Full-Throated Bells – Notes on the Poetry of Barbara Maat

maat ap image 1{One Accidental Poet masthead; Google image}

Barbara Maat is a relatively new acquaintance of mine; I wish it were not so, in the way I’m certain you understand. She is a poet, and, in my opinion, a very fine one. Too, I have gotten to know her a bit through her Facebook site, The Accidental Poet, so, more’s the pity (for me, anyway) that I have not known her and of her until lately. I am not really a poetry critic, but am loathe to repeat the cliche, “I just know what I like.” Perhaps the “truth” lies somewhere in between, or both are true. My goal here is simple: I’d like to introduce you to the work of a poet I greatly admire. I have given Barbara’s work a lot of thought. If I include everything positive, the article will not end; if there’s one thing I could say that’s in any way negative, it would be this: the poetry’s too perfect. Of course, too perfect is not a logical phrase, so allow me to say, rather, that it is too perfect for me not to be envious. However, art is about capturing the world, not about competition; let us not, however, begin to discuss how the real world works.

Here’s what Barbara wrote about starting The Accidental Poet site (in her characteristic manner, with lower-case “i” ‘s, a kind of humility – or at worst, a shortcut). These are excerpts.

“When i began the group, it was myself only. i needed a place to speak out loud, imagining that someone somewhere was listening. i never had aspirations to poetry … i was baptized by pain and transcendent longing into my utterances. hence the accidental appellation…it has occurred to me that it may have fit me to a “t”, but that it is an enigma for the group it has become….but then a revelation. each of us i would wager can give voice to a mysterious force that pervades the work we create. what we mean to tell, to paint, to say and the honest labor of our souls combine to give us a poem, but something larger happens. a conduit opens and delicate connections form. a subtle current arcs between ourselves and some elusive divinity. dimensions of meaning and intent convolute and take on depths we did not engineer except by our willingness to participate, both as writer and as witness. we are touched. this, i believe, is the true fire, the “accident” we bear as our own.”

maat bodice of comets “Luna,” Nadja Jovanovic

Bodice of Comets

there are blues that only van gogh dreams
torn as he was by the sun;
nightblues, blues that inhabit flame
and stream from the wings of moths.

the moon in her remnant gravity
has come to claim a kiss.
“my fallen angel” she sighs,
and i wear the raiment of her cobalt breath.

she sows a bodice of comets,
ruby drupes in molten gold
that flare across my breast

awakening the skeletal relics
from the cradle of their radium sleeps
to gather jewels from that flamefield
for their reliquary keeps.

my shadow, we wingéd two,
my dark and revenant wing,
turns its back to me
it has desires of its own.

There is much I could say about this poem. I could speak of its music, its amazing imagery, lovely vocabulary, its polish, and its frank beauty. But it would be better for readers simply to re-read the poem. Here is another:

maat van gogh kingfisher “Kingfisher” by Van Gogh

salve nos

there is green water,
an arid lace of late grass,
and a kingfisher hunting violet air.

your voice is a hole in the sun,
a fever on bright wind,
burning a blind spot in the afternoon.

salve nos,
salve nos
we sing into the unknown,
full-throated bells with tongues of stone.

i wake among the swallows,
stained of red ginger and rainseed.
i move toward your mouth,
toward the mark your eyes have left on me.

Is it just I? I get a shiver when I read Maat’s poetry. There is such a finesse, a longing, a delicate unsullied melancholy balanced by hope, and again, there is music, music, music. If you or I were to parse, to dig, to perform laborious, egregious, or even delightful phd (sic) maneuvers on this work, we would find all kinds of poetic device deftly embedded – as in the old cliche of the famous ballerina who makes it all look so effortless. And I know exactly what that means, because I used to accompany the Atlanta Ballet. Maat’s muscles are no less trained than theirs, though she will exclaim, “but I’m just a country gal from Texas!” Well, that may be, but there is such a thing as talent, study, drive – and  love. Let us not forget love – of the written word. Perhaps “devotion” is a better term.

