Midwest Medley
by Patricia Williams
60 poems, 80 pages
Price: $14.00
ISBN: 978-1-947465886
Publisher: Kelsay Books
To order: www.kelsaybooks.com

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

Originally from Illinois, Patricia Williams taught K-12 Art before spending 27 years teaching Design at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. She began writing poetry after retirement in 2013 and now has over 200 poems published in more than fifty journals and anthologies. A chapbook about her travels, ‘The Port Side of Shadows’ was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. In addition to the book reviewed here, which received an award for Outstanding Poetry Book published in 2018 from the Wisconsin Library Association, a third collection, ‘Rejection to Acceptance’ is forthcoming from Kelsay Books this summer. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and for the Pushcart Prize. She currently resides in central Wisconsin and is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

The full title of this collection is ‘Midwest Medley: Places & People, Wild Things & Weather’.

In the opening poem to the section headed ‘Places & People’, love for the American Midwest, viewed by some people as ‘flyover country’ and others who live there as ‘the Heartland’ extends to wonder and awe as it becomes ‘a legendary place of unending acres, / where everybody knows your name. Something of the vastness of the plains and prairies no doubt prompts the mind to dwell on infinity as witnessed in the next poem ‘Magic in Collapsing Stars’ where ‘we occupy a minute place’ in the overall scheme of things. In ‘Neighbourhood Reporter’ it may be ‘hard to sing the mundane, / the ordinary’ but there is plenty of room to live in the moment.

Many of the poems in this collection do just that. There are poems about family that are set in a specific context: a day in Spring spent motoring along County Road C, a day at the Bluegrass festival, fascination on Friday nights with the mechanics of a great aunt’s player piano, the poet’s father listening to country music, a visit to a silver-haired uncle, a picnic in Door County. In all of these poems, Williams brings the past to life as if it is still being lived in the moment. We catch brief glimpses, through character sketches, of close relations: her father’s liking for vintage movies, a favourite aunt who had a fondness for soaps, an uncle who ‘smoked a curved pipe that wouldn’t stay lit' and then that final transformation from childhood to adolescence when ‘we took our last ride of childhood / on a merry-go-round / in the park’.

Humour is present in a number of poems. In ‘Carpe Diem – Seize the Day’ thoughts run wild:

I want to run away and be a Las Vegas showgirl –
glamour, fun, excitement – now that’s an enticement.
What would my in-laws, the book club, the church-ladies say?
Carpe Diem – seize the day.

Sometimes the humour is in the storyline. In ‘Ron’s Wisconsin Winter’ a man who annually plans an escape keeps turning back a mile from home because he cannot bear to leave it and in ‘Door County Picnic’ twirling wine in clear plastic cups can still achieve the same magical effects as if it were being twirled in fine crystal. In ‘There Goes the Neighbourhood’ a human response to a non-human entity leads to an amusing last line.

In the second part of the book, ‘Wild Things & The Weather’ there are poems about the flight trajectory of hummingbirds crossing the Gulf to Yucatan, the migratory patterns of swallows, a peacock on the run, a badger crossing a road under the glare of headlights at midnight and a bear and her cubs last seen near an old farm gate. Several of these poems are not merely descriptive pieces about the animals, but also about the way they interact with the weather or with human beings.

‘Multiple Personality Disorder’ is a surprise take on dandelions that are viewed not only as ‘intruders’ but also as ‘converts from weed to herb’ with medicinal properties. Their change in appearance and the way they are fondly remembered by us all as being dandelion clocks for the purpose of telling the time or making a wish is beautifully captured in the final stanza:

Weedy herbs ripen to gossamer orbs,
beauty ephemeral, under-esteemed –
planted afar by gentle breath
and children’s full-blown wishes.

You can almost see those seeds disperse in the wind when you read this lines.

Finally, the cover photograph finds a match with the poem titled ‘Futile Struggle: Salute to the Rural Mailbox’ where the latest box, ‘only eighteen days out’ has already been dented by the county snowplough hurling its load of snow off the road.

Williams’ familiarity with the American Midwest, its rural traditions and its ordinariness through the changing seasons is a journey not to be missed.


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