Sara Moore Wagner is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors Prize for her book Swan Wife and the 2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize for Hillbilly Madonna. She has published two chapbooks, Tumbling After (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Hooked Through (Five Oaks Press). She won the 2022 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award, and she was a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist. Her work has appeared in Sixth Finch, Beloit Poetry Journal, Waxwing, The Cincinnati Review, Nimrod, Rhino, and others. Wagner's book Lady Wingshot, based on the life of Annie Oakley, won the Blue Lynx Prize and is forthcoming in 2024.
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) was born in 1886 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and she grew up in Upper Darby near Philadelphia. She attended Bryn Mawr and the University of Pennsylvania. H.D. published numerous books, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, essays, and translations. The publication of her collected and selected poetry helped to establish her as a major poet of the 20th century. H.D.’s work is revered by countless writers and critics, and she’s often thought of as a poet's poet and one of the key figures of the Imagist movement. She died in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1961.
Sara Moore Wagner
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Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today, we’ll hear four poems read by the poet Sara Moore Wagner. The first three poems, “Purity Test,” “Captivity Narrative,” and “Legend Says,” are from Wagner’s book Hillbilly Madonna, which was published by Driftwood Press last year. The fourth poem Wagner will read is “Leda,” written by H.D. and published in 1919.Sara Moore Wagner:
One day the world will ask
you to walk through the bees
to see if you are ready or clean
enough to serve, girls
that you are, in all white down
an aisle with the buzz around
or inside you. And maybe like
me you’ll want to lay down
in the soil: lion, well fed,
let the bees hive your torso—
consider the wax, the candle,
the flame—how holy it is, how
important, as pure
as the honeybee,
virginal drone—like the work
of Our Lady, heavenly
Mother, blessed with split,
and implantation of our Lord,
with the quiet furnish. Consider the wick
of the candle, how it rests inside
the body, how it’s lit and destroys
everything. You will build it just
so they can wear it down.
In the middle of the day, the vultures crown
the lake above where you lie
on the shoreline, your skirt knit full
of sugar ants, the sweet of your skin
seeping into the dry clover.
You could almost be the old cow
our grandfather pushed
into the creek bed, released
like a bluegill. Found later, split
open, ribs like fingers. And didn’t you know
you were this—unidentifiable
figure, redolent as meat, pickled
in your own age, the salt of every
meal expelled into droplets.
It’s the season for it, though,
for lying still in a meadow
while the clouds and birds festoon
the sky, so that anyone could just
imagine it being made for—being made in
the image of—where there might
be a pasture beyond this, full
of honeysuckle, where nothing tracks
your slow progress into sleep, nothing
scurries over your arms so small
and dark—invisible world now
suddenly open as a mouth or palm.
Here you are: almost to the molar.
Ripe. Isn’t the land supposed to be
here for you, to carry you home
as your feet do your body, little
by little: Plodding and smacking
across every stone until: Doorway
or something else, it never matters
how you get out, only that you
Our first ghost came from the old railway tunnel, tall as pokeweed she’d glide and sing the songs our mothers sang, ballads like “Swing and Turn Jubilee.” It’s all out on the old railroad, all out on the sea. Sing and sew the road like a spider, she’d weave back and forth over the tracks until it was like the wind took them or the rain, and we’d stand in the tunnel just to hear her or smell her perfume, like White Diamonds, musk and of another time. Stand at the wide mouth of the tunnel to feel her threads around us. In the glint of sunset, at just that time, we’d swear we could see her outlined in all that thread and dust, a web of her in the canopy of oak and walnut. We’d paint her in the tunnel with clay from the creek, and then spray paint her tall or shorter, naked or corseted; we’d make up different stories of how she died. Maybe she jumped and swung from the top of the tunnel, or she wandered drunk out of her mind onto the track when the train was still going. Maybe her husband worked the mine and also never came out, you can see him wandering too, on some nights lantern in hand calling Mary, Mary, Mary. If we hide in the rotting trestle, we can see them both some nights call us into the water black as coal. We keep going into the water. Watch us fall over and over: fall and disappear, fall and fade.
"Leda" by H.D.
Where the slow river
meets the tide,
a red swan lifts red wings
and darker beak,
and underneath the purple down
of his soft breast
uncurls his coral feet.
Through the deep purple
of the dying heat
of sun and mist,
the level ray of sun-beam
the lily with dark breast,
and flecked with richer gold
its golden crest.
Where the slow lifting
of the tide,
floats into the river
and slowly drifts
among the reeds,
and lifts the yellow flags,
where tide and river meet.
Ah kingly kiss—
no more regret
nor old deep memories
to mar the bliss;
where the low sedge is thick,
the gold day-lily
outspreads and rests
beneath soft fluttering
of red swan wings
and the warm quivering
of the red swan’s breast.Alan May:
You just heard Sara Moore Wagner read her poems “Purity Test,” “Captivity Narrative,” and “Legend Says.” She followed by reading “Leda” by H.D. Wagner was kind enough to record these poems for us at her home in West Chester, Ohio. Sara Moore Wagner is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors Prize for her book Swan Wife, and the 2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize for Hillbilly Madonna. Her book Lady Wingshot, based on the life of Annie Oakley, won the Blue Lynx Prize and is forthcoming in 2024. She has won the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and she is a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist. Her work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Waxwing, The Cincinnati Review, Nimrod, Rhino, and others. Hilda Doolittle, who wrote under the pen name H.D., was born in 1886 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and she grew up in Upper Darby near Philadelphia. She attended Bryn Mawr, where she was a classmate of Marianne Moore, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she became friends with Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. H.D. published numerous books, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, essays, and translations. The publication of her collected and selected poetry helped to establish her as a major poet of the 20th century. H.D.’s work is revered by countless writers and critics, and she’s often thought of as a poets’ poet. She died in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1961. You can find books by Sara Moore Wagner and H.D. in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.