Saturday, February 23, 2008


Annie Finch’s recent works include Calendars (Tupelo, 2003, shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award); a reissue of her early longpoem, The Encyclopedia of Scotland (Salt Press, 2004); and a book of essays on poetry, The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self (University of Michigan Press, 2005). Since 2005 she has served as Director of the Stonecoast graduate creative writing program at the University of Southern Maine.

She applied the Page 69 Test -- including using the poet's license to test page 34 or 35 [halfway to page 69] -- to Calendars, and reported the following:
P. 69 of my book of poetry Calendars — a collection of “celebrations of word, body, and the earth,” to quote the jacket blurb — is the next-to-last page of this slim volume of poems. One of the only free verse poems in the book, and written twenty years before the average date of the other poems, it is not representative of most of Calendars.

On the other hand, like many of the other poems, this poem is concerned with a liminal state of consciousness, in which the details of the external and mundane world are apprehended until they become transformative. And like many others of the poems, particularly those written during the first decade, it is haunted by a sense of unease, of slight threat.

The August Porch One afternoon: I think I like it
better for cut browns



than evening for the ravelling of slats to emerald.

Stilled sun


like cat-hairs on a smock

a few languid smells

curl where they land

there's no gleam to the wicker.

Shadows might well

not be cast.

The trees are scanty

with the weight

of apples

they have finished.

But wistaria raises

its inchworm head and hunts

for the walls of this porch.

Something's waiting to run out on us.

The mist

and creak of wines is due when we run out of dusk.

Nonetheless, perhaps this particular entry on poetry will prove the wisdom of Marshal Zeringue’s “halfway” rule for poets, because page 35 of Calendars, smack in the middle of the book, turns out to be far more representative than page 69. In fact, this eight-line poem is a key poem in the collection, focused on imagery, characters, and the themes of the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of human life which all tie in precisely with the rest of the poems in Calendars. Even the book’s long title poem, “Calendars,” in multiple voices including those of Persephone and Demeter, includes a phrase from this poem.

Chain of Women

These are the seasons Persephone promised,
as she turned on her heel—
the ones that darken, till green no longer
bandages what I feel.

Now touches of gold stipple the branches,
promising weeks of time
to fade through, finding the footsteps
she left as she turned to climb.

The poem, as astute critic Susan Joseph recently pointed out to me, must be in the voice of the earth-goddess Demeter, Persephone’s bereaved mother, abandoned when Persephone went to live for half of each year in the underworld. But now Demeter is, somehow, about to take the same path, and that brings her out of the myth and into the cycles of human life, exactly at the point where the rest of the book’s poems about nature, love, sex, and childbirth take over.
Learn more about the poet and her work, and read or listen to some of her poems, at Annie Finch's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue