Reading Loop – June 2020

“Reading Loop” is a close reading or discussion by an invited contributor.

“When Loss Becomes a New Normal”

Clark A. Pomerleau

When I was four days away from eight, a neighbor brought me home with a blanket over my head. The Sunday sky darkened that noon, ash blotting out the sun and sifting down to cover our world in gray. If the world was going to end, my friend’s mother thought I should be with my family. Meanwhile, Mom was yelling to Granny, “Mama, you’ve got to see this!” Granny dismissed her daughter and remained intent on her painting. She had many days to see the half foot of cremated stone. So did scores of travelers who had come for the annual Lilac Festival and gotten stuck when I-90 closed and ash wreaked havoc on their engines. Over the next few days Spokanites struggled to clear sidewalks and roads with shovels. We depleted the reservoir as adults tried to hose the fine grit into the gutters. Pulverized rock clogged electrical transformers and sewage treatment plants. People worried that the sulfur would poison us. Mom still remembers that a police officer with a sidearm came to the door and ordered Dad to sweep off the roof. Authorities feared roofs would collapse under the weight, especially if the ash mixed with rain into natural cement. A week after Mount St. Helens erupted, President Carter visited Washington State and declared it a “major disaster area.”1 Fire stations became sites for free mask distribution—the first stop for the smaller group of kids who could still make it to my birthday party. The forty year anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption stands out in contrast to the lack of coordination between federal and state government that is compounding harm from a viral natural disaster in 2020.

Now Mom’s retelling and revising of the story about the cop at the door is halting and intensified by the certainty that he drew his gun on her. In the weeks since this year’s birthday she comments with daily horror on police killing Black Americans. At nearly eight I remained as unaware of police brutality as I was of the seismic earthquakes that preceded the volcano’s eruptions. When my mother first struggled to find the words she wanted, our little world seemed to shake irrevocably. I started to organize a jumble of feelings into lines. Stanzas expressed and strove to contain grief, anxiety, depression. Like a volcano, my earth quaked, ash burst from fissures, and fiery loss cooled into stony poems.

Both the 1980 disaster that led the Pacific Northwest to ask around the world how to clean up and the aftershocks of my mother’s diagnosis in 2015 reverberate today. In this moment it seems impossible not to feel loss. Loss became a new normal before the United States surpassed 100,000 deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 in a pandemic that has killed over 400,000 worldwide. As I flip from retrospectives about how the Mount St. Helens habitat has recovered to poetry or creative writing to news updates, the relationships among loss, poetry, and elected or appointed officials’ spin tug at me. Those of us with emotional variance that expresses unease—anxiety, depression, or grief that others find excessive—are familiar with being labelling diseased or disabled. What does it mean when such emotions become culturally pervasive? How can poetry help? 

Even though 9/11 is not my theme, my essay structure reflects creative rejoinders to U.S. government responses to the 2001 hijackers. My own reaction on seeing repeated broadcasting of the World Trade Center collapsing after planes hit it was, “Oh God, we are going to kill so many people!” I knew the newsfeed loop would foster collective identification among “we” Americans from which to start another rallying cry for war against Middle Eastern civilians. A year later Gregory Orr published Poetry as Survival.2 He calls for “personal lyric” poetry as a way people can survive when they “experience the world as confusing and chaotic, especially during crises.” You can navigate my musings without knowing Orr. When I drafted my essay I was unaware of his book but then worked it into this piece after Wordgathering’s editor brought Poetry as Survival to my attention. Orr deserves foundational credit because he provides a longer, deeper look at how personal lyric orders chaos to create meaning that helps the writer, listeners, and readers at an individual and potentially cultural level.Judith Butler’s pacifist response, Precarious Life (2004), calls for mourning to galvanize global justice that recognizes interdependence and reduces violence. She articulates more clearly than my anguished cry that “the United States was missing an opportunity to redefine itself as part of a global community when, instead, it heightened nationalist discourse, extended surveillance mechanisms, suspended constitutional rights, and developed forms of explicit and implicit censorship.”3 Both Orr and Butler reflect and predate my independent attempt in this essay to consider meanings assigned to emotions of loss. My close readings consider how personal lyric poetry can help us channel strong emotions to recognize connections among us, arrange chaos into something we can understand, and even use that ordering as a foundation for transforming ourselves and our society.

