Winner of the 2004 Tupelo Press Editors Prize.
This Sharpening is Ellen Doré Watson’s third collection of poetry, and in it she confirms her reputation as one of the most important and discerning, take-no-prisoners voice in American poetry. Watson navigates the fierce terrain of marriage, divorce, love and longing. In these pages the pain of loss contrasts with the pleasures of motherhood when a long marriage ends. Whether indulging fantasies of revenge, reveling in a child’s kisses, or deconstructing a first date in 25 years, Watson is utterly compelling. Watch closely as she balances edgy tempos and sassy rhythms in poems as likely to address a rat on the path as to celebrate a peach or meditate on a truckload of guns. These poems map with unflinching attention the unraveling of a marriage and the persistence of longing, but also chronicle the quotidian joys of the mothering life and the scissor grip on reality it demands, the balance it can restore.
"Ellen Watson is an eloquent, passionate poet; tender, wildly inventive, with the wonder of childhood and a grown woman’s comic sense. Watson’s poetry is the real thing."
— Robert Pinsky
DANCE WITH THE DEVIL
When someone is truly but not absolutely everything
to you, does that make him the boundary,
this beautiful row of stones? Is it too late or too
good to bend the rules? I don’t want to be a fence!
I could let my man blur the lines, says one corner
of my mouth, and the other: nobody says that unless
they’re doing the blurring. Chances are the radiance
I’m toying with won’t warm my hands, it’s light
without content, magic in search of audience.
But I’ve got hives from dreaming of new tongues,
simply thinking the word gamble. How could the odds
favor this new stew when that couple fell from the sky,
leaving their boy a statistic in the cold? Whoa—
danger, whoa—history. Whoa—that sweet gumdrop
at the center of any family storm. When in doubt,
bring home the groceries. Then the devil saunters in:
Define risk, he purrs. Pressed to the wall,
you’d give up every stray thought for them,
am I right? (Or is it the God in me talking?)
The wall is blow-me-away not there until it is.
In the trash bag I was swinging toward the car toward
the dump in a world of kitchen slime: a spear of broken jar
nobody could have known would sink deep into my leg
real easy, mingling its juices with mine, activating the body’s
big words and little soldiers. All at once I’m wearing blood
and surprise, late to Della’s piano lesson again: confluence
of hurry and music. I hear my mother’s voice—slow
down, Ode to Joy is not a race, there’s always something
waiting to happen. Seed waiting for water or an egg
to swim to; wood for flame; a child needing new lungs
waits for another child to die. The doc with an ironic smile
sews my leg and says sure the reason I tan fast is the years
in Brazil—it’s called sun damage. It’s called a rush to dubious
beauty, called another something lurking in the body’s dark.
PETALS IN THE DIRT
Your words circle, mine batter. You’re a ramp, I have
no wheels. The kid who gets the brunt
of our love asks us not to bicker. Think
of all the people who have lost their right
hands! The friend who says: Hug me twice,
it could be a while till the next body
I can touch. Then there’s the man who claims he wants
steady, needs steady, but each woman is a lake
he’s big enough to swallow. How will hunger like that
ever learn to use a napkin? When you bring me
tenderness, it looks like one more thing
I don’t have time for. Maybe when it comes
to love, the happily long-married are the biggest
fools. I’m fervent but off-and-on about my roses
—how many of us are delirious when the twenty-sixth
blossom does its gorgeous thing? I wonder
if when I get home those petals will still be
luminous and melting in the dirt. I’m thinking
maybe I need them. I’m saying what would I do
without your mouth?
“This Sharpening, [is] a volume of agony, doubt, and loss, as Watson explicates the drastic dissolution of her marriage. The sturdy sensuality and the adored daughter were somehow not enough to make a fairy tale endure. Yet the poet’s grief becomes another blade that again sharpens the choice of words and narratives. What emerges from this collection is a leaner, tighter writing self that shivers with wounded fragility, yet moves forward into the stripped beauty of midlife and hard-gained wisdom.
Parallels? I pulled out Ruth Stone from the shelf — especially her in the Next Galaxy — and also found similar intensity (yet controlled so that the line has meaning, the image has dimension) in Edward Hirsch.
With all this, it’s no wonder that Library Journal named Ellen Doré Watson one of its ‘24 poets for the 21st century.’"
—Beth Kannell, Kingdom Books, VT
New England Watsershed’s Winter 2006-2007 issue contains a review of This Sharpening. In it, Jeanne Brahamshe says: "Lyrical, sometimes confessional, sometimes confrontational, her [Watson’s] poems go where you don’t expect them to go, where you yourself would never dream of going. Blazing honesty in the poet can invite blazing honesty in a reader, especially when that honesty is leavened with insight and humor. The rest of the review is just was perceptive, and just as well-written.
Ellen Dorè Watson’s This Sharpening has received exciting pre-publication attention from the 6/5 edition of Publisher’s Weekly. The review kicks off by saying "Watson’s fiery third effort offers a rare combination: the propulsive rawness of performance poetry and the pathos of impending middle age. These insistent, not-quite-narrative poems describe the daughter she loves, the husband she leaves and the dangerous world through which she moves…." The full review is available at Publishersweekly.com.