Patricia Fargnoli (1937-2021)

WINTER, Patricia Fargnoli. Hobblebush Books, Brookline, NH, 2013, 88 pages, $18, paper,

When MoonPath’s Lana Hechtman Ayres told me Patricia Fargnoli had been her teacher and mentor, I went looking for her. Winter, the sixth volume in the Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series, was the first to arrive, and is now on sale for $9 at Hobblebush Books (use this link:

I have fallen hard for this book, and this poet. In “The Horse,” she begins:

I let the horse into my apartment,
pushed back chairs,
shoved the rattan chest
up against the tall bookcases…

Horses abound in this book. What’s not to love?

In addition to any other praise I might dish out, it’s a perfect book to read on a cold and rainy January day. Yes, New Hampshire, snow, but it works its spell here in the Pacific Northwest, too: “[I] found a sad music in the fork of an ash tree, / a music made of wind and the tuning forks of stars” (“Glosa”). As Meg Kearney tells us on the back cover, Fargnoli has “listened deeply to the silence of winter.”

Many of the poems in Winter are about dreams. A line from “Beginning of Winter—A Sijo Sequence”: “Last night in the dream I was hungry, but there was no food.” Or the ending of “Letter to my Double”:

Your dreams tell you what you want:
a man’s arms around your body, a safe place near water,
a bus that arrives on time to carry you home.

She captures the mundane, that daily seemingly ordinary life that we all find ourselves up against, while lifting it above the ordinary. Home, here, is not just the physical place where you lie down at night. The following poem, too, is about an actual place (Ireland, which made me choose it), but it transports us into a dreamscape:


            after Tranströmer’s “Track”

Thousands of crows flew through the Irish dusk
toward the copse of dark plane trees not far from here,
between the university and the famous river,

as when memories wing in from your past
with their loud continuous cawing
and then move beyond you, you don’t know where.

Or as when someone dies and her spirit rises
to join the others who are leaving the world’s sadness
to find a resting place in the quiet night branches beyond you.

The crows streamed past the high clerestory windows.
Dusk. The small wood they entered. The silver river.

—Patricia Fargnoli (from Winter)

Notice how the crows are actual, but spur memories that “wing in from your past / with their loud continuous cawing.” Sorry, but I just want to gush on and on. I’ve been thinking (a lot) about how one gets the evanescent, the transcendent into one’s poems, and Fargnoli offers a master class.

When I was working on The Pear Tree, I often thought of something Priscilla Long says in her chapter, “Art and Elegy,” in Dancing with the Muse in Old Age:

“Is it too obvious to say that one advantage of growing old is to remain alive to the beauty and suffering of the world? To make an elegy is to express that beauty and that suffering.” —Priscilla Long

The elegy, the courage to elegize, is a strength of Fargnoli’s Winter.

To learn more about Patricia Fargnoli, visit her page at Hobblebush Books (“Read Sample” offers a PDF of the opening pages of Winter, including the informative table of contents and the first few poems). When I Googled her name I found several video recordings of “Winter’s Grace,” perhaps her best-known poem (which you can also find at Simply gorgeous.

Give Thanks

The Books I’m Thankful for Today


In October I enrolled in another Hugo House poetry class, again with the amazing poet, translator, and teacher Deborah Woodard. The class focused on the work of Fernando Pessoa, born in Lisbon in 1888. Our main text, Fernando Pessoa & Co., edited and translated by Richard Zenith, gathers together work by Pessoa and three of his heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos. Pessoa created entire biographies for these alter-egos and considered them mentors and colleagues. He is, Zenith tells us, “an editor’s nightmare,” but also a treasure trove:

Pessoa published relatively little and left only a small percentage of the rest of his huge output—over 25,000 manuscripts have survived—in anything close to a finished state. The handwritten texts, which constitute the vast majority, tend to teeter on the brink of illegibility, requiring not just transcription but decipherment. (Richard Zenith)

Pessoa prided himself on being impersonal, even invisible, a crossroads where observations took place. He deplores philosophy and metaphysics. I had difficulty caring about him for almost the entire stretch of the course. But…as usual…as I read and considered (and attempted to write my own poems), I began to feel curious about this poet, writing in another language, in another time, and living in a place I have never been. I have a feeling Pessoa would have approved of my journey, both the reticence and the curiosity.

Here is one piece, from the section titled “Uncollected Poems”:

It is night. It’s very dark. In a house far away
A light is shining in the window.
I see it and feel human from head to toe.
Funny how the entire life of the man who lives there, whoever he is,
Attracts me with only that light seen from afar.
No doubt his life is real and he has a face, gestures, a family and profession,
But right now all that matters to me is the light in his window.
Although the light is only there because he turned it on,
For me it is immediate reality.
I never go beyond immediate reality.
If I, from where I am, see only that light,
Then in relation to where I am there is only that light.
The man and his family are real on the other side of the window,
But I am on this side, far away.
The light went out.
What’s it to me that the man continues to exist?
He’s just the man who continues to exist.

