Poetry & Conversation: Sue Ellen Thompson's 'Blue Blanket'

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By Shaileen B

"Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it!" says Elizabeth Bishop in the middle of one of my favorite poems, as she realizes that a painting by a stranger shows a countryside where she has been in real life. Moments when we see how mundane experience can transform into art are such a pleasure.

Sue Ellen ThompsonThis kind of happiness will be free to all takers on January 30, when we welcome Sue Ellen Thompson and Kathleen Hellen for the first event in the 2013 Poetry & Conversation series. These poets will not only share their poems but also answer your questions about how their poems are made.

As a preview, I asked Sue Ellen Thompson to share a poem and some musings on it for Pratt Chat.

The Blue Blanket

Toward the end, my father argued
with my mother over everything:  He wanted
her to eat again.  He wanted her to take

her medicine.  He wanted her
to live.  He argued with her in their bed
at naptime.  He was cold, he said,

tugging at the blanket tangled
in my mother’s wasted limbs.  From the hall
outside their room I listened

as love, caught and fettered, howled
at its captors, gnawing at its own flesh
in its frenzy to escape.  Then I entered

without knocking, freed the blanket
trapped between my mother’s knees and shook
it out once, high above

their bodies’ cursive.  It floated
for a moment, blue as the Italian sky
into which my father flew his bombs

in 1943, blue as the hat I’d bought her
for the winter she would never live
to see.  My father’s agitation eased,

my mother smiled up at me, her face
lucent with gratitude, as the blanket
sifted down on them like earth.

—Sue Ellen Thompson
from The Golden Hour (Autumn House Press, 2006)

Sue Ellen writes:

Sometimes a poem will simply "happen"—as opposed to my having to drag it out of my memory or imagination. Something will occur that strikes me as embodying the essence of poetry: that fleeting moment that reveals so much and that begs to be captured in language.

When my mother was dying of cancer in 2002, and she and my father were settling down for their customary afternoon nap, I heard them bickering over something and went into their bedroom to see if I could help. When I realized they were competing for the warmth of a blanket, and that I could resolve the issue by covering them both—the way they had covered me so many times as a child—I knew immediately that I had just experienced life in the act of becoming a poem. All that was left was the writing.

For more Poetry & Conversation, come to the Poe Room on January 30 at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to all.

I didn't know you liked Elizabeth Bishop, one of my favorite poets, and I also liked the poem of Sue Ellen Thompson, who seems to be a Bishop admirer herself.
Posted by: Sarah Gearhart at 2/19/2013 8:07 p.m.

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