Poet’s Notes

Notes on “Death of Alaska”

I was moved to write “Death of Alaska” as a way to work through the grief of my son departing after eighteen years of learning and laughter at home. I used the disappearance of my beloved dog, who later appeared in our garden, having curled up in a corner and passed away at an old age, as the vehicle of parallel experience for my son going off to university.

Setting is usually another character in my poems, and the night setting here is true to my memory. I lived on a large farm that stretched out beneath dark, clear skies. I was walking across the pastures late at night calling for my dog, named Alaska by my ten-year-old son because she was white. The dark setting fosters the mystery of “where is Alaska,” as well as the mystery of how does a mother let go, how does anyone let go of a loved one. However, the dark night was clearly lit by stars, “going” not a mystery at all.

I find poetry in the familiar peonies and brambles, flashlights, but also research unfamiliar words such as copsewood. I select my words for the rhythm, music, often using alliteration and tend to struggle with each word in the poem, choosing purposefully. The alliteration “sharp snip of scissors” and the verb “redrafted” were expressly chosen to evoke the way in which a young man declares his independence from a mother.

I chose “canvassed,” “staccato,” “cantering,” “cold” for sound, and because each suggests the themes of searching and movement. “Cantering” was a familiar activity on the farm because my son grew up with a horse and often cantered across our fields.

The event weaves from a singular, personal experience to a universal theme of loss, a familiar experience of loved-ones moving on to a wider feeling of being part of a universal wisdom.


Notes on “Calving Under the Moon”

While visiting my second home in Millstreet, Co Cork, one spring my Irish veterinarian friend lamented to me his fatigue resulting from frequent calvings, often at night and early morning. I asked if I might possibly attend a birth as a privileged observer, and he advised me to be available at any time. Soon thereafter I received a ring on my mobile around midnight on a clear cool moonlit night. I enthusiastically met him at his house with a mug of hot coffee and notebook and pen in hand, where he loaded me into his veterinary van smelling of hound and medicinals. Careening through narrow gorse-lined country lanes, we finally arrived at a dimly lit barn with its anxiously awaiting farmer. The conclusion of this tale is recounted in “Calving Under the Moon.”

“Calving Under the Moon” exemplifies my striving to capture the extraordinary in ordinary and mundane events. I work at honing my observational skills to effectively translate my own visual images into poetic detail, and I always research my topics to ensure accuracy, whether scientific or historical. I never write about my characters until I personally know them and their foibles, which, when recorded in poetry often has universal appeal.

For the veterinarian in “Calving Under the Moon,” the entire scenario was a familiar and tedious event that he had attended many times over. A musician and philosopher at heart, he orchestrated to successful delivery a potentially disastrous birthing with skill and aplomb, engaging the farmer/owner, all the while day-dreaming a musical favorite.

I often conclude my poems with an unexpected scene or ironic turn of events.