Monday, November 7, 2011

Barbara Saunier on "Foreclosure"

There is not much fiction in the poem “Foreclosure”—unfortunately. While I am not the woman who lost her husband to cancer, her business to a single industry’s leaving the area, and her home to fallout from the other two events, I was there.

For nineteen years my long-time friend Michele lived in the old farm house I loved to visit, an hour-plus south of my own home. I loved the drive down there with my dog in the back seat, loved the lunches Michele would lay on the oak table in her dining room, loved collecting chestnuts from her yard in the fall, loved the vista that swept down a long incline from her front porch across the road and down the cornfields to the woods, loved the wood stove in her family room, loved hanging heads with her over a jig-saw puzzle in near silence all afternoon. Loved it, loved it all. So while I can’t claim to have suffered the grim trifecta of loss that she did, what I did suffer from her very real losses has been real enough.

The day Michele held her everything-left-must-go sale, I was there. Most of the interior images in the poem originate with that day. But several months later, after she had relocated to another part of the country, I made the familiar drive again, knowing the farm house was still vacant and the raspberries in what had been her garden were now ripe. Most of the images from the yard originate with that final visit.

I had two other poems in mind as I tried to honor my friend’s experience with my own poem: Wallace Stevens' “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and a poem I have not been able to find again after I taught it years ago, I think by Etheridge Knight, made of a series of haiku that reflected a man’s experience in prison. But though I took a stab at a vision and an economy similar to theirs, I lacked the discipline reflected in those poems. I suppose all I really took from them ultimately was their cataloging approach and their use of roman numerals . . .

With this poem I did have one of those happy editorial experiences that come along now and again. The section showing the porch swing had given me fits for weeks, so when Poet Lore’s acceptance came with a request from editor Jody Bolz that I do something less “weak-kneed” with that section or lop off the precious part, I was pleased to find that in about half an hour I’d found a way both to salvage the Amish buggy and replace the unworthy bits. Sometimes it just takes a little distance—and a little nudge!

I am happy to report that the most fictionalized component in this poem is the dog. Against the odds, Michele was able to take her dog (and her four cats) with her when she moved. But as animal shelters know too well, there are dogs enough who are not so lucky. And I also felt that the dog as I wrote her into the poem — who, in spite of arrangements for her care, returns on her own to what she knows as her turf — reflects not only what happened to Michele but what is happening to so many families who lose their homes: that, in spite of one's best attempts all along to do the right thing, other forces intervene.

—Barbara Saunier

Barbara Saunier is the author of "Foreclosure" (p.47) published in Poet Lore (Volume 106 3/4 Fall/Winter). You can purchase the issue here or procure a subscription to Poet Lore here.


Since Barbara Saunier’s poem “Foreclosure” was selected for publication in Poet Lore, her work has won first place in the 16th national MacGuffin Poet Hunt contest. She used her winnings to purchase a hay elevator. Her first book of poems is just about ready for submission.

No comments: