THE BOOK: Still-Water Days.
PUBLISHED IN: 2021
THE AUTHOR: Penny Harter
THE EDITOR: Karen Kelsay, editor and publisher
THE PUBLISHER: Kelsay Books / Aldrich Press [https://kelsaybooks.com/]
SUMMARY: A series of poems written almost daily at first, then frequently, during the Covid pandemic years, hoping to offer calm and encouragement during those frightening and depressing, chaotic months.
THE BACK STORY: During the seemingly endless months of the Great Worldwide Covid Pandemic early in the twenty-first century, during those months when we were virtually in quarantine or lockdown, I had to write my way through to keep myself reasonably sane and centered.
When I watched television or logged onto social media, I saw so much anxiety, fear, despair, and political chaos that I decided to write daily at first, then frequently, sharing my work both on social media and my blog. I hoped to offer an oasis of calm during those anxious days. Of course, I was writing to keep myself hopeful as well, and I still am!
I’ve organized this collection as a calendar of days—first by seasons of the heart and then by the actual seasons. I hope my readers enjoy the journey
WHY THIS TITLE? I felt we were all in the doldrums, caught in still water. Then I saw a photograph with prompt to write to it on Cristina Raskopf Norcross’s Facebook page and wrote the poem which became the title poem. The book just flowed from there.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT: I hope my poems in this book will lift the heart of the reader. Not just during these ongoing pandemic days, but also during any hard and discouraging times. Even though some of the poems detail the challenges of those days, I try to bring all to uplifting conclusions.
The poems in Still-Water Days are like prayers to the universe and to the universe in each of us. These are songs of earth, the sea, the galaxy, the cello as well as dissonant songs from those sleepless neon streets. Through memories, dreams, and the powers of observation, the poet brings us poems that fill the silence of this pandemic isolation. We walk the paths of the poet, become lost, become found, understand the bittersweetness of life, yet never let bitter take the lead. These are poems of joy, mystery, and sorrow that fill us with gratitude, hope and the healing power of nature. — Carole MacRury, author of In the Company of Crows: Haiku and Tanka Between the Tides
Delving into day-to-day experiences with nature, memories, and dreams Penny Harter writes a love-letter to life itself as she navigates her way through the restraining orders of the pandemic. The poems in Still-Water Days are roadmap poems through troubled times to the hopeful place of better times ahead. This collection of heartfelt passage is an accessible and indelible triumph of spirit. As Penny relates in her title poem, I gather clouds from blue waters, fill the / chambers of my heart with gentle murmurs, / find comfort in their slow shape-shifting / that mirrors my own, these still-water days. —Tom Clausen, photographer, poet, and author of Growing Late, Snapshot Press
In this new collection of intensely spiritual poems, readers find a kind of compressed storytelling that speaks both lyrically and narratively to our place on history’s timeline. Characterized by textured emotional centers, clarity of form and expression, and a strong closeness to the natural world that is buttressed by the human spirit, these poems create a poetry of relationships that often points to a particular truth or leads readers to think more deeply about their own truths. Written during the Covid pandemic, Harter’s poems embrace all that is haunting and all that is hopeful. —Adele Kenny, Poetry Editor Tiferet Journal
AUTHOR PROFILE: I was born in Manhattan, lived most of my life in north and central NJ, except for an eleven-year mid-life leap to Santa Fe, NM in the early 1990s with my late husband, William J. (Bill) Higginson, poet, translator and author of The Haiku Handbook). We moved back to northern NJ in 2002, and Bill died in 2008.
I am a mother of two “children” now in their mid-fifties, and a slightly older stepdaughter. I’m a grandmother and step-grandmother, and a recent step-great-grandma! My grandchildren are now in their late teens and twenties. I graduated from Douglass College of Rutgers University and taught high school English teacher, both public and private, retiring when I turned 65. I also worked as a visiting poet in the schools, K-12, and taught a couple of courses as an adjunct at a NJ community college.
