Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Poetry of the Southwest

There are some books that speak to your soul, some books that are written so much in your style and seem to have so much to do with the landscape of your life--some books that you simply feel grateful for the opportunity to read.

The Poplar Tree was such a book for me. I mentioned buying it at a thrift store last month (click here to see what else I got there); I thought it looked like a nice book that I would like. And I was very much right.


Clara Emily Guion Aguirre was born and raised in New Mexico; she moved to Texas after she was married. From an early age all the way through the rest of her life, she wrote poetry. This book, the first of two that she published, covers poems from 1918 to 1986. That's 68 years of her life. She was born, by the way, in 1906 and died in 1997 (this book was published in 1988 by Nightjar Press). All of the poems are labeled with the year they were written in and they appear in chronological order, which is in itself fascinating: different thoughts go through our heads at different stages of our lives.

Her poems are short and simple, never taking up more than a page each and often being only around fifteen lines long. There is nothing flowery about them and that is what makes them so beautiful. Sometimes they are descriptions of an element from nature (like a poplar tree), sometimes they describe a feeling (it was easy to guess at what stage Clara's husband died), and sometimes they describe a thought (like a realization of what time means in terms of our lives). Though not all of these poems are happy, they are all grateful, written with a realization of what life is and the desire and resolution to live that life.

The Southwest speaks to my heart and it spoke to Clara's heart, too, and that's why I took such delight in seeing her conversations, so to speak, with the earth and the plants and the animals that inhabit this corner of the earth. Her poem "The Desert" (1955) on page 30 was one of the best things I've read, a true ode to the life of the desert. I want everyone to read that poem, to find it, to see it, to think of it: it explains what makes the desert compelling, all without pretense or hyperbole or blind eyes that see only pretty colors. "Reflection" (1959) on page 44 was also one of my favorites, and speaking of eyes, I think this poem did open my eyes and remind me of a certain reality that I think perhaps I was forgetting.

I am so happy that I found this book, this book that I wouldn't have found anywhere else but that particular thrift store on that particular day. As far as I know, it only had one printing, so if you want to buy a copy online, the price is exorbitant (I have to include the Amazon ad just to show you that I'm not exaggerating). I think there are some anthologies that include some of Clara's poetry, but I can't tell you for sure. That being said, I wish there were a reprint of this book to make it once more accessible: it's absolutely lovely and I wish more people had the chance to read these poems.

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