RITA SIMS QUILLEN

Author of 'Hiding Ezra,' 'Her Secret Dream: New and Selected Poems', 'Something Solid to Anchor To' and 'The Mad Farmer's Wife'

Rita Quillen’s novel Hiding Ezra is forthcoming in 2014 from Little Creek Books; it was a finalist in the 2005 DANA Awards competition, and a chapter of the novel is included in the new scholarly study of Appalachian dialect just published by the University of Kentucky Press entitled Talking Appalachian.

One of six finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, her poetry received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Her most recent collection Her Secret Dream, new and selected poems, is from Wind Press in Kentucky and was named the Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in 2008.  Previous works are poetry collections October Dusk and Counting The Sums, as well as a book of essays Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry.

 She lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia.

Her Secret Dream cover

Her Secret Dream

Wind Press, 2007

Winner of the 2008 Appalachian Writers Association Poetry Book of the Year

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To read the poems of Rita Quillen is to read a writer attentive to the natural world, as seen in poems such as “The Good Life,” where “Tobacco Teepees/ stand desolate/ after the massacre” and “Weary sunflowers/ look like women in yellow bonnets/ nodding in the last hot dose/ of August sun.” She is also a poet adept at both free verse and complex verse forms such as the pantoum; a writer capable of adopting a convincing persona, as in her series of “Mad Farmer’s Wife” poems. Ultimately, however, the new and selected poems in Her Secret Dream reveal an author whose major focus is the complex connections of family, connections that transcend even death. An old Chinese maxim argues that no one is truly dead until he or she is forgotten. Many of the poems in this book are a fierce refusal to forget, an acknowledgement of the continuing influence of the dead on living. “Skeleton Truth,” for instance, has the narrator realizing she now possesses “my mother’s hands.” A similar connection is made in “Apple Butter,” remembering a shared moment of mother and daughter canning together. In “My Grandfather Photographs His Son, 1937,” the poem concludes with the speaker noting that father, grandfather, and speaker are “All three of us one/ trinity of regret.” I have admired Rita Quillen’s poetry for years, and this collection will have an honored place on my bookshelf beside volumes by Jeff Daniel Marion, Kay Byer, Robert Morgan, and Fred Chappell. It is my hope that ‘Her Secret Dream’ will find a well-deserved place on many, many bookshelves.
— Ron Rash

LET THE WORDS FALL WHERE THEY MAY

Let darkness come

With only a star here or there

A doughy biscuit moon

Unfazed by clouds passing by.

Let storms slash across treetops

Lightning spiking to the ground

Thunder rumbling through the walls

Knocking limbs to earth.

Let snow pile the roadbank

Remove all color from the world

Freeze long tears from my rooftop

The snowflakes disappearing instantly in my hand.

Let the words come like an ache

Moving through my timid hand

Unafraid of stormy night and black and white

The ink a ragged tracing of my life's map.

 

 

PASSING SUITE

 

(For Ann Richmond)

 

1.

 

Among all the things

Ann wished for at the end:

Two white shirts

Her book of Shakespearean sonnets

And the sound of his steady breathing

Napping in the chair at her bedside.

She dreamed snap peas and raspberry vinaigrette

Tall dahlias, snapdragons, nasturtium

The yellow-fringed orchids

She hiked three miles to see

Spoke soft vowels

Carrying Carolina Wrens

Eastern Bluebirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

The white crane

That took out her father’s eye.

 

2.

 

There’s aesthetically appealing Death:

The face of a dying foal

I have just liberated

From leathery placenta with a butcher knife;

The performance art of a Kingsnake

Majestically digesting

A whole nest of baby Bluebirds

Framed in the perfect background

Of azure sky and emerald hill.

And the real inheritance of Mother Nature:

A skeleton with skin

Gasping loudly for air

Lungs filled with cancer’s froth

The air heavy with a sister’s wailing.

 

 

 

 

 

3.

 

I am resigned

To a thickening waist

Deeply lined skin

Surprised in my mirror

By my wrinkly smile.

 

Wild gray hairs

Sprout like little exclamation marks

All around my face

Fitting punctuation

For little daily epiphanies.

 

I relax into a soft pillow of years

The body fades

So sense and spirit can flourish—

Middle age is molting season.

 

 

4. 

 

My children are strong

Beautiful, confident, defiant

But plain blind ignorant –

Life has not paid them a visit yet.

When they were home

They put up posters

Collages of images from magazines

Where they could be Creator

God.

My daughter called today

To say she was moving to New Jersey

So she wouldn’t grow up

To be me.

(She didn’t actually say that last part.)

In New Jersey that aren’t pathetic

Provincials:  they know wine and design

And Nineteenth century Parisian art.

Up there things move so fast

Death can’t even blow a cold breath

In a room, let alone grab hold of you.

There’s no silence to be found

So she’s safe.

 

 

 

 

5.

 

Will they say I made a good end?

Even if I don’t, I think

I’ll copy her-

Ask for the shirts and sonnets

In case the Bible and fiddle music aren’t enough

Pray for grace and peace,

For once in my life

Try to go natural, right, and quiet

As a summer storm passing.

 

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