Our current situation will change, but the uncertain waiting seems interminable. People grieve deaths, the loss of their livelihoods, a temporary end to accustomed lives. The New York Times runs a full-page obituary of one thousand people, saying of this “incalculable loss”: “They were us.”4 Stay at home orders and self-quarantining radically change our lives. The official unemployment rate that had been considered low for a year quadruples in two months.5 Before the pandemic, joblessness for Americans with disabilities was twice the average, but we do not yet have a sense of how severely COVID-19 is changing that.6 Of nearly 75,000 respondents to the April Census Bureau survey of U.S. households, close to half of adults say someone in their household has lost employment income since mid-March. Nearly a third say they are not getting the kinds of food they need. Just over a third describe clinical-level anxiety or depression.7 The enormity of collective grief weighs on the world: actual deaths, legitimate fears of infection, ample evidence of continued state-sanctioned violence against people of color, economic instability, disruption of home lives, isolation or fear of losing connection, loss of normalcy as every facet of life changes. Anticipatory grief abounds as people who feel unsafe and uncertain about the future imagine the worst and struggle to assess accurately what we can control. 

What meaning can creative writing and, specifically, poetry help us make of emotional “disability,” especially when the expression of such feelings proliferates? Meaning making is a direction grief work has taken, recently becoming a sixth stage to add to the Kübler-Ross model for grief.8 Yet, we do not need a psychiatrist to tell us meaning making is important for processing emotions. Poets and creative prose writers have long named and given significance to hard emotions. I also deliberately do not ask how people in mainstream society impose meaning onto widespread rates of distress. We know that within the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia a go-to response is for physicians to prescribe anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medications. Medicating helps many manage on an individual basis, sometimes meaning the difference between life and death.9 Prescriptions have increased over the past couple months. A consequence of this individual turn, however, is to continue to pathologize individuals’ distress instead of examining individually or collectively what might need to change and seeking to address oppressive conditions.

The writing process can help people do the inner reflection that can aid us. Published creative writing connects authors to readers and helps readers get in touch with their own feelings. Although my return to creating poetry is five years old, interest in emotions that amass as forms of loss have affected my studies of history, theory, and creative writing to the point that they have long been part of my teaching. This essay applies disability advocates’ skepticism about considering anxiety, depression, and grief disabilities and considers examples of poets who have captured such emotions.

Confined within certain expressions, people in a culture (“society” as shorthand) can consider anxiety, depression, and grief perfectly “normal” responses to individual or group circumstances. Anthropologists have curbed psychologists’ universalizing by showing that groups treat emotional variance in ways specific to each culture, affecting what is considered standard. In addition, analysis of emotion within history connects individual experiences with larger historical developments. Since the 1980s social and cultural historians, especially in gender and family history, have sought to explain why people have expressed themselves as they did and how generational trauma affects societies.

For over twenty-five years I have read feminist historical and creative writing about the effects of injustice and generational trauma. Feminist disability advocates became my first critical thinking teachers for situational aspects of anxiety, depression, or grief. They criticized the bio-determinism and erasure of oppression in medical and pharmaceutical industry models about psychiatry and body norms. Fat liberation and Deaf culture activists championed pride and reconsidered “disabilities” as positive characteristics society made into disadvantages through inaccessible design choices and bigotry. I love this revaluing. I agree with Mad Pride that emotional variance can be grounds for identity and culture and that people often need to identify as an oppressed minority to fight against collective oppression. 

Yet, the distress at anxiety and depression impairing day-to-day living that I witnessed growing up and experienced myself have not felt positive or fully socially imposed. Suffering based on inner states rather than the actions of others has made me wary of paeans to the tortured artist that claim “madness” is the necessary ingredient for heightened sensory perception, for finding significance to everyday experience, and for creative genius. If I continue not to find depression and anxiety liberating, though, poetry does give form to my memoir interests and my concern to process emotion by bringing me to the present moment and to sensory remembrances. 

