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At the County Fair
By: Ellaraine Lockie
63 Pages / 34 Poems
P.O. Box 238
Tehama, CA 96090
Review/Interview By: Charles P. Ries
This Review First Appeared In: Chiron Review
Ellaraine Lockie once again walks the tight rope between poetry that is accessible and ethereal - poetry that is at once plain spoken and musical. The title for her most recent collection of poetry is deceptively colloquial, Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, but her poems travel a varied world taking us far beyond the confines of the county fair. She uses a variety of technique and style to take us with her. As in her past work, she tiptoes along the high-wire that can separate the work of the academically trained and the self-taught writers.
In her poem, “Lost Legacy,” we find her wonderful ability to use alliteration with good effect. Moving us gently forward as she reflects on her beloved Montana, “Houses a hundred years old / with Alzheimer’s / Abandoned in isolation wards / on western prairies // Where homesteads were settled / on small town sanity brinks / Mine long ago lost / to profit margins / on minimal Montana farm // Hospice where I come to heal / from city assaults / My heart heavier / than the hard timber / turned driftwood soft.”
Lockie has received first place prizes for each poem in this collection, and as Lockie explains in her essay at the conclusion of the book, “And yes, some received blue ribbons at county fairs.” She goes on to say, “When I began writing poetry, naturally I thrilled to the idea of poetry contests. Not only are they fun and suspenseful, but placing in them gives credibility to cover-letters, pays money prizes or other honorariums and sometimes provides public reading opportunities.” So in a sense Blue Ribbons at the County Fair is sort of an Ellaraine Lockie Greatest Hits Collection. I especially enjoyed her poems focusing on the topic of modern romance – of one sort or another, such as in “The Other Woman”: “She shows signs of jealousy / That slight smart of suspicion / Of course she would know / How a woman / can move in on a man / Hang her underwear / over his philandering lines / Being a practiced poacher herself / An artist in sculpting seduction”. And again in, “Silk Dreams”: “I told you ahead of time / this affair / if it happened / wouldn’t be casual / But here it is a few hours old / Already wearing sneakers / and a wrinkled tee shirt / You say you will pass my way / when time permits / I say the way has potholes / that require attention / Mapped maintenance.” “Defying Gravity” also covers this eternal landscape with exceptional skill.
Lockie told me about her jump into poetry, “I previously had written in other genres (and still do)--nonfiction, magazine articles and children’s picture books. Nine years ago I had not read a poem since high school, except for the occasional one I came across in children’s literature. I thought I hated poetry; I thought it had to rhyme. Then one day an old friend sent me some of his poems and wanted my opinion. I liked them, but they didn’t rhyme. So I called my children’s writing mentors for advice. When they told me about free verse, I became obsessed with writing it and with getting it published. This happened at a tough time in my life, and poetry became my salvation. I just jumped in and started writing like crazy, unaware of what other poets were writing. I entered the poems in contests before submitting to editors, knowing that I needed something in cover letters to entice editors into reading my work carefully.” If she needed verification that she was on the right track, she certainly got it.
What I enjoyed most about this collection is Lockie’s ability to use language beautifully and yet have it remain accessible. I understood her metaphors; I could relate to her stories and pictures. And while her writing was accessible, it remained well developed and carefully composed. There are only a few writers in the independent small press who manage to walk this line and not fall in to the pit of abstraction (Michael Kriesel and Gloria Mindock are certainly two who come to my mind). One wonders if as poets grow and extend themselves that they must inevitably drift further away from the common and push the art form, play with structure and elevate their style of their writing? But it was a joy for me to settle into Lockie’s recent collection and find no extraneous obstacles to my entering her world or her meaning. As Lockie has grown as a poet she has become more elegant about communicating common meaning.
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over two hundred print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory and five books of poetry. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org), Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org) and ESC! . He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org). He is a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes (http://www.visitsheboygan.com/dairyland/).