Poetry for Southern California
Come to My Voice
Book and CD by Uncle Ruthie Buell
The Poet Tree, Los Angeles, 2013.
In Come to My Voice Uncle Ruthie croons to her blind students and “come to my voice” is what she asks of the reader in this invigorating first collection of poems. In a poem entitled “My Words” she espouses a poetics: “...may these poems hold surprises for us all.” Buell is best known as the children's story-teller and founder of Halfway Down the Stairs regular broadcast on KPFK. She is a master performer, a master of the spoken word. In her writing, she charms this reader with subtle insights and questions. Her strength is in imagery which captures the transformed moment as in “Gespenstertage” (ghost days) which imagines the kind of day when one loses track of time to be “like derelict old men/gazing through endless haze/ down at the docks/...waiting for the leaden light/to leave the sky/and for the quilted night/to come again.”
Buell graces us with profound religious insights as in “Tashlik” (Hebrew for “though will cast”) where she describes a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) ritual in which bread is actually “cast upon the waters to expiate sins. The ritual begins “in the quiet hours/of the night,/when we speak to/that tiny, fragile/part of ourselves/that knows only/how to love/and sometimes when love is endangered/to forgive.” Release of wrong-doing occurs first in the heart, before the physical act and is perhaps results in self-forgiving.
She is sensual. Taste the poem “Artichokes” where the poet compares love-making to eating that delectable vegetable.. Both acts require time and careful attention, as when “the leaf/like a tentative first kiss,/pulled between/gently but firmly/closed teeth /as the tiny gem-green tip/caresses the tongue.../ One wonders with her “who were the first in the tribe,/...to initiate this culinary cunnilingus.../while others feasted/in the field/consuming/from their kill,/the still warm and bloody liver/..."
A first collection at the grand age of 82 is cause for celebration. These are poems that are earned. They are carefully conceived and tended, like well-loved children. They are rich with surprising metaphors and mature reflections. They show learning without pretension. They engage the reader with fresh passion for living.
Reviewed by Nancy Shiffrin, firstname.lastname@example.org