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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lesley Gale at Sacramento Poetry Center



Lesley Gale appeared Monday May 15 at the Sacramento Poetry Center, reading a baker’s dozen poems and inspiring all of us who were slouching in our chairs with her perfect posture.

She started the evening off with a poem by Wendell Berry entitled “The Wheel” which introduced her audience to the notion of circles and “the wheel of life” that she would explore throughout the evening.

After this brief homage to the other poet in the form of Berry (who had, in turn, written the poem for Robert Penn Warren) Gale turned her attention toward her son. She read three poems that had originated from her experience with him. The first was “Connection (Discord)” which told of her trials with her son’s umbilical cord falling off as an infant. The process had taken much longer than she had been told it would take. The poem grew out of an exercise she had done in conjunction with Susan Kelly-DeWitt. The exercise was to model the shape of a poem placed side-by-side with the one she was writing. She had chosen a Brenda Hillman poem for her model. In the poem the umbilical cord finally falls off, a “mighty rope [that] will be able to pull forever”.

The second piece about her son was about his battle with autism, in particular his condition of echolalia which causes an individual to indiscriminately repeat words and phrases that he/she hears without necessarily understanding what they mean. Gale’s trial in this poem (as she is presumably nearly always the speaker within her poems) was to create a sense of routine for her son. the piece was entitled “Circuit” where Gale claimed “we both skate for life.”

The next piece chronicled Gale’s son as he grew a little bit older, out of the initial stages of his autism to inhabit a fairly familiar space for a young boy. However, he still experienced some problems with social skills. For this, Gale enrolled him in Relationship Development Intervention. As she was driving back from Lodi where the RDI took place, Gale began to sense a kind of emergence, a progress that led her to invoke the metaphor of “billions and billions of acres unmown.”

The following piece moved from the pastoral to the forest. The piece included an epigraph from Robert Frost—“never again would birds’ songs be the same.” The poem focused on the life of specfic birds.

From the forest wilderness, Gale turned to suburban nature, revealing that she had grown up in Napa, where the summers always had a degree of humility. Not so in Sacramento Gale found out when she moved into the area. She found the summers shocking. Even the spring was a bit dramatic for her taste, and she focused on this experinece in the poem “Sacramento Spring.”

Gale then mused about how her dog perceived nature. She saw her dog as something of a ballet dancer in the wild, its nose pirouetting in the plethora of smells. “Dog Morning” was an extended metaphor that described the back leg of the dog as if an arabesque. The dog relieves itself later in the poem, and Gale comments, “This is joy: to be in the world and mark your presence.

The following piece, "The Donkey Speak Out Against Her Master, Balaam" required a bit of a set up. It referred to the biblical story of Balaam, whom God had given prophetic powers. However, Balaam didn’t always use them as god wished. On one occasion as the King of Moab tries to curry favor with Balaam, Balaam is instructed by God not to visit this king who opposes the children of Israel. However, Balaam goes anyway, but along the way his donkey is given the ability to see the angel of death ready to strike down Balaam, its master. Each time the donkey sees the angel, the donkey takes evasive action, only to be rewarded with a whipping for saving Balaam’s life. Finally, when Balaam is at his wit’s end, God gives the donkey the ability to speak. Gale’s poem recounts this circumstance as told through the mouth of the now-conversant donkey.

Josh Groban’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” was the subject of the next poem entitled “Josh Groban Sings Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Gale, sheepishly admitting that she had fallen under the sway of Josh Groban’s hypnotic powers, his good looks and voice, tried to recapture the physical sensation she encountered while listening to the song as well as the spiritual impact it made. Gale used aspects of the score for the song and tied this to heavily descriptive passages in order for the listener to re-experience the “satiated perfection of spirit” found within the song.

Fascinated by working with established forms, Gale read two villanelles, that somewhat antique form that employs five tercets with ABA rhyme schemes followed by a quatrain (see here for specific instructions on the form). Gale’s first poem was an homage to Elizabeth entitled “Some Art,” which took as its subject the idea that one is a poser in a number of roles that one is desperately trying to perform, yet each role is performed with some failing. Gale started off by disclaiming, "Being a poser is a simple art," but then this outlook complicates as the poem moves forward.

“Hyperventilation” is a poem about staving off the garden variety panic attack. Gale’s basic recipe? Think positively.

The final poem of the evening “Leave Taking” before the single encore was a poem about Gale’s grandmother who grew up in Bemidji, Minnesota. After she left Bemidji, she came to California and lived in Vallejo for many years. She had led a good, rich and full life until 2003. At the end of the poem, Gale remembers her “backing away from the light”

The final poem was Gale’s Mary Kay poem, "Mary Make Me". Again she bravely admitted that she was on her fourth Mary Kay person. She admitted that she was drawn to the names of the products, sensual as they are like “triple action cream,” and “peach skin mask and peeler” The speaker in Gale’s poem wants Mary to remake her, to re-dazzle her with ice sage. The final image was where Gale transforms herself through the presence and products of Mary Kay, that old and ancient healer.

The evening had come full circle. What had started out with Gale talking about the wheel had circled back to her own transformation into another. She had started with the other as represented by Wendell Berry, and was ending transformed by Time Wise Age-Fighting Lip Primer

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