Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: Watch Where You Walk: New and Selected Poems by Mary Kratt

Watch Where You Walk: New and Selected Poems.  Mary Kratt.  Lorimer Press, Davidson, NC. 2015.  ISBN 13: 978-0-9897885-6-4; ebook: ISBN 10: 0-9897885-6-3.  123 pages. 16.95

Mary Kratt’s Watch Where You Walk: New and Selected Poems is a book to treasure and to be comforted by.  It reminds us of the real nature of life--its constant change.  It gives us hope.  Nearly every poem tackles something in our human experience that has been or could be lost: family, the natural world, our history, especially Southern history.  These poems end with little epiphanies that remind us of what we needn’t lose, what is still there after loss. 

Here’s the title poem, “Watch Where You Walk,” p. 3

Savor the purple blooms,
the prickly contrast.

beautiful in bloom
they crowd the green pasture
beyond the window
far in the distance,
our hilly meadow.

Bring your hoe.

Kratt does so much with tree names:

“Trees of the Southern Forest,” p. 50

Scarlet oak and loblolly pine,
water oak and willow–
name labels along the path,
this last place Father and I strolled
before he walked
into the wide cave of the hospital.

Pin oak, post oak, white oak.
He was a fisherman, teacher, principal,
and after the Great Depression,
a newspaperman.  Around our hilly yard
hemlock, white pine, pussy willow,
the red stalks of rhubarb, silky corn.
And stalwart hives of bees.

Black gum, sweet gum, sourwood.
In the retirement home, his tomatoes
climbed stakes by his window
while he interviewed his neighbors,
drove widows to the airport, told stories of his city
and trees to educate the Yankees, he said.

Tulip poplar, hickory, beech.
In the years since he died,
I walk the woods path
and find his fading labels
nailed to tree bark along this lane
in his last, quiet classroom.

Black jack oak, cedar, shortleaf pine.
When the names split with tree growth,
I hammer them back
to stretch our leafy conversation.  I walk slow
as he did toward the last, avoid the hill.
Dogwood, walnut, sassafras.
Scarlet oak.  Loblolly pine.

My favorite is: “You Saw It, Too,” p. 48

Expecting no more
than the usual grace of morning
on tall hemlocks and oaks,
we look from the porch
as sun crests the mountain,
firing spider webs–hundreds–
like a vast luminous cape.

If we stand just right,
silver gleams for an instant.
A final October orb
weaves the black bark of the forest,
and in a breath and shifting light,
it goes.  But you saw it too
in a whisker of time,
brief as life, as love,
as rare.

Kratt’s voice does not proclaim or demand.  Its whisper is confident, knowing, reassuring, and has that authority that is rooted in the integrity of the poet.  There is no need to shout.  We all long to hear from someone who has loved and suffered that it’s possible to continue to live and see good in the world and around us and to feel whole and even become wise.  Hers is an original and thoughtful way of looking at the world–with honesty–not dodging away from the hard things, yet with a deeply felt acceptance.

This one summarizes the whole book, in a way, but you need to read every single poem.

“Canticle,” p. 94

Like a new candle
in an old cathedral,
hope wavers,


Mary Kratt, a native of West Virginia, has lived most of her life in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Her poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies.  She is a winner of the Brockman-Campbell Poetry Book Award, Oscar Arnold Young Poetry Book Award, Peace History Book Prize, St. Andrews Writer in Community Award, and the Irene Blair Honeycutt Legacy Award.  Her nonfiction books feature the Piedmont region of the Carolinas.  She taught English and American Studies at UNC-Charlotte and currently lives in Charlotte with her husband Jim.

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