Ellen Doré Watson

Ellen Doré Watson’s fifth book of poems, pray me stay eager, just released from Alice James, was cited in The New York Times Book Review’s “New & Noteworthy column. Commending her “drumming heart and hard-driving mind,” Alicia Ostriker declared that the language in this new collection “leaps, dives, soars, ricochets, lurches and reels, fusing the stubbornly instantaneous and the transcendent eternal.” Publishers Weekly notes: “Towards the end of her poem ‘Hermitage’ Watson writes, ‘This is not strictly a story’—and she’s right, it isn’t. These poems are musical mediations on what cannot be narrated, but must be prayed or sung.” She has said that “at some point, serious play with words became for me not just sustenance, but joy.”

Gerald Stern pronounced the poems in Dogged Hearts (Tupelo 2010) “wild, delirious—they go every which way,” and Tony Hoagland praised the how they “batter their way forward, embodiments of the struggle to keep emotionally alive.” In an interview, speaking of the experience of giving voice to the multiplicity of characters in the book, Watson has said “Metaphor is not only were we live and how we feel, but also how we enter the experience of the other—which might be the most crucial part of being human.” Her earlier books include Broken Railings (winner of the Green Lake Chapbook Prize from Owl Creek Press), We Live in Bodies and, winner of the New York/New England Award, Ladder Music (from Alice James Books, 1997 and 2001, respectively), and This Sharpening (Tupelo Press, 2006). Her many journal appearances include American Poetry Review, Tin House, Orion, Field, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, and The New Yorker.

Hailed by Library Journal as one of “24 Poets for the 21st Century,” Watson’s honors include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Grant, a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, Zoland Poetry Fellowship to Vermont Studio Center, and National Endowment Translation Fellowship. Watson is also a noted translator, with over a dozen books from Brazilian Portuguese, including the poems of Brazilian Adélia Prado (The Alphabet in the Park, Wesleyan University Press, and Ex-Voto, Tupelo Press), and also co-translated contemporary Palestinian poetry from the Arabic with Saadi Simawe, most notably in the volume Iraqi Poetry Today (Zephyr Press).

Watson has lived in the Pioneer Valley for more years than she has lived anywhere else. In addition to poetry writing at Smith, she is a core faculty member at the Colrain Manuscript Conference and the Drew University Low-Residency MFA program in Poetry and Translation, and offers a generative writing workshop in Northampton. She also serves as Poetry and Translation editor of The Massachusetts Review. While this marks her 19th and final year as director of the Poetry Center, she will stay on at Smith for several years as the Conkling Visiting Poet.

Poetry Center Readings:

Fall 2000
Fall 2001 – Celebrating the Poetry Center’s 10th Year (with Elizabeth Alexander)
Fall 2006
Fall 2010
Spring 2018

Yours, Lena

Between 6:10 and 6:24 the dream drained like a cup.
But as she unsheathes herself in morning dark, he lingers
as if real, this boy-child burrowed into borrowed warm.
She recalls how a younger self set out at a prance, singing,
but each time as she rounded the curve the gate banged
shut. Whose voice did she erase last night before listening?
Now nothing hammering but the hours. The boy is gone.
She imagines floating across the grass toward barn-smell,
dill makes a dry rain of its seeds. She could pull the sky
close and textured down around her shoulders, but what
a chill shawl it would make. Like bringing miscarriage
into a room. Like finding yourself on the same path again
and there’s that slam, advance echo. Like pain waiting,
already yellow. 6:50. What is there she longs to topple?
Who to wake, what to build? She’ll learn to forgive
the leaf-blower this day and to pray. Bless all who tend
a hurting blossom. And Dear Rash World so far outside
my window, oh fuck, may this third new nub of child live.

From DOGGED HEARTS (Tupelo Press, 2010)

Field Guide to Abstractions

The naturalist says recognition is not seeing; seeing
leaves judgment home, asks questions. Why is grief
a towering cumulus? What are the characteristics
of this or that species of defeat? A doctor who treats

brain injuries watches a woodpecker, asks, why no
head trauma? Learns the tongue serves as shock
absorber and the brain’s not loose like ours. Some
moths disguise themselves as bird shit, bark. Look

at the fish. Look at the fish again. Let’s see if this
works for sanity. Elegance. Choose your abstraction
and observe daily through the seasons, noting change
and pattern. Despair fades to disquiet. Look hard

at humility. Where there’s water, there’s fish, there’s
Osprey. If bitten, determine: by fear or honesty?
Keep calm. Timely administration of the right
serum insures the possibility of recovery. Look again.

From PRAY ME STAY EAGER (Alice James Books, 2018)

April Eclogue

Damned forsythia—ramrod up-thrust intent
on a head start! While we—greedy for color—
haul it into overdrive in overheated houses
and force it to make pretty, and the clump
outside flexes and plots to overtake
the pachysandra, upend the steppingstone.
But so little is all this or that, dead mouse
stiff-crooked in the trap but oh! velvet gray.
The beech tree—guts bored from within, skin
freeze-fissured—a bodybuilder from the waist
up only, is over-stretching its arms, reaching
as if to the next county, as if to buy a few years. 
You say we’re all shameless with it—ongoingness.
I sigh, set my jaw, I mean to green into my wreckage.

From PRAY ME STAY EAGER (Alice James Books, 2018)

Women for the World

She draws crowds or fire. An oak, she towers.
She forewarns, she floors, she’s sieve, she’s oars
—all whirl and brimming—living for the world.
She’s 13, first in her family to say AIDS out loud.
She’s mopping nuclear meltdown at 69. She sun-
screens orphaned elephants’ ears—knows mother
is shade. Thick-armed or reedy, she splits atoms,
invents windshield wipers, white-out. She labors
in the bush the hut the tub the ward. She delivers.
Exponentially. She sisters. She gives us Hospice,
Kevlar, the Mars Rover, the bra. Carriers of water,
keepers of memories or bees. At 10, circumcised,
about to be wed, she spills hot tea in his lap, grows up
to write her memoir from jail—with eyeliner on t.p.
She will not be forbidden the world. Game-changers,
gene-mappers, those who build bridges, who are bridges,
who get the story told. Sharp- or honey-tongued, she
legals, loyals, triages, stops the superhighway. She sings
herself, and everyone. Flecked with paint or pain, knee-
deep in the way out or in. She drives. We women—elected,
reflecting, dissecting, refracting—ignition for the world.

From PRAY ME STAY EAGER (Alice James Books, 2018)
Available as a Broadside