Poetry Dispatch No. 270 | February 11, 2009
Sharon Auberle: Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball
(An Overview, Interview, Book Review)
by Norbert Blei
Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball
by Sharon Auberle
Cross+ Roads Press #31
PO Box 33
Ellison Bay, WI 54210
$12 plus $2 S&H
Of the thirty-one books published by Cross+Roads Press to date, half of them were written by women. Not that I’m counting, not that political correctness or anything else matters when it comes to choosing a book I like, introducing a writer I feel deserves greater exposure. I’m aware that more women are interested in literary work than men. And it’s no surprise that writing workshops students are predominantly women.
When I look at the list of women I have thus far published, consider their books of poetry and stories, certain common themes emerge: family, relationships, the search for selfhood. Not that the men do not exhibit an interest in these same themes, but that their approach is often different in style and perspective. Sometimes, radically so.
It’s my contention, however, that if only men would pay more attention to any of the women I have published by Cross+Roads Press, they would learn so much more about themselves…about family…about relationships …about the art of writing…perhaps even gain a little more knowledge toward that age-old question: “What does a woman want?”
Sharon Auberle doesn’t have all the answers in SATURDAY NIGHTS AT THE CRYSTAL BALL, but she asks many of the right questions and leaves the reader with plenty of insights to carry around for a long time.
Just prior to publication, I asked her to explain a little about the book:
this is a book full of ghosts…once, during the deathwatch, my mother looked up at me (she was perfectly lucid) and said who is that woman behind you? there was no one, and I said so, but she insisted, oh yes, she has her hand on your shoulder… the death of a parent is enormous
“We are all victims of our childhood”… I read somewhere
as I sat by my mother’s bed those two weeks while she was dying I knew the thing I’d feared most as a child, her leaving me as my father had done, was happening and I became that child again…
a child who, nevertheless, could sit at her bedside in a darkened room and scribble in my black journal… didn’t know why I was doing it, never thought it would become a book…just knew I had to it started as my mother’s story…but my father needed to be in it too, though I didn’t know him…how can I write about him?
I did…and began to feel as if I had known him. certainly better than I ever had…felt compassion for him…would not go so far as love, but, more importantly, forgiveness the realization that in my own life, in a different, yet same way, I’d done the same as he…
…the more I wrote of their failed love and marriage, the more I understood it, though much, of course, was imaginary…who can ever know another person’s heart?
At the age of eighty
my mother confesses
riding with me through the town
where a man she knew once lived:
/ should have married Luke
he sent me roses every week
and wrote in the most lovely hand…
The road tilts for a moment
in the copper autumn light.
I could let the words pass
pretend I’m intent on driving
forget there was once another
man meant to be my father.
Not that tall man
who kept love he couldn’t give
because of the man with a fine hand
who sent roses every week.
I could forget her words
and just go on loving
white roses and autumn
my mother, my dead father, unaware
of this sunlight kindling October maples
and old, unforgotten desires.
I decided to continue the dialogue with Sharon now that the book has been published and so well received. What follows is an extended conversation about one writer, one particular book, all that transpires once the work is set free.
Now that the book is out, I feel strangely removed from it–almost as though someone else wrote it–that surprises me. That, and my children’s reaction, which, though my daughter said it made her cry–was mainly discomfort: ‘ tmi,’ they both said: “too much information”
Some writers, both published and unpublished, choose to hold back when their work either borders on or delves too much into the personal. Did she experience any of this?
It may be that, because there was a good bit of distance between the time I wrote most of these poems, (at least the very painful ones), and the time of publication, I was able to stand back, distance myself from the pain. And I could never have put this book out there while my mother was alive. She was a private person and would have been appalled. Even now, I wonder if it was the right thing to do. Yet, I feel its important for people to stand back and look at their own parents, apart from the parent/child connection and see them as vulnerable human beings with love stories, heartbreaks and circumstances that shaped their lives. Time does give some objectivity and discretion.
I’ve been very surprised at the male reaction to this book. I thought women might relate to it with understanding, connect to it in a more personal way than men. But, in fact, from the feedback I’ve received from men (admittedly a small number), there has been strong and positive reaction, including tears, from a close personal male friend–someone from whom I would never have expected such. And it touched me deeply.
DANCING IN THE DARK
Someone said the best thing
my parents did together was dance.
When the two were out together
people would stop and watch
the tall man and the laughing girl
who never missed a step
but then their music ended
and my father left
to marry a woman
who looked up at him
in a pleading way
and though she didn’t dance
he could not stop
and this may be the softest thing
I know about my father:
they say he kept on dancing
to those old seventy-eights
on moody nights at home
alone and lonely, circling
endlessly in the smoky dark.
