Saturday, January 11, 2014



Calendars of Fire by Lee Sharkey
(Tupelo Press, North Adams, MA, 2013)

Attuning tension: Lee Sharkey's "Calendars of Fire"

Lee Sharkey in all her poetry has been intent on catching the flickering light and shadow of experience and framing it up verbally. Her most recent collection, Calendars of Fire, provides a good look at how these expressions manifest themselves in her verbal world.

Calendars of Fire consists of narratives and lyrics, but not conventional story lines or single-pointed lyric "meditation," as it used to be called. Instead, the poems frame verbal syntheses of the stream of perceptions and emotions that pass uninterruptedly in and out of consciousness. Not just passing perceptions -- such as a butterfly "with half of its wing shorn off" or the realization that, for example, people in faraway places are suffering horribly -- but also the moral experiences connected to the pain perceived.

In the incoming stream are shadows that turn out to be injustice ("Knives are sharpened. Women go walking among them"); glints of joy in nature ("You may love a single star in an upper sash"); darknesses of emotional and physical torture ("It is possible to hear the minutest sounds coming from the interrogation chamber"); vibratory responses to music ("the rhythm of thought rocking").

In the subtextual narratives we detect Balkan and Middle Eastern characters trapped in violent political conditions ("Snipers targeted the bridge. … / Who stayed? Kasim and Amra, Zlatko, Silly Kika") and disgendered personalities struggling with both their powers and their alienations, as in the series "Tiresias at Last" on the mythic seer who lived part of life as a man and part as a woman. In the poem "Atonement":

The women and the man who acts like a woman have come where this was done
They mean to name it. Mean to atone
To attune a tension
To ask forgiveness of the survivors who visit death today.

These are examples of sympathies and inner identifications flickering into verbal expression. Each poem is an attunement of physical, mental, moral and, indeed, spiritual perceptions of politics, genders, natural beauties, toils, hungers, wretchedness, framed as evocations of all manner of empathy, indignation, moral outrage, and love.

It's a poetry of a life of intensive paying attention to what's coming in and what's going out, and what it sounds like.

Lee Sharkey is retired assistant professor of English and women’s studies at the University of Maine at Farmington, co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal and a member of the Women in Black group in Farmington, Maine. Her previous books include "To A Vanished World," "Farmwife" and "A Darker, Sweeter String" (also available on CD from Vox Audio).


Dana Wilde lives in Troy, Maine. His writings and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of publications for years, including House Organ, Small Press Review, Exquisite Corpse, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and many others. His recent books are The Other End of the Driveway and Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography. His poetry website is A Parallel Uni-Verse,

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