ENGLISH READING CIRCLE – POETRY AND PROSE POETRY: “MARGARET” BY SPENCER REECE
Summer is over, autumn is here, and our monthly poetry reading group is back! This year brings us some exciting new developments. We are now called the English Reading Circle: Poetry and Prose Poetry (sister group to the English Reading Circle: Short Stories); and as this new name indicates, we will be expanding our reading territory by venturing into the realm of prose poetry. Joining us in our first session on October 5th is the poet Spencer Reece, and we will be looking at his prose poem “Margaret.” Reece will also talk to us about the anthology he helped create and edit, Las Chavas: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World, which features poems written by girls living in Our Little Roses, an all-girl orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Prose poetry looks like prose, but reads like poetry. The important word here is “reads,” because it indicates the transformation of an oral art form into a written art form. Remember: all poetry was originally oral. It was sung or chanted, and it required the presence of an audience who listened to it. Things like rhyme, rhythm, and repetition, which we associate with verse poetry, are designed to appeal to an audience of listeners because they serve the very useful function of helping the audience remember what they are listening to.
This interdependence of poetry and memory is particularly relevant to Reece’s poem “Margaret,” which begins with the words, “I remember.” In the poem, the speaker remembers an old woman he once knew, and he shares his remembrances with us. And yet, the poem is not simply intended to evoke Margaret and all the little curios of her life. The unreliability of memory is as much the subject of the poem as are the speaker’s memories. The speaker makes this clear when he says, “Time has a way of rearranging things and I could have most details wrong now.” Indeed, he has been hinting at this throughout the first half of the poem. His memories are gathered through eavesdropping and hanging around the kitchen where the women are talking; he laughs at a joke told in a language that he cannot understand; even Margaret herself simply seems to have “lost track” of her husband during the war. Memories are fragile things that seem to owe their precarious existence to the physical objects that remind us of them.
And then, the speaker reveals the truly unforgettable act that changed Margaret’s life forever (“I could have most details wrong now, but there was this”); and from this unforgettable and incomprehensible act comes the speaker’s understanding of the Margaret he remembers. Reece uses the familiar poetic device of repetition to underscore the point: “It makes sense to me,” he says, why Margaret was the way she was. It is at this point that the poem’s terms of engagement subtly shift. What starts as a poem about remembering, finishes as a poem about the slightly different act of not forgetting. If “[t]hose who saw what they saw grow fewer,” then, we, the readers of this poem, are called upon to do more than merely listen, read, or even remember. We are asked to become custodians of memories that are not ours; we are asked to not forget those to whom the memories belong.
The plea to not be forgotten is the powerful force behind Las Chavas: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World. You can read Reece’s article in which he describes how the poems in this anthology came to be written, as well as the poems themselves. The poems are beautifully crafted and speak to us, loud and clear, with the voices of the girls who wrote them; this is what their present sounds like.
On Monday October 5th we will be privileged to have Reece share with us more about these women, their lives, and their poems. Until then, remember to read out loud, read slowly, and read again.