The book began with memories, dreams, and unresolved questions about my parents. There was a time when I felt a very great need to know that my parents had actually loved each other once. And then I had the actual dream described in “Love Song.” That and “Confession”, the first poem were the key poems to the story. I then began collecting little snippets of actual facts I knew about them from before I was born, enlarging those, and certainly imagining some. I foraged through all the old poems I’d written over the years, old journals, etc., to see what might fit. Those writings fueled new poems, and though this sounds implausible, I actually felt that there were times there was “guidance” in my writing,, particularly about my father, whom I barely knew. The physical laying out of all the poems, old and new, alongside old photos brought it all together.
Other than the previous poems that, ultimately, went into this book, much of my poetry was less painful to write–though about love and relationships, I was NOT writing about these deepest, oldest parts of me.
Do you see another book pattern emerging? Has the poetry changed? Is there something you would like to do with the poem that you, for whatever reason, have not yet been able to do? And are you working with that?
Every year I start a new notebook of poetry on Jan. 1. At the end of that year, I have a variety of poems, and it’s interesting to see what, if any, patterns emerge. That’s where I am now, considering. But, upon seeing how SATURDAY NIGHTS AT THE CRYSTAL BALL has touched readers in its universality, I’m definitely striving to do better with that in all my work. I was aware of the importance of that, of course, but the deep response to this book really opened my eyes to the beauty of it. I think that’s the main change in my writing. Last year’s collection of work shows that a new chapbook, should I choose to do it, could be about some very difficult things to write about in the relationship area. I’m still wondering why and if I should consider putting that out there. But then, why do any of us write, if not to be read? To share where we’ve been, what it was like, and how we got back, (if we did). I don’t know the answer, but the words seem to be leading me back out there.
WASHING MY MOTHER’S BACK
My mother does not revel
in excess pleasure.
She sleeps in a narrow bed.
Her food is sparse
she drinks no wine.
her body is honed
of every excess inch or process
yet I am surprised by sudden joy
rippling beneath my hands
over the tender bow of neck
down the white-lathered curve of spine
into that naked place
where pleasures live
and swans sing
their final song.
Take the reader through this poem…washing your mother’s back…
I think it happens to many of us—that the child becomes the parent, and that is heartbreaking. We don’t want to be the parent, we still need our parents. The poem first came to me, as I was helping my mother to bathe. She was very weak, recovering from a heart attack, and all defenses were gone. She sat in the tub, and her tender back was bowed, her head bent, as I lathered the white soapsuds over her. The image of a swan came vividly to mind, which is, of course, in the last two lines, not the first.
I certainly wasn’t thinking of a poem at that moment, but the image stayed with me. I don’t remember how much time passed before the poem was actually written. My mother recovered, and was back to her sturdy, no-nonsense self, but I could not forget her vulnerability in that time and the contrast between those two selves. Very few of us want to think about, let alone write about, the sexual side of our parents, yet I think I wanted to explore this idea—that there is this place in all of us, no matter how old, where memory and sensuality still reside. I wanted to show the beauty of that, for my own approaching years, as well. Since it was my mother I was writing about, I still needed to maintain that distance and respect. So the swan image seemed right–pure and beautiful–yet also sexual.
In writing this poem, using this image that still lingered in some corner of my mind, I came to understand that it was honoring that place in my mother/child, that this place exists in all of us, and it seemed that no further words were needed.
Review: Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball
by Ralph Murre
There’s a new book on the shelf that I reserve for the fine work of my friends over at Cross + Roads Press. Not that I expect Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball to spend much time on the shelf. Far too much good material to set it aside for long.
Poet Sharon Auberle, on the surface, tells the story of her mother’s last days on this earth; that of a woman who danced her way through an uneasy life. Anyone who’s ever lost a parent, or ever will, can benefit from the reading. Just beneath the surface, the writer finds other tales about to finally break into daylight: the story of a father who left early, in a time when that was the exception; the subsequent effects on the lives and loves of the author and her mother; the perhaps too quickly passed judgments all around; all told in the voice of an accomplished artist of the written word, and through it all, there is the dance. In “Spring Came Late That Year”, we read:
the night Edward left
her baby girl
about the kitchen
their mingled tears
bouncing off windows
like the freezing rain
falling that night
and later, in Legacy:
What my mother left me
was not dancing shoes
or diamond rings
or bad luck with men
it was the way she stood
barely reaching my shoulder
on days when life
bends most people low
and that quickstep of hers
to music only she could imagine
Sharon Auberle is storyteller enough to find and relate what is unique in her life. She is poet enough to show us what is universal. She has deftly tackled subject matter that in lesser hands could have been maudlin, even trite — but has triumphed in a way that elevates us. Her luck in collaborating with editor/publisher Norbert Blei assured an elegant book to stand beside the thirty others from his press. Blei’s decision to reproduce pages from the author’s journal, written in the days immediately preceding her mother’s demise, was a brilliant one, giving us a very palpable connection to the writer in a time of vulnerability juxtaposed with great strength.
Much more on Sharon Auberle can be found on her website. Just click on Mimi’s Golightly Cafe