Marking Time: New and Selected Poems is the second book of poetry by Wisconsin writer Barbara Jordan Bache-Wiig. Her writing is a celebration and an observation of life in the twilight years. Barbara Bache-Wiig wrote her first book of poetry, Lessons in 1997 when she was 75 and now at 82 years of age and in full flower of her craft, gives us this wonderful collection of plain spoken poetry.
Who better to see the possibilities in words than a speech/language pathologist. I loved her poem “Surprise” : Morphology, syntax, grammar indeed / phonemic, semantic, ah-ha! / cognition, attention, comprehension….oh hell / who cares about labels when it’s so hard to talk? // I may sound sane and in many ways am, / but language, dear language, and speech so assumed // where are you when thoughts go astray and words hide-away / and pronouns vary, and names play tag / where, indeed, have you gone when “he” says “she”, / when I really mean them / and sounds gallop like horses or drag like a tugboat / (did I say “pudgeboar?”) / using “glose” for glass, “vile” for file, and “prev, no / pre-up-pre-ped” for prepared.” And she concludes with, “practice comprehension, remember cognition, / and for God’s sake, of course, pay attention.” What more fertile ground is there for a writer than listening to language bent backward on itself.
Barbara told me, “I started writing poetry when I attended in 1991, a conference of the National Association of Poetry Therapy. During one of the workshops, I tried a poem stimulated by the poet/presenter who was pleased with my efforts. I felt that I had found a new voice.” She gives praise to Dr. Phil Zweifel, Professor of English and Associate Dean at UW-Milwaukee, and his regular poetry workshops. “Phil creates a special ambiance that for me was, still is, just right: instructive yet laid back, supportive without pushing.” This made me think about the writing process and the gift of permission and acceptance many writers encounter on the road to publishing.
In 1992 Barbara Bache-Wiig had a stroke in her left temporal lobe. She used this experience and her wonderful skill at bending language to tip this prose poem into a word play. The poem is titled “Slips of Mind”: “Take a half spoon of jelly, and / it’s sweet and tasty / but zap a half spoon gray matter, and / it’s sweet only when I laugh / at what I say, like / I’m going to take my feet off, / or it feared me enough to / throw the lights down, or / throw open the windows, / I laughed when I said / it’s helpier to use a stock broken, and / I telled you / she has good licks, or / go it in, / take yourself some cookies, / or I want some group juice, / and once I even suggested / put the car in the closet / and asked did you lonesome me?” I couldn’t help but consider what would happen to my writing if I lost my ability to speak? In these observations Barbara Bache-Wiig graces us with wit that is poignant, warm and revealing.
She is equally revealing when she turns her attention to aging and its inevitable migration through the body. She does this well in her “Gravity”: “You expect the / drooping breasts / feel helpless about / a rounder / below-the-belt belly / but sagging wrinkles?” And again in “I’m Seven, and….”: “I like to play a game with my Granny. / My finger is a car driving on the back / of her hand that looks like a map / with bumpy, blue roads going / over straight, bony highways. // Sometimes I stop my car at a dull-reddish / spot for a stop sign, and she laughs and says, “Oh, honey, that’s just a little bruise, drive on.” / I drive on right up Granny’s fingers and / thumb and then we both laugh and shake hands.”
She concludes her collection with “Forgive” : “should be / an action word / a thinking word / a work word / an again and / again word /an everyday word and / night word /like taking a shower / reading a book / washing the dishes / writing a poem”
What a wonderful Wisconsin poet. What an encouragement to anyone (no matter their age) to just pick up a pen and write. How fortunate we are that women such as Barbara Jordan Bache-Wiig tell us what they feel and what they see. In her twilight years, with gracious acceptance and humbling tenderness she has written a stunning collection of poems which I will read again, and again, and again.
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His poems, poetry reviews and short stories have appeared in over eighty print and electronic magazines. He has completed work on a novel titled, THE FATHER WE FIND and has begun work on a second novel titled, SEEKER. His work has won numerous awards – most recently he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can download his forth book of poetry, A Perfect Place by going to www.thundersandwich.net/ries/ries.htm and find other samples of his writing by going to http://www.literati.net/Ries/. He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee.