Washing lines: a collection of poems

a beautiful collection of poetry

Selected by Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught; Lautus Press  ISBN 978 0956826503
to order copies go to: http://www.lautuspress.co.uk

When I received a request to use a poem by Carl Little (A Reminder Great Cranberry Island; Ocean Drinker, New and Selected Poems; Deerbrook Editions 2006) for an anthology about laundry I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t think of expectations but perhaps that it could be good for Carl and for the press to have it out there. I was very pleased when some months later I received a package in the mail from the UK containing two copies of Washing Lines with a nice note from the editors. It is the kind of book package that changes my frame of mind, that makes all the menial tasks and questions of purpose get whisked away and a sudden truth be known that this is what makes being a small art press completely worthwhile.

The notion of a collection of poetry with the thread (no pun intended, but a preference not to use “a theme” since there are at least a few creative reasons for this book) of laundry on lines, becomes, for me, a matter of imagery. Helping with the hanging of laundry out in the yard. There are fifteen artist images in the collection, all prints or drawings reproduced in black ink. The entire book, a trade paper binding with those turn-in flaps that echo dust jackets, a cover illustration on a field of lavender, is a pleasing blend of private press and chapbook though there are seventy seven pages making it more than a chapbook per se. It is not pretending to be a trade book, no gloss and no bar code. Therefore its presence has the soft appeal of another realm, one that whispers literature and art, a presence that reminds me something of a tradition and a handling of the utmost care. Paper, after all, was once all cotton and linen.

The work inside this 5 7/8 x 8 1/2 in. treasure is no shabby laundry list. The work includes Jane Kenyon, Seamus Heaney, Louise Gluck, Richard Wilbur, Yehuda Amichai, Louisa May Alcott, Pablo Neruda, and Homer, to name a few. The creative sensitivity for a domestic yet universal corner of life has to touch every reader as the hearth is to Hestia, and in some villages a very close association where water may still be heated by a wood stove. Most of us can remember mother, or even helping mother, hanging clothes on a line.

Something of a purpose in this book of words and images conjures an image of peace. But there are other ideas the image of a person hanging clothes on a line can stimulate. There are, according to Alexander Lee, some places that have outlawed clothes lines. Though my image of clothes lines is contained in back yards, certainly city streets or alleys could be another. Clothes lines span different yards, different countries, and different ages. I’m sure that clothes lines have been used in film as a kind of metaphor open to interpretation, depending on the genre, but somehow films set in or around war comes to my mind. A woman at a clothes line becoming symbolic of the harsh contrast to violence, of feminine vulnerability. In another resonance the image is one of strength and courage.

from: Wood on cloth on cord, by Amy Benedict

If I’m to be caught in a wave of terror
My whole sky life, wiped out
Blown to a tiny, dirt speck end
Vaporized into my next life
Without the long goodbye
The eye to eye pull kiss ending

Then catch me hanging sheets out in the sun

Out in the yards with the worms in the dark
Beneath the green, beneath my feet . . .

I don’t know about anyone but me, this collection has all that tugs at my natural heart.

So forget any notion of non literary nonsensical dabblers, for there are true geniuses at work here with the reverence and beauty that only a poet can well up from our inner self at the reading. Emotion, pain and sentiment that ask us to believe that the world of humans is not quickly altogether losing the kindness gene or the sensible gene. By the time the reader gets to the afterword by Alexander Lee, who brings us a bit of the current energy issue, beginning with a quote by Dr. Helen Caldicott who spoke to a Middlebury College peace symposium saying, “If we all did things like hang out our clothes, we could shut down the nuclear industry.” Project Laundry List http://www.laundrylist.org  became a Website and “green movement” with a Web page “gallery of art and poetry which is a creative way of promoting the message that line drying could save more than 10% of the electricity consumed domestically in the United States. ” This was the coda of all codas for me, establishing great admiration for the work of these editors and the writers chosen for this book.

Washing lines is an example of art and poetry bringing together things close to the heart. It speaks the softly shouting revolution that the arts are by their nature giving us every time we let them in to our busy and sometimes confusing lives. So I am grateful to Washing lines for its imagination and for reminding me of how hanging out the wash means moments shared with loved ones and with nature, and then much, much more.


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