Marie Ponsot’s use of her personal experiences never degenerates into the maudlin, nor does she invoke the circumstances of her life simply for dramatic effect. In Strange Good Fortune: Essays on Contemporary Poets (2000), poet David Wojahn suggests that such writing is misleading and dishonest, warning against writing talk-show poetry that aches for attention and headlines:For a poem of invective to work as it should, a writer must in most cases be especially careful to counterbalance the development of his/her argument with structural or formal devices which sharpen and underscore the writer’s conviction and rage.
The strength of Ponsot’s work is in how carefully she weaves her poems, using formal structural and sonic devices to sustain her argument. For example, when Ponsot speaks with anger about her divorce, her poems use traditional forms and fixed rhyme schemes to give the impression of a struggle between restraint and strong emotion. The emotion never sweeps away the poem, nor does the structure ever seem merely incidental or decorative. Both form and sense work together to create an organic whole.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti published True Minds, Ponsot’s first collection, just after he published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956). Based on Ferlinghetti’s choice, the public expected that Ponsot’s work would follow in Ginsberg’s Beat style and therefore greeted Ponsot’s measured, formal verses with a profound silence. Although she continued to publish individual poems in magazines and journals, twenty-five years would pass before the publication of her second book.
A slim collection, True Minds presents a metaphysical meditation within the context of her life experiences. The sonnet form underscores the spiritual stance that characterizes much of Ponsot’s work. “Espousal” echoes the vibrance of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ecstatic poems. This sonnet uses four stanzas of three lines, employing an abc rhyme scheme in each stanza. The sonnet ends with a couplet using bc. This interlocking echoes the images, which also repeat, describing a link between the spiritual and physical worlds:
And the cut-out sun-circle plunges, down it dives;And fire blazes at the earth’s jewel-runneled core.
Ponsot takes liberties with the basic requirements of the form—the five-stress line with its regular rhyme scheme. The resulting poem celebrates the freshness of love as well as its connection to the natural world. This is a poem of young love that seems indestructible.
“The Given Grave Grown Green,” a poem of foreboding, questions the assumption that love can endure, as if the poet foresees her future divorce. This is a poem of change. The poet experiences change occurring all around her. Wondering where she finds herself in the midst of such change, addressing the person who has been the agent of such turmoil, she finally says:
You can watch from your closed windowHow true false love has grown.
These lines mirror the contradiction inherent in the title. A grave is green only because of growth above it, not life within it. Likewise, what is true about love in this poem is that the love has become false.
Ponsot’s second collection, Admit Impediment, provides a fuller exploration of the themes found in True Minds. Both collections take their titles from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, which begins, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments. . . .” Divided into four sections, the second collection opens with “For a Divorce,” one of the longer poems gathered here. It is a dark poem, whose irregular stanzaic patterns lead the reader through the emotional intricacies that attend a divorce. This poem catalogs the pain of the divorce and the specific areas of brokenness, recalling the various images of the marriage itself. The short, strong lines emphasize the full-stop of the relationship, the sounds within the lines almost jarring at times. The poet concludes:
Deaths except for amoeba articulatelife into lives, separate, named, new.Not all sworn faith dies. Ours did.
This is an angry poem whose emotion is carefully controlled for vivid effect. While the poet attempts to avoid blame (the lines previously quoted are as close as she comes to specific details about the cause of the break), she achieves a level of clarity for the reader’s consideration by beginning her poem with nearly all of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. Although she does not quote Shakespeare’s final two lines, their sense is implied throughout this collection:
If this be error, and upon me prov’dI never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
The Green Dark
Ponsot’s third collection, The Green Dark, weaves mythic elements into the fabric of her poems, along with her accustomed biographical...
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