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Melissa Stephenson And Louise Glück Reflect On The Voice's Return From Oblivion

Melissa Stephenson

"The year before I started middle school, my parents made me watch a videotape of a professor talking about problem students who engaged in “'negative attention-seeking,'” writes Melissa Stephenson.  "I didn’t understand why my teacher had sent this video home. Mrs. Dolk had short blonde hair like Princess Diana, and sometimes I imagined what life would be like if she adopted me. I tried to impress her with jokes and high test scores. But as we watched the video, I realized my favorite teacher didn’t much like me.
“Mrs. Dolk thinks you’re snippy,” my mother said. “She thinks you hurt people’s feelings. You need to be quiet and kind.”
I traced the spines of the encyclopedias on the bookshelf nearby, only nodding as a response.

For years after, I didn’t say much. Words sprouted in my head and went to seed on the vine. I spent the bulk of my adolescence in libraries, picking books at random and devouring the sentences, taking everything inward.  Eventually I found the section with the slimmest volumes of all—poetry.

The year I moved West for college, I opened Louise Glück’s book, "Wild Iris," and read these words in the title poem: '...whatever / returns from oblivion returns / to find a voice.'

How was she writing all this about a flower, I wondered.  How is she writing all of this about me? I read and reread Glück's volume of poetry into something as marked-up and tattered as a child's lovey.   I fully internalized its message.

Then, when I was ready, I picked up a pen and woke this feral animal you’re hearing right now: this voice."

Stephenson pairs her reflection with the title poem from that book, Wild Iris, by Louise Glück. It was for this collection that Glück won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1992. She is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry and is known for her uncanny ability to capture intense emotions in a rich but accessible style. 

“The Wild Iris”

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.


(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 8/31/16 and 3/8/17. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)


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