Candy Moulton: Reading the West 12-19-11
Two voices. Similar. Unique. Nebraska. South Dakota.
Backwaters Press brings the twin writing talent of Twyla M. Hansen and Linda M. Hasselstrom in their new collection of poetry: “Dirt Song.”
Hansen lives in Lincoln, Neb., but writes of rural life, of early walks in late October, of eating shredded wheat and green apples, of great horned owls, wild turkeys, and swallows. She’s profound, but also pokes fun as in “Swiss Cheese.”
“When it’s read in the newspaper the Feds may change the holes in Swiss cheese,” she writes. “I wonder: will they further coagulate cottage cheese, jack around with my pepper jack?”
She adds, “cut ’em some slack and live it up. Downsize those holes in the Swiss cheese – the sooner, the quicker. Let’s see if it’ll wash in Wisconsin. Let’s milk this for all it’s worth.”
But Hansen also wrote of the prairie of Survival “where soil is dry, weather inhospitable, no one watching, red cedars thrive.” But as anyone who understands prairie knows, red cedars invading prairie grasslands can permanently change that ecosystem for their very hardiness makes them “an evergreen the ecologist loves to hate.”
Linda Hasselstrom, recipient of a Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for her earlier book of poetry, “Bitter Creek Junction,” also draws inspiration from the land, particularly South Dakota, where she spent much of her life. She writes of May Day and sharing poetry with students in reservation schools, of “Cleaning the Stove,” “Chin Hairs” and making Thanksgiving pie.
I suppose a poet has voices in her head that eventually find their way to fingers on a keyboard to become words in a stanza. For that matter, I suppose most writers have some voices they listen to by way of inspiration. Hasselstrom’s voices come from Ravens … and in the form of a “visit” by Josephine as Linda drives across the landscape en route to an opportunity to speak about writing. “Instead of a Death Watch” Linda shares the road with Josephine, whom she left behind in a nursing home, dying, no longer listening, no longer speaking.
When asked why she’d leave with the aunt so near death her response is clipped. “What if she does? I said goodbye while she could hear me.”
But driving down the road. The voice comes. Sharing thoughts.
“Her voice rises, falls like the tawny grass, beyond the windshield.
I gather my nerve, and glance at the seat beside me.
She’s there … she throws her head back in a laugh.
‘Well, we fooled them, didn’t we?'”
There is inspiration and much more in this collection of poetry.