Her Familiars/Jane Satterfield: Reflections

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It has become my habit to wake at 1:47 most nights, two hours of sleeping in.  I make my decision—to wait in the upstairs dark, to wait in the downstairs dark, or to somehow make use of the time.

For many weeks now (I am not counting, I am afraid), I have made use of the time—doing the work set down before me, leaving all the stacks of books that aren't required reading somewhere to the side, for an intangible, mythical then. 

Today when I woke I realized that I had a very small pocket of time that was indeed my own.  And so I came downstairs, turned on the light, and opened a book that had been sent to me weeks ago by my long-time friend Jane Satterfield.  Jane and I met at Bread Loaf years ago and never lost touch, though sometimes too much time goes by without a correspondence.  I saw Jane most recently during the Bruce Springsteen Glory Days symposium at Monmouth University.  We hardly had the time to speak as we like to speak.  It was a public forum.

In any case, Jane's book, Her Familiars, is a third collection of Satterfield poems, and there was no way I was going to rush through it.  Jane has a habit of filling her poems with entire worlds, of researching an idea, committing history to the page, surprising the reader with allusion and symbol.  She writes magnificently, and without shortcuts.  I wanted to take her poems slow.  I did.

Thankfully, for those who aren't nearly as well-read as Jane, Jane includes, in Her Familiars, some end notes to help contextualize her work.  And so, poem by poem, I read, thinking—This is the one I will share on my blog!  Or, This is the one I will read to my students!  Flipping back to the note pages, always, to be sure I received the full intent of the poem.

And then I got to the title poem, "Her Familiars," which begins like this:

Just past her birthday (thirteenth)
my daugther's engrossed
in the antics of the Pretty Committee
who, swish bags in tow,
shop for amazing LBDs....

and then sweeps into its larger meditation on beauty, age, oddness, the recharge of time—coiling higher and higher, in trademark Jane style, thrillingly, to this mid-point passage:

... Just look at
the woodcut, frontispiece to
The Discovery of Witches,
London, circa 1647, where one-legged
Elizabeth Clarke, whose
mother (maybe witchy
with words or wise with a cure?),
a heretic, hung before her.....

And, toward the end, leaves us with this line:

.... The feeble, the poor, &
otherwise popular didn't
stand a chance.....

I knew, reading, that I loved this poem.  But I also knew that I didn't fully understand it, that I had not fully penetrated its many reverbing layers, its codices, its effects and affects, so I went to the notes and found this:

Nigel Cawthorne's Witch Hunt:  History of a Persecution (London: Arcturus, 2003) provided useful background; the "Pretty Committee" appears in the YA Series, The Clique.  This poem is for Beth Kephart.

I could read no further.  I had to stop.  Had to thank Jane Satterfield right then, right now—for being my friend, for putting up with my ridiculous schedule, for writing so magnificently, always. For remembering me and for bringing me solace, in the midst of another dark night.

You are the true and brilliant poet, Jane.


Becca said...

That gave me spine-shivers. The poem, the dedication, all of it.

Kelly H-Y said...

I do the same ... awaken after just a couple hours, then spend the minutes and hours tossing and turning and getting frustrated. Trying to decide between getting up and doing something or resting my body, even if my mind is active! :-) Maybe I should follow your lead and get up!

Kelly H-Y said...
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