Writing my personal obit for Blossom Dearie recently reminded me that I hadn't written a post in a while about someone whose work I find underrated and/or overlooked, which led me to think of others still alive who I wish were more widely appreciated, like the poet Maureen Owens.
I host a poetry workshop in the living room of my apartment a few times a year, and in the last session I turned the group onto her, one of my favorite poets, and one of my favorite books of hers—THE NO-TRAVELS JOURNAL.
It came out in the 1970s and reflects the sensibilities and circumstances of what we call "the ‘sixties" but was really the late 1960s and early ‘70s, but also transcends the specifics of that time and place through the exuberance of her responses to life’s challenges and rewards, and the strength and uniqueness of her voice and perspective.
That all sounds way too heavy for the way her work comes across. Which may have something to do with why she isn’t as well known or as officially honored in the poetry world(s), (any of the poetry worlds—academia, alternative, spoken word, etc.) as her work deserves.
She just may come across as too resilient and hopeful and full of life (as well as smart, realistic and technically terrific) for most critics and academics to take as seriously as her work deserves. Because it’s full of humor and humility and plainspoken brilliance in ways that don’t telegraph intellectual self-importance or structural “cleverness” or shout “I’m so deep, even I don’t know what I’m saying!” as a lot of contemporary poetry seems to (or else “I’m so precise in my observation of the boring details of the minutiae of life I can make it even more boring…” or “I’m so street (or ethnic or gender or sexually or etc. victimized) you have to take me seriously” etc.)
Her work simply presents the reality of an especially alert consciousness responding to the daily heartache and joy that makes up most lives. Here are two poems in the order they appear in THE NO-TRAVELS JOURNAL (a few pages apart) that will give you a feel for why I love this book. A young mother, a bohemian, poet—I would add “hippie” but the term has become too generic and pejorative to adequately summarize the original lifestyle, attempting to be as free of material constraints and social limitations as many of us were experimenting with back then—caught by the responsibilities of parenthood and limited by financial constraints writing a series of poetic entries in an imaginary travel journal about mostly imaginary travel [unfortunately I can't make these posts correspond to the architecture of many of the poems I write about in this blog, something that I bet is having an impact on how poets place words on the page these days as opposed to how it had been done for decades using typewriters, after that device changed how it had been done for centuries using pen and ink, so I will scan the poems and reproduce them before each poem so you can see how they break up, which effects the way you read them]:
Today is Saturday I get up & put on the earrings I made
from the ivory plating off the piano keys you gave me
on the coast the orange & grey diagonally striped neck
scarf K gave me the powerful sun & moon medallion from
Peru & the opaque sky-blue beads I strung into a headband
I look at myself in the mirror a long time then get dressed.
I wear the torn black velvet gown covering the tears with
the tiny silver bells from India that L bought me in
Oklahoma & the yellow tights. I wear M’s battered and
softened old brown boots Do I really embody all the faults
you keep telling me I have? I go to the park with the children
we run through the weak grass the bare brown mounds.
Is it expanded household life that causes me to long for
Europe, for the Caspian Sea?
O continent of Asia, I am sitting here
in the park on these sparkling boulders & only the economy
of the nation is keeping us apart!
even now in the provinces the truck drivers
are keeping their eyes out for me.
I could never make a mistake in Spain or Portugal
they would lean from their cabs right through town
there must be a road we could take together
along the Rio Guadiana The Olives! The
Iron the thousands of sheep bumping in our
dusty sunlight peace comes to me at such times
& Europe will never be complete without me anyway
I could run into you on a street in Malaga
and not make a fool of myself I’m sure of it!
How can the classic pose of centuries fail?
Everyone knows— even now as the demonstration
passes between the barricades construction workers
point at me That girl they say
That girl she should be in Spain!