Claiming Breath by Diane Glancy
(University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London, 1992)
"A rich, satisfying book, full of wisdom," says Choice about Diane Glancy's Claiming Breath. I quote it because it was affirmed by my read, and because it's printed right on the front cover of the book. The back cover presents this book description:
Like poets of legend, Diane Glancy has spent much of her life on the road. For years she supported her family by driving throughout Oklahoma and Arkansas teaching poetry in the schools. Claiming Breath is an account of one of those years, what Glancy calls 'a winter count of sorts, a calendar, a diary of personal matters ... and a final acceptance of the broken past ... It's a year that covers more than a year.'The above description implies the mundane, hearkens a poet's life that's partly about making a (financial) living instead of a "life of letters." Here's a page from "February / The Iron Cranberry":
(click on images to enlarge)
Yet this is a bookish tome precisely because the writing is so keen, so evocative, so wise, so layered, so deserving of the empathy it elicits--it even gets luscious:
The reader sees/benefits from how Glancy notes (in "October/ From the Back Screen of the Country"), "The ordinary life I write about from the harshness, the fullness of this land." It's also refreshing in terms of how her poems connect seemingly disparate elements, e.g. the magnificent "Ontology & the Trucker \ or, The Poem Is the Road." Here's an excerpt:
There is much ars poetica in the book, logical since this too is a poet's memoir. This befits Glancy's life and poetry: "poetry is a distilled experience, not the flowery language it used to be." I feel there's still room for flowery language but note this not to disagree with Glancy. It's to note that to read the book, chockfull of ars poetica statements, is to understand Glancy's way as being rooted in her experience, including how she teaches her students; one can only listen when she says/writes from "February/ The Iron Cranberry":
The above excerpt continues: "They seem to know. These are the progeny of the sod farmers who staked their claim during the land runs & the hay farmers who got blown away in the dust bowl. These are children of the farmers who struggle now. One of them told me poetry must be like farming." I read, listen, and learn as Glancy's ars poetica is earned. Here's another sample, the beginning to "Ethnic Arts: The Cultural Bridge":
I can't help it: I have to share another ars poetica example--I particularly appreciate No. 2 for respecting the experience of intellectual rumination:
Last but not least, there's much to be learned in Glancy's views on Native American writing--lessons applicable to concerns by many writers-of-color (not just Native American). "The Nail-down of Oral Tradition"is a fine blueprint for a particular position that may be useful to many; here's an excerpt:
From the above excerpt, I highlight this statement:
The poet should experience the white world and bring forth what he is in it.To which I reply, "Yes." It can be difficult ..., but surely the poet should not avoid difficulty. For it is that (metaphorical) step through which, to paraphrase Glancy, not only protestors but also "map-makers" are made.
Claiming Breath was released in 1992, but remains ever more relevant today. RECOMMENDED.
Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects. Her 2017 poetry releases include two books, two booklets and five poetry chaps. Forthcoming later this fall is a new poetry collection, MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press). She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor, except when the review focuses on other poets as well, which is the case in April's reviews: M. Earl Smith reviews her collaboration with John Bloomberg-Rissman If They Hadn't Worn White Hoods, 8 Million Would Have Shown Up In the Photographs and Freke Räihä reviews her TO BE AN EMPIRE IS TO BURN!. More info about her work at http://eileenrtabios.com