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RAGBAG by Elisabeth Stevens


by Elisabeth Stevens

Pub Date: June 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1936343027

A captivating collection of free verse investigating the marvels of the mundane.

With her title’s subtle, yet unmistakable, allusion to Yeats’ “foul rag and bone shop of the heart,” Stevens (Sirens’ Songs, 2010, etc.) boldly announces her intention. Like Yeats, Stevens casts a long look back over her poetic career and life and rediscovers that it is not the whole cloth, purchased by the virgin bolt, but rather the fragments, the discards, the well-worn hand-me-downs, out of which sumptuous new creations can be sewn. In “The Rag Lover,” she gathers together the remnants of long-loved clothing, weaving together “a capacious (and magical) mantle of motley” that announces her as the “artist of alteration,” “the impresario of invisible reweaving” and “the rag lover, prestidigitator, poet.” More often than showy display, though, Stevens focuses on the invisible stitching of life’s smallest moments, especially the rich internal life that fills the gaps—and makes all the meaning—between the observable, external moments. The narrator of “Waiting,” for instance, suffers innumerable “accidents and disasters” of the imagination while waiting for her family’s return for dinner, only to have them arrive at last, oblivious, “as if nothing could ever happen / to any one of us.” Stevens’ narrators grapple with the tension between starting anew and holding onto the past, and with abiding loneliness, but they also revel in the magic underlying the quotidian and look forward to embracing old age with grace and dignity. In the long final poem, “Messes,” Stevens pays tribute to Walt Whitman, cataloging the many chores and challenges of motherhood and mapping the terrain of domesticity in a multisensory journey that blurs past and present and ultimately demonstrates how identity is found in struggle and engagement. In a delightfully pure Whitman-esque moment of unashamed, fully embodied revelation, she sings: “Dust is the color of what you find between your toes, / in your navel, in your privates, under your nails. / You breathe it in, but / not all of it comes out your nose / when you pick or blow.” Mote by mote, she asserts, we and the world become one.

A quiet yet powerful verse exploration of everyday wonders, the construction of meaning from experience and the power of immanence.