The poetry of Esther Wrightman (website)

Sep 2, 2013


Editor’s note:  The following is the preface to Esther Wrightman’s new webpage, “The Poetry of Esther Wrightman.”


Calvin Luther Martin, PhD, author of “The Way of the Human Being” (Yale) and “The Great Forgetting” (K-Selected)

Last month, the Canadian author Alice Munro made international news when she announced she was laying down her pen.  “No more books; I’m done.”

For me, the news was especially poignant.  Alice Munro is not Canadian so much as she is Ontarian—a place dear to my heart.  I’ve jogged its back roads, listening to the soothing rasp of  crickets, filling my lungs with the pungency, sweetness and musk, heat and summer brightness of its fields.  I have canoed its lakes.  I’ve lived there.

Rural Ontario grew Alice’s voice, just as it grows meadowlarks, bobolinks and swallows.  And now her familiar voice is fading, though crickets and fireflies still define the night, and sweetgrass, clover, and marsh willows still bend before playful winds.

I rejoice to announce that another voice is being born from this same soil.  A poet’s voice, this time.  Quietly thrusting up through the same humus, like some new, never seen before, wildflower.

Esther Wrightman refuses to acknowledge she’s a poet.  (One isn’t sure how to respond.  Perhaps best to say nothing—and pretend she never said it or you heard her wrong.)

Read Wrightman’s poems, herein, then open any collection by the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Cape Cod poet, Mary Oliver.  Start reading.  If you want to be more precise about it, start with “Trilliums.”  Then “Sleeping in the Forest” and “White Night.”  Then “Storm” and “Bone Poem.”

Now take a look at Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill.”  Perhaps even Frost’s “Birches.”

You see my point.  If Wrightman’s not a poet, neither are they.

Still, I doubt this will make her change her mind.  (She’s descended from Scots and Mennonites.)

Really, so long as she keeps writing, what does it matter what she calls herself?

There is an urgency in my question.  Rural Ontario is under assault—from giant, useless, habitat-destroying and (literally) sickening wind turbines.  It is also being targeted by so-called “hydro-frackers”:  madmen who inject a toxic chemical cocktail into the earth’s crust, to release and spew out the natural gas entombed there.

The Ontario that nurtured Alice Munro and Esther, and me, is wounded.  Esther writes out of this passion and wound—a personal wound, since her township is the center of much of the battle against this terrorism, as she calls it.

There is a larger reason I hope she keeps writing.  We live in a world where “man’s mind [has] grown venerable in the unreal,” eerily removed from the magic of earth, water and sky (Wallace Stevens, “Credences of Summer”).  Removed from what Aldous Huxley called Mind at Large, from Stevens’s “amassing harmony.”

There was a muddy centre before we breathed
There was a myth before the myth began,
Venerable and articulate and complete.

—Wallace Stevens (from “It Must Be Abstract”)

We need Esther’s perception of that “muddy centre.”  We need to see, through the amassing harmony of her mind, what she sees.

Certainly, I need to.  After a life as a university professor and author of books, I no longer require a lesson in economics or political science or history or biology.  I am unrepentantly beyond all this.

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

—Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”

Esther Wrightman brings me into the peace of wild things.

  1. Comment by Sharon on 09/02/2013 at 2:06 pm

    Second one brought tears to me as I relate. Wind turbine victim.

  2. Comment by Itasca Small on 09/02/2013 at 4:20 pm

    Beautiful and poignant introduction, Calvin. I’ve just partaken of Esther’s word-pictures. Your assessment is well-founded. Her gift is great; it evokes the “ancient” longings of an Illinois-born girl transplanted to the Arizona Sonoran Desert at 6-years-old. The memories come instantly to the forefront of my mind: of luscious green grass and gigantic deciduous trees, cradling and shading the wildflowers and the mushrooms; gathering the wild rhubarb growing on the roadside, and the mushroom hunts with Grandma, our Expert Mushroom Hunter. Sparklers at Fourth of July with our cousins, and the wondrous flashes of light from the lightning bugs – catching them and putting them in jars. I anticipate the opportunity to seek respite on Esther’s website, as I plan to visit as often as I can to sip the sweet nectar of her creations.

    I also am reminded of my husband’s tales from his childhood, growing-up in St. Catharines, Ontario, before the open green fields succumbed to the encroaching spread of Man’s advance. Aroused by your own expert wordsmithing and reinforced by Esther’s skills, in my mind’s eye, I can see him with his friend – two little 5-year-old boys running across the tiny ridges through wildflowers, green grass and water puddles; hurrying to their secret fishing hole to catch carp to sell to local housewives for 25 cents apiece! Their first business enterprise! Once they ran into a nest of snakes and he knew fear for the first time – nothing else could evoke utter terror from this boy who later battled every minute of his high school football games for four years because his coach kept him in for every play, but he lived-with a snake phobia for the rest of his life. (During half-time and post-game, he would lie on a bench gasping for air as he recovered from the enormous strain. But, he never asked to be taken-out!)

    I’m also reminded of his precious memories of helping his uncle raise ferrets in the basement, and in summers spent at Barry’s Bay, Ontario, near Algonquin Park, shooting skeet and real ducks and geese with his Skeet Champion uncle. And, although it wasn’t Ontario, I can’t forget the summer visits with his aunt and uncle in Pekin, New York, where his uncle was the Fire Chief and kept the town firetruck in the empty lot next door. With the shrieking of the fire alarm, he would run to climb into the firetruck and sit alongside his uncle, as they raced to fight the fire. In his last days on Earth, his mind hearkened back to those days as, in his clouded-thoughts, he called his wheelchair “The Firetruck.”

    I hope you don’t mind my reminiscing so much, but I wanted to share with you and Esther, and all of my Fellow-Wind Warriors, just how your efforts here are appreciated!

    I really like your choice of Stevens and Berry’s poems!

    Perhaps one of the reasons for the Wind Energy Scourge invading our entire world is to bring so many of us – previously strangers – together in ways unimaginable in our mere mortal minds that have no concept of just how pervasive is the Omnipresence, Omniscience, and Omnipotence of God, Creator of the Universe and All that is Herein; as He presides over all of our lives on every speck we inhabit of His wonderful creation – this planet we call, Earth. I’m just remembering that He says to be thankful IN Everything, because He IS IN CONTROL. May our Nightmare be soon a thing of the distant past.

    Itasca Small
    Wind Energy Refugee
    from Navajo County, Arizona, U.S.A.

    P.S. When are you going to share your own poetry on its own website? It could also be a place of respite – another “room” in the library. Methinks I am not alone in desiring to read more of your work, too!

The comments are closed.