar over currents of hot syllables
Invincible, the wind exhilarating
Taking my breath.
Deliberately initiating death spirals
Arching my back at just the right moment,
I’d pull up, skimming over the upturned faces below
Land on a promontory and smile,
Very pleased with myself.

Today when I mounted the current,
I had to fight for altitude
Wings stiff slow uncertain—
This wind only hurts.
Worst of all
Below me there are no faces
Only a black bottomless pond
Mirror shining my pale face back to me
No place to go
But the ground.


Quillen, a poet who either consciously or unconsciously echoes Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” illustrates, with effective delivery, the life of the artist – a theme she revisits on occasion throughout her oeuvre. Each poem written makes the next one more difficult. The artist is demanding, relentless, unsatisfied. Yet, words do appear.

Although she is a writer forever attached to the literary topography of Appalachia – a clear strength in her writing – Quillen has never written a more universal poem. The more our writing life extends, the more remarkable and illusive finding the way becomes. It does not get easier. As Quillen writes, “there are no faces,” showing the loss of recognition and recognizing the writer must encounter. That is in the texture of our being. Words, at least for a time, may soar – the wind delivering them to a multitude of landscapes beyond the control of the pen, but the poet will, irrevocably, hit the ground. The magnificent will flatten. Then begins the vital but nearly impossible burden of another flight. And another. Still another.

This poem opens Her Secret Dream (Wind Publications, 2007), a collection that presents Quillen’s extraordinary range of craft and subject matter. It is a book that confirms the ache – an important word for the poet – at the core of human experience. She’s a gifted writer, absolutely determined to recreate her physical world with language. And she is successful.


Nick said...

Gee, this poem hits home in more ways than one! Thanks for posting it.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I appreciate the visit, Nick.

Pris said...

This is a wonderful poem! Thanks for sharing it, Sam.

C. E. Chaffin said...


I can't wait for your published anthology of must-read poems. With publishing on demand, it's a no-brainer. I'd buy one.

The simple single extended metaphor here is good, makes poetry accessible to the common reader, transmits the search for the Logos through the logos.

I'd never seen Gould play before. Amazing, crouched like a cricket, become the music through his hands. The great thing about Bach is that he always has somewhere else to go, no matter how much the riffs slow down, like a clock ticking. How different from the silences in the tone poems of the last century.

I'm not comparing, but I've never been able to get into Mahler, for instance, though Holst's "The Planets" is amazing.


sam of the ten thousand things said...

I appreciate the read, Pris. Thanks for the visit.

And CE, thanks for the comments about the anthology. I'll keep that in mind. I agree with you about Bach. And Gould - was a phenomenal musician. I can't understand how he plays. It doesn't seem possible to play the way he plays. On guitar, I feel the same way about Wes Montgomery.