My interests in emotions within history, social justice, and creative writing coalesced in my spring term course, “US History and Life Writing.” Students chose their own topics in January and assessed how creative writing tools can enliven historical prose by using my discussion prompts about our readings (authors who published creative writing and history). To help students develop their authorial voices, I modeled genres with the common readings and with essays I composed ahead of the students’ essay deadlines. After spring break, class discussions included concerns that students and their siblings had coronavirus symptoms. Most could not get tested. When swab tests came back negative, we wondered whether the results were trustworthy. Over half the students expressed at least one-on-one that the pandemic was adversely affecting their focus and energy. A fifth of students processed their feelings by writing the pandemic into their essays, drawing inspiration from our earlier memoir and biography readings. Some kept a pandemic diary. We were a tiny microcosm amid programs and non-academic organizations that also turned to examples from creative writing to make meaning from the crisis. 

The close-readings I offer here highlight four free verse “personal lyric” poets who consider anxiety, depression, grief, or generational trauma. Orr is among those who teach that both form and emotion are important in poetry. There is a long history of rhymed poetry about death and loss from which we could draw. I chose free verse poets instead to highlight twentieth- and twenty-first-century work because their emotional expression is more compelling to me personally than poems that conform to fixed verse. Online “pandemic poetry” sites include two immensely popular writers, Mary Oliver and Margaret Atwood. Oliver and Atwood both started publishing poetry in the early 1960s. They have received renewed media coverage due to Oliver’s recent death from lymphoma and the televised miniseries of Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. During the pandemic, two of their less iconic poems have circulated that epitomize anxiety and depression. To these I add two at least equally impressive poets, Lucille Clifton and Joy Harjo. Clifton’s poetry on grief features personal loved ones. Joy Harjo expands our scope from personal sorrows to cultural trauma in the tradition of other women of color writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga or the twenty-first century movement against police officers murdering Black Americans called Black Poets Speak Out.10

When Mary Oliver died at home in January 2019, lesbians and Unitarian Universalists were bereft and shared their favorites from her poems. My framing of her audiences is a tongue-in-cheek reflection of how I encountered her work. She was a Pulitzer Prize winner and the country’s best-selling poet. Oliver’s use of nature imagery has an undercurrent of freethinking rebellion. Her poems support seeking one’s own way against societal norms that chafe. Sparrows and their song recur in Oliver’s poems as a contrast to humans gaining culturally valued abilities. “The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow” contrasts singing in a church that “could not tame” her to finding God everywhere “among the weeds / and the brisk trees.” Oliver compares the speaker walking two acres alone to “the beautiful, striped sparrow,” who “serenely, on the tallest weed in his kingdom, / also sings without words.” Singing without doctrinal adherence is good enough for sparrows. In “To Be Human is to Sing Your Own Song,” Oliver glories that humans can create their own song instead of conforming to their parents’ tune:

In the song sparrow’s nest the nestlings,
those who would sing eventually, must listen
carefully to the father bird as he sings
and make their own song in imitation of his.
I don’t know if any other bird does this (in
nature’s way has to do this). But I know a
child doesn’t have to. Doesn’t have to.
Doesn’t have to. And I didn’t.11

Oliver’s “I Worried” presents an apt description of anxiety that lacks the certainty of purpose and reveling in social deviance appearing in “The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow” or “To Be Human is to Sing Your Own Song.” 

Mary Oliver, “I Worried,”12

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.”

Uncertainty and self-doubt suffuse the first four stanzas of “I Worried” through rhetorical questions, the future conditional tense that signals anticipatory catastrophizing, and negative self-talk. The protagonist expresses a misplaced concern to control and fix things that she cannot possibly influence like the earth’s rotation. The list of worries tumbles one after another without transitions, mimicking how overthinking can become intrusive thoughts that whip one into a panic. Instead of her usual pleasant nature references, for Oliver’s protagonist the garden, rivers, and the earth threaten disaster. She even turns sparrows against herself in her feeling that she is hopeless. A poet known for hope, Oliver signals that turn from disparaging and catastrophizing to optimism in the last stanza’s “Finally.” She shifts back to the past tense—“And gave it up. And took my old body / and went out into the morning, / and sang.”—giving readers a sense of certainty that the protagonist has overcome worry and put it behind her. The reference to “my old body” has added significance by implying we can grow out of anxiety even if it has loomed large in much of our life.

