I fear night
until I find
After dark, she scoops me
up into her
where I wander
from the heavens: my mother,
visits me often.
Sometimes I see her
through luminous fields.
Once from a cloud’s
she tamed a thunderbolt’s
at my feet.
Tonight moon dips
into Sagrada Familia,
into all of the world’s churches.
Mother alights in the sanctum
of my heart.
Here, she teaches me
about stone’s durability,
what it means
to outlast illness,
how to take
I’ve been given and to fling
them into air
so they multiply,
so they ring through darkness.
I gather up
then retreat to my study.
In the picture of us
on the wall,
I am a child, kneeling
at her feet,
Reprinted by permission of the poet from After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events
Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda served as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2006-2008. She holds a B.A. from Mary Washington College, now the University of Mary Washington, and a M.Ed., M.A. and a Ph.D. from George Mason University, where she received the institution’s first doctorate. In 2007 both universities gave her the Alumna of the Year Award. She has published six books of poetry and co-edited two poetry anthologies. Her poems have been nominated for six Pushcart Prizes and appear throughout the United States and abroad in magazines, such as Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Hispanic Culture Review, El Quetzal, Best of Literary Journals, Poet Lore, and An Endless Skyway, an anthology of poems by U.S. State Poets Laureate. Her numerous awards include five grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts; a Spree First Place award; multiple awards in Pen Women competitions; a Special Merit Poem in Comstock Review’s Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial contest; a Passages North contest award; an Edgar Allan Poe first-place award; a Virginia Cultural Laureate Award; and a Resolution of Appreciation from the State Board of Education for her contributions as Poet Laureate of Virginia. She currently serves as a Literary Arts Specialist on a Metrorail Public Art Project, which will integrate poems, including her own, into art installations at metro stations in Northern Virginia. Carolyn is an accomplished visual artist, whose works have been widely displayed. As an adjunct faculty member, she teaches art-inspired poetry workshops for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Interview with Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda
How did you come to write the poem “Mother”?
I had long sought to write a tribute to my mother for the wisdom she imparted during her brief lifetime. I also wanted to acknowledge the role she played in saving my life when I was close to death from an illness as a teen. Vigilant, she had remained by my side until I healed. The poem emerged thirty years after she died while I was writing Death Comes Riding, a book which explores my spiritual growth. “Mother” appears in the book’s initial section, entitled “Lifelines,” as an expression of gratitude to a family member who nourished my love of knowledge and encouraged me at an early age to develop my poetic talents. Just as I had risen out of my body in a near-death experience while seriously ill, my mother returned to me often after she died, usually in dreams so real I couldn’t ignore her guidance and advice. One night remains vivid in memory. I awoke suddenly from a deep sleep, and there she stood at the foot of the bed, not as a ghostly presence, but as a protector, a guardian angel, a teacher who would continue to bring answers to questions my overactive mind explored in dreams. Although my mother passed away at the relatively young age of 59, her years on earth were filled with brilliant observations on how to live one’s life productively and wisely. As I see it, I willed her back, so I could return to childhood and kneel “at her feet, listening”—as the poem’s closing lines state.
How did writing this poem affect your recovery?
Poetry for me is therapy. I find solace in writing and exploring what haunts or taunts me. Solutions to problems appear unexpectedly while I’m in the zone. As one who loses herself completely in the creative process, I often stumble upon insights I’d never discover if I relied only on analytical thinking.
The lesson the poem taught me is to dig deeper and seek an inner strength. That’s how I outlasted illness, and that’s how I’ve chosen to live my life since. My mother taught me “about stone’s durability . . . / how to take/ the years/ I’ve been given and to fling/ them into air/ so they multiply,/ so they ring through darkness.”
Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?
Although “Mother” emerged relatively quickly, I relied on revision to enhance the musicality and to arrange the poem on the page to suggest the wandering of “spirits/ let loose/ from the heavens.” I initially titled the poem, “Wisdom,” then “Mother Returns from the Dead,” and finally settled on the more succinct and apt title of “Mother.” I also altered the imagery significantly. In earlier drafts, I alluded to Van Gogh’s colors, even to an African savanna before settling on a depiction of the world’s churches, where my mother’s everlasting spirit “alights in the sanctum of my heart.” I strove for unification by referring to the ethereal “moon,” a female image tied intricately to both “brightness” and “light,” which, in turn, relate to the knowledge I acquired from my mother. Finally, I selected the symbolic “stone” to suggest durability. As is my common practice, I revise with the intent of chiseling a poem to perfection.
Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?
First, let me mention Julie Kane, a poet, whose work I’ve recently read and admire. Julie is Louisiana’s current poet laureate. Her book, Rhythm & Booze, was selected by Maxine Kumin as a 2003 winner in the National Poetry Series. Her poems are light-hearted, yet offer a glimpse into the undercurrents of life in various Louisiana cities. What I admire most is her grasp of formal poetry and her ability to bring it alive in some of the most illuminating villanelles I’ve read in contemporary poetry.
A younger poet, whose work deserves a close look is Dean Rader, author of Works & Days, recipient of the 2010 T.S. Eliot Prize. As one who welcomes experimentation in our genre, I delighted in reading a book, which opened my eyes to new possibilities in form and structure. I applaud Rader’s work for its innovation, its craftmanship, and vision.
One of my all-time favorite poets is Ai, a former professor of mine, whose masterful dramatic monologues led me to explore the form. I could never tire of reading her books, which allow the reader to enter the lives of an array of figures, ranging from Elvis Presley to Alfred Hitchcock. I feel fortunate to have benefited from her guidance.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working with several other poets on collaborative projects. Joyce Brinkman, a well-regarded Indiana poet and former poet laureate of the state, sparked my interest in the kasen renga, a linked verse form originating in Japan. Thus far, we’ve produced several rengas in collaboration with poets from Japan, Germany and Mexico, who have translated our poems into their native languages. We’re hoping a book will emerge from our efforts.
I’ve also collaborated recently with other state poets laureate on a renga project, led by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg of Kansas. During a recent gathering of current and former state poets laureate in New Hampshire, Caryn launched this effort.
Simultaneously, I’m working on poems that center on the intricate role nature plays in my life. As a resident of eastern Virginia, the year 2011 stunned us with the residual effects of an earthquake, a tornado, and a hurricane—natural disasters that have sparked poems exploring the environmental consequences.
I work best when I’m engaged in several projects simultaneously. Thankfully, I’m able to move effortlessly from one project to the other and find the change of focus refreshing.