Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Poetry: Sandra McPherson

Aug. 15 001

This is another shot of the scrap quilt I finished last week. I'm almost done another one and I'm dreaming up one more to start this weekend. The obsession lives on.

I was googling quilts and poetry and found myself a collection of breathtaking poems by Sandra McPherson, Professor of English at University of California, Davis. She's published a growing list of books of poems, many about quilts, and also published in the university journal Spark. In an interview with Spark editors she says,

Spark: I know you admire African American quilts. Do you only collect quilts made by African Americans?

SM: I've broadened out a bit. As long as a quilt is improvisational, as long it goes beyond repeating the same old pattern, it's interesting to me. I like asymmetry; I like it when they run out of cloth and have to do something else that doesn't match. Recently I bought a quilt that has all the aspects I admire about African American quilts, but it was made by a Polish woman in the 1920's. Others that are anonymous I buy because they have that aesthetic—changing the pattern, not static—I'm not the quilt fancier who says, "Oh, look at the small stitches." I appreciate everybody's quilts, but the small stitches don't interest me at all. I'm more interested in the ones quilted with string, or large stitches going across as fast as they can.

I got the Esther Mack quilt in Chicago. I eventually sold it to the University, at cost, to the African American Studies department. It's there in their quilt room in an acid free box; you can go and look at it, and it would have a little bit of history on Esther Mack—the little bit that I knew—perhaps if she had come from Mississippi, where she was born, or about how old she was when I got the quilt (in the mid or late 80's). I would sleep under every quilt that I bought, at least once. That was part of the research I did to write about them, feel their weight, their specific warmth; they really don't feel alike, the different ways that they press on you. This was one of the first quilt poems I wrote. I was certainly worried about making them [the poems] work; I didn't know if I could.

Isn't that fascinating? Here is one of the poems she wrote about that particular quilt:

Esther Mack's Utility Quilt with the
Lights in It


When Esther Mack ignited her first star
from exhausted aprons, she slept
with the weight of that star on her right foot,
just where she could kick it into space.

A pair of purer, one-color shinings
floated where her husband breathed.
The rest of the quilt she spangled with squares
to clash and keep the three big suns awake.

Always, at some hour, the tired star would say to her,
boost me up into the darkness--

read the rest here

Links to more of her work here.

Friday Poetry is being rounded up at Read. Imagine. Talk. Enjoy your weekend!

18 comments:

mayhem said...

That is beautiful! It feels very warm and intimate.

Leah said...

I really loved this poem and the photo of your quilt went with it really well. Nice thing to read on a sunny friday morning.

laurasalas said...

Wow--what a gorgeous poem full of absolutely delicious words. Thanks for sharing! Lovely quilt, too!

Lone Star Ma said...

That's gorgeous.

TadMack said...

Neat poem!
A friend has a book of quilts that have something to do with the Underground Railroad -- apparently the Quakers made and hung them out on clotheslines and over fences to give some vital information about safehouses. The picture here is just gorgeous!

janet said...

Yes -- I love the picture too. The lighting is really neat.

And the poem. This woman has access to a whole other universe of language. Wow.

Kelly Fineman said...

Oh how I love the full poem, and the idea of a quilt in which nothing is new except the thread. Lovely. Thanks so much for sharing it!

Barbara H. said...

I loved the wording and expressions in this poem, especially the thought at the end of "weaving her own warmth back through her."

Cloudscome said...

Thanks for these kind comments on my quilt photo. And YES isn't her language fabulous? It really sings from the depths.

Sara said...

We have some quilts here that my mother-in-law made that are just rags, but we can't bear to give them up.

That is one gorgeous poem. I had to read it twice, just to be covered in its warmth again.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Loveliness -- especially your quilt!

Sherry said...

That really is a beautiful quilt. I'm somewhat envious of people who can make beautiful things.

Sherry said...

I went over and read some of the poems, and I'm envious again ---of the poet. But I'm glad someone can quilt and poeticize.

Annie said...

Having made many quilts in my younger days, I love the idea that each quilt has its own feel because that is usually the intention of the quilt maker. Thanks for sharing.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I love the idea of scrap quilts since they flow so well with the Chinese tradition of 100 Good Wishes quilts. My MIL is quilting two Bai Jia Bei for both of our daughters (the Tongginator and the one we currently wait for whom we sometimes call MythicalBabyInChina).

Mary Lee said...

She slept under every quilt she bought to get to know their particular "feel." I have a couple of family heirloom quilts in careful storage, but I think I have received a message from the universe to get them out and sleep under them so that I can reconnect with the women in my distant family!

Karen E. said...

Love this post and your quilt is lovely. I've been thinking of trying one ... not that I really know what I'm doing. But, I know it will be asymmetrical and therefore, will at least have character. :-)

Cloudscome said...

Mary Lee, YES you should! I have a couple quilts from my grandmother and I get them out periodically to display, admire, and use. I read somewhere that the best way to store a quilt is spread out on a bed. I put a curtain rod on the wall in my bedroom and I hang different quilts on it throughout the year.

Karen, and everyone else thinking they might try it - I say YES again! You start small, like with a wall hanging or placemats or something, and learn as you go. The internet is full of quilters sharing their knowledge and their patterns. Plus you can get books from the library. Give it a go!