Like Oliver, Atwood tends to contrast natural and human creations. Atwood’s work often presents opposites as alienation in her consideration of oppressive relationships. Her collection, Morning in the Burned House is filled with poems about grief and loss as she faces how her father’s death foreshadows her own mortality. “Up” presents the dread and despair that can be effects of dwelling on grief and isolation.

Margaret Atwood, “Up”13

You wake up filled with dread.
There seems no reason for it.
Morning light sifts through the window,
there is birdsong,
you can’t get out of bed.
It’s something about the crumpled sheets
hanging over the edge like jungle
foliage, the terry slippers gaping
their dark pink mouths for your feet,
the unseen breakfast— some of it
in the refrigerator you do not dare
to open— you will not dare to eat.
What prevents you? The future. The future tense,
immense as outer space.
You could get lost there.
No. Nothing so simple. The past, its density
and drowned events pressing you down,
like sea water, like gelatin
filling your lungs instead of air.
Forget all that and let’s get up.
Try moving your arm.
Try moving your head.
Pretend the house is on fire
and you must run or burn.
No, that one’s useless.
It’s never worked before.
Where is it coming from, this echo,
this huge No that surrounds you,
silent as the folds of the yellow
curtains, mute as the cheerful
Mexican bowl with its cargo
of mummified flowers?
(You chose the colours of the sun,
not the dried neutrals of shadow.
God knows you’ve tried.)
Now here’s a good one:
you’re lying on your deathbed.
You have one hour to live.
Who is it, exactly, you have needed
all these years to forgive?

Atwood explores trauma, anticipatory grief, and fear of death in “Up.” Her protagonist is again frozen in bed despite sunlight and birdsong by thinking of the future and the past:

What prevents you? The future. The future tense,
immense as outer space.
You could get lost there.
No. Nothing so simple. The past, its density
and drowned events pressing you down,
like sea water, like gelatin
filling your lungs instead of air.

She cannot gain comfort in the present moment; sheets and slippers transform into jungle and gaping mouths. She has clearly made failed attempts to think her way into rising:

Pretend the house is on fire
and you must run or burn.
No, that one’s useless.
It’s never worked before.

Her home decorating efforts to surround herself with cheer are to no avail:

Where is it coming from, this echo,
this huge No that surrounds you,
silent as the folds of the yellow
curtains, mute as the cheerful
Mexican bowl with its cargo
of mummified flowers?
(You chose the colours of the sun,
not the dried neutrals of shadow.
God knows you’ve tried.)

Atwood, having described sensations like one’s reactions to one’s past pressing down and drowning the person or failed attempts to force oneself to face today, turns the scene into a deathbed and leaves the readers with a question that bears multiple interpretations: “Who is it, exactly, you have needed / all these years to forgive?” She asks the protagonist, and, by extension, the reader, to forgive themselves, to forgive others that the past might not hold them back, to consider whether they need a paradigm of forgiveness that solidifies feeling wronged.

The death in the background of Atwood’s poem is explicit in so many poets’ work that today several poetry anthologies about death and grief provide a wealth of examples of people missing loved ones. The lean lines of Lucille Clifton’s “oh antic God” speak to me with the thwarted remembrance that adds to the loss of one’s mother:

Lucille Clifton, “oh antic God”14

oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.

I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.

I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night.   return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.

Clifton became famous during the Black Arts Movement for her celebration of black women. She was Maryland’s Poet Laureate from 1979 to 1985. Within her prolific poetry since the mid-1960s, aging is a recurring theme. Her early poems often associate aging with a desirable body in contrast to mainstream ideals. For example, “homage to my hair” and “homage to my hips” praise graying hair and substantial hips with lines like “the grayer she do get, good God / the blacker she do be!” and “these hips are mighty hips.15 Clifton’s late twentieth-century poems extend magical qualities found in “homage to my hips” into powerful crone imagery while introducing anxiety about disease. “1994” autobiographically features a middle-aged Black woman with imagery about winter and breast cancer: “i was leaving my fifty-eighth year / when i woke into the winter / of a cold and mortal body // thin icicles hanging off / the one mad nipple weeping.”16 Starting in the 1970s, Clifton’s poetry also includes her relationship to her mother; her twenty-first century work uses her mother and aging to discuss death and continued communication with loved ones after their death.17

In “oh antic God” Clifton longs for when her mother was a relatively young woman. Clifton begs God, “return to me / my mother in her thirties”; her line simultaneously reproaches and pleads. Since Sayles died in 1959 at age forty-four when Clifton was twenty-two, on an historical level “her thirties” represent the vibrancy of Clifton’s mother. If we generalize, however, how common is it to wish for relationship with a loved one at an earlier point in their life? We imagine bending time, so that we as we are now can benefit from the deceased restored to their youth, their abilities, the needs and desires they fulfilled for us when we were also younger. Clifton recalls details of her mother in her thirties after over three decades and laments what she no longer remembers clearly—scent, feel, sound—strong senses that usually stir memory. 

