Common Ground
by Kathy Lohrum Cotton
75 Poems ~ 103 Pages
Price: $12.00
Format: 6 3/4” x 9 5/8” ~ Perfect Bound
Publisher: Deep Well Poetry
ISBN: 97986111359884
To Order:

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

As I write this review (late April) President Biden has just completed
his first address to a joint session of Congress. Senator Tim Scott has
given the Republican rejoinder. Listening to both men recalled
poet Kathy Lohrum Cotton’s latest collection, Common Ground.
Whether you believe in Providence, Fate, Coincidence or just plain
Randomness, you must admit these ducks fell nicely into a neat row.
It seems that the most dominant theme in American life is healing divisions
and finding “common ground,” even though defining exactly what that is,
remains elusive.

Enter Kathy Cotton, stage left. With quiet assurance and ripened poetic skills,
Cotton offers a collection of poems which bear directly on what many are seeking.
Remarkably, these poems were written “prior” to the advent of Covid-19. Which
is to say that her theme is timeless and does not need a worldwide pandemic to
justify its existence.

An epigraph by no less a luminary than Walt Whitman, sets the tone: “Every atom
belonging to me as good belongs to you.” It is the gift of language that humans
alone possess and share. Appropriately, the poem “Finding Common Ground,”
opens the door to Cotton’s quest:

       Before the extravagant feast,
       the flowing wine of words,

       let me break bread
       at the table of

       a neighbor starving
       on broth-thin bromides,

       elders who chew
       old shibboleth scraps,

       the child choking down
       force-fed fear.

I got the feeling early-on that this poem represents the poet’s life. Helping a person
in need is more important that just setting words down on a page. Only then:

       let my pen touch
       the waiting page,

       let the ink’s dark nectar
       spill out

       every ripened syllable
       of words worth sharing.

Stylistically, Cotton does something I’ve never seen before. At the end of many of her
poems, she adds key words in a delicate light-face font; subtly highlighting a theme she
wants readers to consider.

The volume is organized in three sections: “Quiet Words,” “Shared Words,” and “Last Words.”

In an age of loud talk, street and gun violence, and folks insisting that it’s My way or the
Cotton’s wisdom is like a warm cup of Chamomile tea slowly sipped.

In my youth I recall how the evenings took on a unique fragrance after a soft rain, Cotton
took me back in her poem “The Scent of Rain,” where her old Lithuanian neighbor:

       who stands in rain-spattered pajamas,

       breathing, just slow-breathing
       in the middle of his wire-fenced yard—

       This cloudburst soaking
       his drought-brown garden brought

       him from his bed, quick like a child,
       wordless with wonder at the scent of rain.

While Cotton writes primarily in verse libre, her skill in formal verse is evident in
the villanelle, “Words of Peace”:

       There is sweet symmetry in words of peace,
       as both the mind and heart communicate—
       a balance of withholding and release

       through conversation shared: the centerpiece
       of knowing when to speak and when to wait.
       There is sweet symmetry in words of peace,

       not toppled into dogma or caprice.
       It chooses not to flatter or berate,
       but balances withholding and release

       to find a common ground where conflicts cease
       to rage alone, a place where pain abates.
       There is sweet symmetry in words of peace:

       both hope and understanding can increase
       when empathy is speaking’s gentle mate.
       It balances withholding and release:

       a spoken and unspoken masterpiece—
       consideration, rather than debate.
       There is sweet symmetry in words of peace,
       a balance of withholding and release.

Titles in Part I, entice me to reconsider my life perspectives, titles such as: “Quiet Friend,”
“Gift of Your Silence-Keeping, “Inner Balance,” and “Slow Thaw,” hang like medals
on a service-member’s coat; commendations won on the battlefield of life.

Moving into Part II, “Shared Words,” I found myself focused on “The Sweetness of Doing
Nothing.” This poem explores the tension between “busyness” as a virtue and Dolce far niente.
(Translated in the title). This shared word is one your reviewer needs to hear. Perhaps I
should emulate the poem’s protagonist and, “stretch full length on a Montana stone.” In this
section shared words become “strands of simple kindness, a treasure to pass down.”

I recall special evenings tiptoeing into my children’s rooms to read stories and say their prayers.
The ease of those moments, the quietude of being with them, things we shared before clicking
off the lights, returned to me as I entered Part III, “Last Words.”

I lingered long with “Sweet Cluster” where:

       I fell asleep to the lullaby
       of a family’s last words
       of the day, to soft sounds
       of Mother and Father kissing.

As the section title suggests, the poet treats the subject of loss and death. Cotton does so with
impressive tenderness and restraint. Many of these poems could be read as testimonies to
loved ones who have passed on. While platitudes often accompany loss and death, the poet’s
treatment is fresh and original. She remembers her brother, the “only shaved face in a little
house crammed with petticoats.” Ed was, “the last of all who knew me from my beginning.”

In “The Last of Life,” death is compared to:

       Winter’s longing to shed
       the weight of every last leaf,
       to stand proudly stripped,
       wind-whipped to the marrow,
       baring misshapen limb and scar.

       The “welcome home”
       rivers sing to scattered streams
       and oceans whisper
       to heavy rainclouds.

       The ripple
       of a zephyr’s soft breath
       across ripened fields.

       So, this
       is how it feels
       to love the last of life.

Indeed, Kathy Lohrum Cotton’s Common Ground, closes with a blessing I wish for everyone
who buys this superb volume:

       Leave something
       of sweetness and substance
       in the mouth of the world.

       —Anna Belle Kaufman, “Cold Solace”

Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]