I know no better way to read a poem than as a traveler, the poem being a one-way ticket out of my home-place, my comfort zone. There is no return, for that comfort zone disappears behind me. Instead, I have the poem and the ability to journey with it into a reality that is vaguely similar to the world I have relinquished. This new world is accessible only through poetry’s unique sensory acuity, a clarity born out of the poet’s distillation of experience. Through a poem we recognize things for what they truly are, which may seem paradoxical, given the figurative character of its language. Yet, poetry is not about linguistic somersaults; it is about a journey into the heart of reality: people, things, life, the intersection of time and space where humans abide. And so, whenever I read poetry—especially a new collection—I do so with the hope of being handed this singular ticket for a journey into reality. In Maddox’s compelling work about place, with her voice securely in place, I was not to be disappointed.
The “someplace else” in Marjorie Maddox’s new collection would be inaccessible without poetry, without the lucidity that results from watching the “ordinariness of a day,” equally attentive to its “extraordinary rhythms” (“June 1st Liturgy”). We would never arrive at that “someplace” weighted down by linguistic baggage or verbal excess. Maddox knows that we travel farthest and most genuinely when we travel unencumbered, and to this end she unencumbers her poems. Their conciseness allows the reader to reach, without distraction, meta-geographic realms beyond cities noted on a map. We sense this will be the case already from the early pages of the book: “I’m waiting to hear from Madrid, / from Tokyo, and Madagascar, / where loss, I’ve read, flies fastest / in the smallest of words” (“The Postcard”).
The itinerary that binds the poems in Maddox’s latest book is the itinerary of daily newscasts: poems about place punctuated by others with journalistic headings, each one becoming a necessary stopover in our journey. We cannot escape the news they bring, as we cannot escape our daily papers and shows, blogs and media alerts. It is a world that first arrived in our living rooms, not so distantly, through the rabbit-eared television sets of the ‘60s. Maddox tells us how it was, in “Seventeen-Inch Black-And-White:” “…we’re there, each