Rather than personal loss, Joy Harjo’s “Equinox” sings into being transformation to overcome historical collective trauma. Harjo, a Muscogee Creek Nation member from Oklahoma and U.S. Poet Laureate since 2019, often employs an autobiographical voice and also incorporates the natural world. In addition to publishing poetry and teaching, Harjo is an accomplished saxophonist and vocalist who created “Equinox” as a song she sang and accompanied with her saxophone.18

Joy Harjo, “Equinox”19

I must keep from breaking into the story by force
for if I do I will find myself with a war club in my hand
and the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun,
your nation dead beside you.

I keep walking away though it has been an eternity
and from each drop of blood
springs up sons and daughters, trees,
a mountain of sorrows, of songs.

I tell you this from the dusk of a small city in the north
not far from the birthplace of cars and industry.
Geese are returning to mate and crocuses have
broken through the frozen earth.

Soon they will come for me and I will make my stand
before the jury of destiny. Yes, I will answer in the clatter
of the new world, I have broken my addiction to war
and desire. Yes, I will reply, I have buried the dead

and made songs of the blood, the marrow.

Although the word equinox is solely in the title, it frames the poetic song as a moment when light and gloom balance, a pivot point to more daylight or night hours. The text depicts resisting historical trauma. Generational trauma is historically and culturally specific: the Holocaust that initiated generational trauma studies is distinct from slavery or colonizing genocide. As such, Harjo’s first stanza references the massacre of indigenous people and resistance such as her ancestor, Chief Monahwee, who fought Andrew Jackson’s forces in 1814. She is an “I” connected to her roots and how a present-day “you” carries on colonization. 

Her second stanza reads like an ongoing Native American creation story: 

I keep walking away though it has been an eternity
and from each drop of blood
springs up sons and daughters, trees,
a mountain of sorrows, of songs.

Perhaps the stanza gestures back to precolonial time, but it underscores the continued presence of Native people. Despite each violence since first contact with Europeans, Native people persist, continue to suffer today, and make story-telling songs that contain the past, present, and future. 

The third stanza signals an equinox shift from “the birthplace of cars and industry” to a spring when “Geese are returning to mate and crocuses have / broken through the frozen earth.” This is the season from which the protagonist makes her fourth stanza decision. She knows the enemy will come. In this time within a new (postindustrial) world, the protagonist will tell “the jury of destiny”:

…I have broken my addiction to war
and desire. Yes, I will reply, I have buried the dead

and made songs of the blood, the marrow.

On one hand, the use of language that can simultaneously reference a military stand and standing before a court alludes to the long history of whites manipulating law and enforcement to take from Native people, and so leaves open whether the protagonist’s claim to “have broken my addiction to war” and “have buried the dead” is dissembling for self-preservation. But a brighter interpretation is that the last stanza definitively moves from warrior to healer. Harjo actuates Orr’s belief that a poet can create poems about “culture-wide traumas” that connect “to the surrounding human community by means of his or her own transformative encounter with trauma.”20 The ending implies transformation that could make peace internally with the types of Post-Traumatic Stress attendant on collective trauma—depression and anxiety, survivor guilt, desperate coping mechanisms—to return to one’s life-giving essence or marrow through a healing ritual song. As such, Harjo creates a decolonizing ending.

Are these four poems about disability? To me they fit into disability and grief activism. They acknowledge and describe painful things happening rather than try to smother emotions with platitudes that everything will be fine. The Atwood example gives readers no clear resolution. But “Up” can be cathartic as a mirror for those who have felt similarly. Poetry about anxiety, depression, grief, and other loss can be hard to read. When our world seems grim and shaky, such poetry can pull those emotions from within us to the surface. Woven through Oliver, Clifton, and Harjo are rhizomes of hope that pop up like fireweed immediately after a blaze. Both poetic creation and reading can be regenerating. They aid naming feelings and bringing order to chaos. They help moods move through us instead of trying to stamp out the feelings, so that out of the ashes we shift to a place of acceptance. Sometimes poems even give us models for transformative action.


