"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding watercolor, metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Force in a Fedora--pages of autumn

"My life is stained with wild plums." 
That line from the poem of the same name should let you know who you're meeting.
She is a force in a fedora.
Among my pages this fall was this book, "The Art of Digression--A Fragmented Memoir," by poet, friend, and Oklahoma character Dorothy Alexander.
These are poems and narratives about dirt, loss and love, and survival, told with wit and metaphor about her family and friends and Oklahoma people.
Dorothy is in her 80s, short, spirited and always wears a fedora, usually red.
She is a voice for the poor, the hard-working and the different who are usually ignored in our state, first as an attorney and now as a poet and publisher. 
 She says this is a book of "scraps, orts and  fragments," and from them you can piece together her fascinating life, with themes that touch us all. There's more than a hint of Woody Guthrie in some of her work.
"The west wind  blew them together and filled their pockets with dust and hope."--Wild Plums
"They heard the song of dirt everywhere." --Fractured Earth
"Our family believes that doing the chores is life."--Labor Omnia Vincit
From Western Oklahoma, she grew up in the Depression and withstood discrimination as a female attorney. She's survived sending her son to 'Nam (Read "Will Rogers Airport, 1972,") and his loss to HIV.
Still, she smiles, laughs, writes and speaks with humor and frankness and compassion for ordinary folks. And as one surviving the hard times and loss, she's an unabashed liberal and storyteller. But there are no politics here, just the populist tradition upon which Oklahoma was founded.
From "Work and Memory":
"We have to enlist the art of storytelling,
Weaving narratives of immortality that
lift us beyond the abyss over which the cradle rocks
as we amble along the dimly lit corridors
of existence until our work here is done.
"We have lived to tell the story,
and tell it, we must. Why else are we here?"
 I met her a few years ago at a poetry reading she'd organized, and she became a source for a story on the resurgence of poetry in Oklahoma. Current Oklahoma Poet Laureate Ben Myers credits her with helping him return to where he belongs.
For him, for me, and countless other writers, she is a force in a fedora.
Dorothy and Devey at the Paramount goodbye.
I bought the book at an October  going-away poetry event at Paramount on Film Row in OKC for her and her spouse Devey Napier. The place was packed with people she'd helped and influenced, saying goodbye to them as they move to Santa Fe. 
There is joy in the book, combined with an overriding sense of mortality (Read "My Mother Bites the Big Apple"). These balance the sad ones.
One of my favorites is "Lament" for a deceased nephew.  This reminds me of  Job being questioned by God--it's literature. An excerpt:
What say the waves,
the water,
the wind,
the loons?
Do they know sorrow?
Do they know how
the earth split open
and swallowed up the joy?
Does the eagle know who was taken?
Do the animals of the woods mourn?

If you have any Oklahoma connections with rural life, with working people, with everyday life,   with growing up and growing old, you will find yourself or family or friends in these pages. 
I met her because of my friendship with Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, another Oklahoma poet-publisher I've been pleased to read and review. As I get older, I'm more and more enriched and amazed at the talent and energy--the force--of Oklahoma's resurging poets and other artists. 
You can buy the book at Villagepoet1@yahoo.com. 

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