by margareta waterman
nine muses books (2015) pp. 215
illustrated by Meg McHutchison and JC Schlechter
review by Casey Bush
In her latest book, “denouement”, poet and priestess, margareta waterman, celebrates her impending departure from this world. Not yet tired of life, margareta is enjoying being an octogenarian and like those individuals who insist on attending and choreographing their own wake, she has written a book to revel in her eventual demise. Although she insists on spelling her name with small letters, margareta is not shy and retiring and this book has an energetic ambition that will not be denied. The first untitled poem in this collection sets the reader down a path:
‘s not that death is a lover death trumps the lover let not distractions interfere with this important process the World itself embraced and then relinquished dive in, swim, come out and dive in again, of course flow of water against the skin slide in, slide out, nor cower from the airs that float above death simple end of body’s use composite fracturing flying dust singing, everywhere singing chorus of the throbbing World receding acceleration of life processes I am living the denouement
In “denouement” waterman does not reminisce about her life but instead she writes about her current existence, standing on a fleshy cliff, gazing off into an abyss that is the spirit. At age 80 she has not entered her dotage but instead has taken a trip to Tibet and trips on LSD as documented by the long poem “the voice of lysergic acid”. In his versified introduction, entitled “Behold the Matriarch at Eighty”, Josef Knoepfler describes the author as: “hung four score years and stretched beyond a shrinking frame/ despite all incantation hers, yes hers, a lesson here revealed…A pot of tea effusing the day’s best warmth”.
“denouement” follows a previous large collection “iteration” by a decade, and is similarly made up of sections from chapbooks, those poetic bastard children which grow in a fairy ring of around the base of trees. Either mushrooms or toadstools, depending on your viewpoint, chapbooks are non-literature, bound by a few staples, difficult to sell in stores and the total life blood of American poetry. In all of her books, whether they have a spine or not, margareta’s poetry ranges from the aphoristic to the mythic to the personal, drawing from a range of cultures and experiences as illustrated by “the long road from oedipus to osiris: jocasta”:
a man is a man/this is not incest; it is politics…if you have a son/he will not resemble you…if you are a son, all men might be your father/your mother has little to teach you/if you are a father, any man/might be your son…persephone, though utterly mythic/has qualities and soul/poor jocasta/no qualities at all/no presence/only the symbol/helen herself/cythmnestra herself/persephone, medea, even phaedra/a story, clear ray of identity/jocasta has no qualities/only a symbol/that scripture may be fulfilled/the fuck must take place/if you fuck the queen/the kingdom is yours… no brother can speak for me…my son, my husband/what difference does it make to me?…Persephone is the seed itself/drop of life…to push up through the darkness and break/through the crust, ceiling of underneath/into the slings and arrows/independent planetary life”.
Pardon my liberal extractions from that long poem but let’s just say it might be great to be king, but it’s even better to be queen. All love is tough love as margareta has expressed in two recent chapbooks “the sexuality of aging” (2009) and “achilles and helen” (2013).
I was first introduced to margareta in 1997 by another large poetic voice who insists on spelling his name with lowercase letters, dan raphael, who published her “cloud coop songs” in his 26 Books series. Like margareta, dan is a performance poet who is an integral part of the poetry community of the Pacific Northwest. They both write and read their own work, sometimes with musical accompaniment, while generously publishing and promoting the poetry of others. Both dan and margareta are poetic outsiders, by which I mean individuals existing outside the mainstream of our barren and heartless society. At the same time, they are also poetic insiders, by which I mean individuals planted deeply inside the spiritual rivers that run through our rich and vital culture. They are also both possessed by a lyrical voice that allows them to sing a song throughout their entire life that attracts and enriches the listener, like the magic of the sirens.
I gave a reading a number of years ago with margareta at the St. Johns farmers market in North Portland. Organized by dan raphael, margareta and I shared a stage before a milling audience inspecting fruits and vegetables. She had just recovered from her second hip replacement and was dancing barefoot on a raised stage. I wasn’t certain whether I should stand nearby providing a spot for the acrobat or simply sit back and enjoy as she cast a spell over the outdoor market. I was amazed at margareta’s energy at an age when most people are weighing the difference between retirement homes with and without assisted living and memory care.
But it was more recently, in 2012 that I became a true believer. The event was hosted by Melissa Sillitoe at the Three Friends Cafe in Southeast Portland. The priestess was accompanied by her friends Stephen Fandrich and Douglas Ridings. While margareta read poems from “iteration”, Stephen sat on the floor playing harmonium and provided counterpoint with Tuvan throat singing. I was not prepared for the power of that duet which has a long and rich history dating back to Seattle’s Red Sky Poetry Theater, of which margareta was a founding member. Speaking of theater, Douglas Ridings’ contribution to the event bordered on the cosmic. Mr. Ridings is a practitioner of butoh (contemporary Japanese dance of the “shadow self”) and Odissi (Classical tantrik temple dance of eastern India) and a teacher of Hatha yoga. On the stage, next to the poet, Ridings positioned himself next to a box of rich black earth, the kind of dirt that you would use to grow a garden. As the reading progressed he drew a black shroud over his head and proceeded to do a head stand in the box. Just like Stephen’s measured accompaniment, Douglas took the performance to higher plane, as he gathered the earth up around his neck and disappeared slowly beneath ground like the proverbial ostrich. His clothes cleverly hung to his body, giving the impression that he was levitating. Ridings then maintained that extreme posture for over half an hour, somehow breathing through the shroud despite his head being physically underground. It was then that I realized that margareta is one of those mystical guides who have been assigned to lead me and others through this life. In my case, she is a combination of both Virgil and Beatrice, while I play the feeble Dante stumbling into the depths of hell hoping the path will someday lead into the vaults of heaven.
I do not come to spiritual guidance easily and am generally resistant to training and respect for my elders. But, in “denouement”, margareta has taught me some lessons that cannot be ignored. No doubt she will die with a pen in hand, writing poems up until the day she departs this world. After reading “denouement” I am certain that the mortal body is as important as the eternal soul. The flesh is not simply a footbath for the spirit but an equal and necessary partner. In her “denouement”, margareta waterman makes a persuasive argument that death is something to be embraced as we surf one long ocean wave which at any moment may come crashing down on some fatal sand bar. Then, through the miracle of reincarnation, you can simply stand up and turn to face the surf again, head out into the ocean and find another breaking wave.
“denouement” available for $18 (shipping included) through nine muses at: email@example.com