Writing is my passion and has been so since my mid-twenties. I’m fortunate to have published many poems in journals and anthologies, as well as many books sand chapbooks over the years. Here’s a link to the Books page on my current website: pennyharterpoet.com/books. And if you scroll down there, you can find a link to my earlier website, made for me by Bill and not updated since 2008, with links to sample poems from, and blurbs for, my earlier books.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I’d like to add to the above info that the natural world, the Earth and those species who share it with us, both flora and fauna, inform most of my writing. Most of the poems in Still-Water Days are the result of daily get-out-of-the house rides on winding country roads here in Atlantic County, about a half-hour inland from Atlantic City and Ocean City. So natural images abound in those poems.
In fact, in the Intro to my 1998 collection Lizard Light: Poems from the Earth, I wrote:
I have written these poems in response to Earth’s geological and evolutionary history, its place in the cosmos, and our place as part of the whole. . . . It is time to write poems that go beyond the personal, poems that speak for the Earth and its inhabitants in time of great vulnerability for all species, and for the planet itself. . . . We need poems that . . . point out that all beings exist as integral and inter-connected parts of the larger community of the universe, poems that affirm.
I seem to be writing from the same kind of conviction in my Still-Water Days poems! And my forthcoming collection from Kelsay Books, Keeping Time: Haibun for the Journey, contains a section of haibun (prose poems with integrated haiku) written during the same pandemic time frame.
Thin Places In Celtic mythology ‘thin places’ exist in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity, and for those that find them, they offer the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. These thin places also include experiences people are likely to have as they encounter profound suffering, joy, and mystery. Moments, locations, within or without the confines of flesh and spirit, thin places call us, whisper memories we can barely translate, only know we need to hold them closer.
In the dark night of the bedroom, one of my
thin places wavers on the border between
sleep and waking, between dream and what
we call real—whatever real is.
Waking now and then, knowing a dream has
been seizing me, I reach for it only to feel it
drift away like smoke, into a place I cannot
reenter, a portal that will only open unbidden.
Lost loved ones visit me there, pull me into
places where I feel at home although I don’t
remember them. Unable to linger, I daily
seek thin places hiding in the natural world.
Time spent in communion with deer, or gazing
into a shallow roadside pond of clotted water
lilies as if it were a scrying mirror—when I enter
these still moments, a thin place embraces me.
I become deer, and even stagnant water holds
the sunning turtle who slides off the log into
the dark between yellowing lily pads that hint
at shortening daylight, cooler weather.
Along any path, thin places wait for us,
and we must seek them, must learn to slow
our pace and tame our fears until we find
ourselves between worlds, on our way home.
We should answer the greening oak
that calls us to sit down and lean
against its trunk, seeking wisdom.
We should witness lilacs bursting into
bloom, follow the waves of sweetness
they send out to call the bees.
Becoming oak, becoming lilac bush,
we join the greater family of those who
speak tree, those who can blossom.
For the New Year
On this first day of the new year, may all
the birds I remember coming to the two
feeders we hung from the branches of the
Russian Olive near that long ago window
gather again here under this dawning sky
to enjoy suet, sunflower seeds, and millet.
I can’t recall the name of the store where we
got the bags of birdseed, but I do recall the
pleasure you took in filling the feeders,
defeating the wily squirrels, and our rare
glimpse of a red fox running alongside the
tracks behind the house as we watched the
constant fluttering of sparrows and finches.
And then came the flickers, those gorgeous
visitors who suddenly blessed our yard with
their red caps and brilliant speckled plumage.
On this first day of the new year, I’m feeding
too, pecking at seeds of the past, discarding
hulls that fell to lie on the snow or in the winter
pale grass, my time caught in bird-time as I
celebrate both what was and what is, winging
forward through those years to this life now,
the one where a flock of cardinals darts across
the road to light on the barren limbs of a family
of scrub oak—small scarlet harbingers whose
wings raise the dead brown leaves still clinging
to their cold branches into the dawning light
of this new year, ringing in hope.
LOCAL OUTLETS: None, really, down here in my South Jersey area
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Kelsay Books: https://kelsaybooks.com/products/still-water-days.
And on Amazon US and UK.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Keeping Time: Haibun for the Journey [Kelsay Books, 2023]
Still-Water Days [Kelsay Books, 2021]
A Prayer the Body Makes [Kelsay Books, 2020]