  1. Bruce LaVerne Foxworthy and Mary Hill, Volcanic Eruptions of 1980 at Mount St. Helens: The First 100 Days, Geological Survey Professional Paper, (United States Government Printing Office, 1982), 44, 73, 79.
  2. Gregory Orr, Poetry as Survival (University of Georgia Press, 2002), 3.
  3. Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (Verso, 2004), xi-xii.
  4. “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss,” The New York Times (Sunday, 24 May 2020), 
  5. Unemployment had averaged 3.6 percent from February 2019 through February 2020 and stood at 14.7 percent by the end of April. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: Unemployment Rate,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (26 May 2020),
  6. “The unemployment rates for both persons with and without a disability declined from the previous year [2018] to 7.3 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.” “Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (26 February 2020),
  7.  Forty-seven percent of respondents cited lost employment while 34 percent described anxiety and/or depression that meets clinical standards. Jane Callen, “Weekly Census Bureau Survey Provides Timely Info on Households During COVID-19 Pandemic,” United States Census Bureau (20 May 2020),
  8. David Kessler, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief (Scribner, 2019).
  9.  Skye Gould and Lauren F Friedman, “Something startling is going on with antidepressant use around the world,” Business Insider (4 February 2016), Andrea Petersen, “More People Are Taking Drugs for Anxiety and Insomnia, and Doctors Are Worried,” The Wall Street Journal (25 May 2020),
  10. “#Blackpoetsspeakout,” “Introduction to #Blackpoetsspeakout by Mahogany L. Browne,” Poetry Society of America,
  11. Mary Oliver, “The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow” Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006), 29-30. Mary Oliver, “To Be Human is to Sing Your Own Song,” Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014). Posted on the Mary Oliver Facebook page 30 March 2015:
  12. Mary Oliver, “I Worried,” Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (Beacon Press, 2010). Posted on “Daily Pause,” COVID-19 Updates, Office of Academic Clinical Affairs, University of Minnesota, (31 March 2020),
  13. Margaret Atwood, Morning in the Burned House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995), 110. First found in “Poems for Pandemic,” Department of English, Emory University, Day 4/24.
  14. Lucille Clifton, “oh antic God,” Mercy. (BOA Editions Ltd., 2004),
  15. Lucille Clifton, “homage to my hair,” “homage to my hips,” Good Woman (BOA Editions Ltd., 1987).
  16. Lucille Clifton, “1994,” The Terrible Stories (BOA Editions Ltd., 1996),
  17. Lucille Clifton, An Ordinary Woman (1974) and “The Early Uncollected Poems (1965-1969)” section of Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser, eds., The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (BOA Editions Ltd., 2012) feature poems comparing herself to her mother, Thelma Sayles, who died at age forty-four when Clifton was twenty-two. In Mercy Clifton says many of the poems are direct transmissions from her mother.
  18. Joy Harjo, “Equinox,” performed with the Arrow Dynamics Band for the STIR Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 2008,
  19. Joy Harjo, “Equinox,” How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems: 1975-2001, (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), 184. Reprinted at
  20. Gregory Orr, Poetry as Survival, (2002), 125.

Back to Top of Page | Back to Volume 14, Issue 2 – June 2020

Note: Please visit this issue’s Poetry section, which includes several poems by Clark A. Pomerleau.

About the Author

Clark A. Pomerleau is a writer and teacher from Washington State. Memory, nature, queer aesthetic, and transformative agency feature in his work. He is thrilled to return to Wordgathering where his first published poetry appeared. You can also find his poems at Poached Hare and Coffin Bell Journal. Pomerleau’s essays and scholarly book (Califia Women, 2013) historicize feminist diversity education, feminist views on sexuality, and trans-inclusive praxis. Peculiar: a queer literary journal and the book, Welcome to the Resistance, will soon print a few more of his poems. Pomerleau’s first poetry chapbook, Better Living through Cats, is under contract with Finishing Line Press.