8 November 1915

Alberto Caeiro


I’ve been reading—or reading around in—another strange book, this one titled The Ashley Book of Knots. It was written and illustrated (3384 numbered illustrations) by Clifford W. Ashley, and first published in 1944. My copy belonged to my paternal grandfather (a Navy Seabee during WWII, which must explain why the book looks so well-read; I could go on a bit about my grandfather—as he was in his 40s and had 5 children when he enlisted; he kept his paychecks [from what I’m told], but wrote letters home signed, “Your poet, Gene”). His name and the date, Eugene H. King, 10/14/46, are written on the inside front cover. I can guess that the book came to belong to my father in 1959, when his father died. Since 2012, it has been mine, and this year I finally took it down from the shelf.

I’m working on a little chapbook of poems (at least I think it’s a chapbook) to turn in for my Hugo House class project. I’ve titled it “Keeper of Knots,” after Caeiro’s The Keeper of Sheep. (Which begins: “I’ve never kept sheep / But it’s as if I did.”)


I’m immensely grateful to have been able to join Priscilla Long for the Elliott Bay Zoom / Eventbrite launch of her new book, Dancing with the Muse in Old Age. After losing my father at age 82 to a stroke; after accompanying my mother through ten years of Alzheimer’s, stroke, and skilled-nursing care, then her death at age 86; I had pretty much decided that I’d better get things done right now, because I would be decrepit very very soon.

Although I had read drafts of Dancing previously (I wrote one of the cover blurbs), it was wonderful and timely to read it again. Priscilla Long provides us with dozens of models of old creators, not all of them able-bodied, but all—in their 80s, 90s, and 100s—joyously still in the game.

There is so much great stuff here:

Our ageist stereotypes equate old with ill, old with decrepit, old with physical and mental decline. Yet the majority of people over age 85 do not require assistance in daily living and some of these provide assistance. (p. 15)

Long is also a science writer, and her book is meticulously researched. The information about cognitive development (not decline, not maintenance) in old age is something I wish everyone I know would read.

And, speaking of my mother, late in the book, in a section on elegy, Long writes:

Art can provide a shelter, a kind of home, a means of sustenance, for a person in the midst of the shock and sorrow of grief. At the age of 90, the pianist/composer Randolph Hokanson said, “I continue to play because I love music so. It has been the sustaining force in my life. I’d go down the drain without it. It was such a savior after my wife died.”

Is it too obvious to say that one advantage of growing old is to remain alive to the beauty and suffering of the world? To make an elegy is to express that beauty and that suffering. (p. 151)

Thus it has been for me. I love thinking that I will continue to be here (for another 40 years!), reading, witnessing, scribbling—and sharing my work with you.

If you would like to watch the video of my conversation with Priscilla, go to her website:
(you can clip past the first six minutes).

May you have an amazing holiday and holiday season. Thank you for spending a few minutes of it with me.

Dancing with the Muse in Old Age

I cannot say enough about this amazing book by my good friend and long-time co-conspirator in all things creative, Priscilla Long. Watching Priscilla produce this book, reading drafts, devouring a number of her sources, has been a game-changer for how I think about aging, and how I want to behave in my next chapter.

To read the Northwest Prime Time review, follow this link:

And, most important, sign up to attend the virtual book launch here:

There will be a virtual book launch at Elliott Bay Books November 15 at 6:00 PM:

You can order the book through our sponsor, Elliott Bay Books, your local independent bookstore, or anywhere books are sold.

The #SealeyChallenge

Here it is, the last day of August, and already it feels like fall. Leaves are changing color, the air is cool, and this morning a light mist accompanied me on my walk. It’s a perfect day for curling up with a book of poems.

Lucky me, I’m a long-time follower of Kathleen Kirk’s blog: Wait! I have a Blog?! and all through August she’s been doing the #sealeychallenge and reading a book of poetry a day, then sharing her thoughts with us. (See this link for a LitHub introduction to The Sealey Challenge.) So I enjoyed glimpses of lots of poets and books of poetry, ordered a few new ones, and sighed with pleasure to see some old favorites.

You can catch Kathleen’s final post here: and scroll back through to read all the reviews.

But (Wait!), what’s our assignment for the week? Maybe take a quick squint at Kathleen’s August 14 review of Priscilla Long’s Holy Magic. I’m noticing this excerpt from “Indigo & Violet”:

Indigo’s deep, black before dawn.
Violet’s an evening song.
Indigo’s ex is silver,

–and it makes me think of my great-aunts whose names were Rose and Violet and Opal. Come to think of it, there was also a Pearl and a March, the latter being not a color but provocative in its own way. (And a provocative woman, too.) What if you introduced us to a color as if it were a person? Who would that person be? How would they behave?