The following poem is a departure from what I usually read of Barbara’s work (this is not to say that her poems are repetitive!)… at the end of this one, I shall quote her on the poem’s meaning, which I in part grasped, but not fully.

children of the corn

maat children of the corn_edited-1 Nadja Jovanovic

we are waiting in the swol’n fields,
we have no mouths to cry.
we make our way in lunar darks
through memories of the burning,
rising like quiet rabbits in rank smoke.

silence sings a song of legends
like a bell in eyeless sky,
lullaby of genome fusions,
red-sun wastesands,
and the foul contagions
of late rain.

we are santo-chromo-soma,
24-D is he
and we are three and we are altogether
save our brethren of the vault.

we are progeny of the unplanted mother
we are the children of your corn,
ecce homo futuris,
waiting in the swol’n fields
for you to take us home.

{excerpted quotes}

“children of the corn is an ekphrastic for that art. It is about a sere future and generations hence that have mutated into groupmind children who are blind and do not reproduce….they are clones not born of a mother, (who)…have vague memories, cellular memories of the apocalyptic days of old earth. The genetic manipulations run in their genes. The fields of gmo were burned by the angry dissenters and there was a wasteland of a dying world. They are orphaned and “we” have passed on. They are still our children, innocent monstrous children, children of our ill choices. Simply put,  our arrogance in debauching the natural order of the world genetically (and in all the ways we do) has left a legacy of mutated children, blind, orphaned, with memories of the decimation that swept like a plague across the planet. They are still our children … a warning that what we do now creates the future they inhabit …anti GMO all the way.” (caps added)

Regarding the below: can a poem that repeats a word at least five times succeed? You be the judge. My answer: it’s here.

rain has opened the gardenias

rain has opened the gardenias,
their paleness scents the stormblue air.

sundogs doze on the hem of evening,
one eye open;  copper sequins cooling
on skystained plum, burnished dusk
and a spilled day’s wine.

rain has opened the drunken sky.
ecstatic stars leap and fall.

moonlight moves through the forest
igniting all the trembling pools,
stately trailing her slow shadow
in the shape of a great waterbird in flight.

moonlight moves through the forest.
distant lightning excites the edge of night.

i remember bells and the cantos of stars.
i share the long memory of cells.
i remember your hands,
those troubled doves,
hovering like prayer,
their paleness lighting the scented air,

opening me
like rain,
like rain,
like rain and gardenias.

 green bead

 maat green bead image Google image

how like the plucked string-
the green bead, orphan of morning rain
slides the shadowed tarot leaf and


a round and perfect sound
into the pool of afternoon.

the moist silence, broken open
holds the fretted cricket –


to tune and comb his qüiro wings

In a recent non-rare discussion with myself of Important Matters, it occurred to me (and myself) that some poets approach their poetry as masters of other art forms: some paint, others compose; some dance, some are sculptors or puppeteers, some, architects, magicians, weavers, and so forth. In my opinion, Maat’s poems are those of a painter, composer, dancer and sculptor. I have no idea how much she edits, no idea how long each poem gestates, am witness to the final splendor only (only!). Here are two more poems I quite admire (apologies on the formatting; I wish to publish this today, and will edit in the near future). If you have any feedback on Barbara’s work, please comment. And thank you for perusing this article, dear readers. I have not delved in to the work, because it could take months to come up for air. I’m sequestering air, squirreling it away, for future sighs of admiration, and for the energy to write something – anything – inspired by these works, which might be even a few steps, or notes, approaching such glorious creation.

he is reading that poem
the one about the flight attendant
fallen from her plane,
arranging her skirt
as midwestern wheatfields
race madly toward the moon.

from the river, shards of stars
cast moving nets across his face.
the evening blossoms lovers
adrift with red umbrellas,
eyes only for the other.

i watch the sky for meteoric women.
i watch the sky for rain.

maat ap image 3

I’ll close with the following. I am strongly reminded of Robinson Jeffers when I read it. Those of you who know me understand that this is highest praise. Here are two excerpts from Jeffers: (“Compensation” and “Continent’s End, respectively): “…or when the long night tides/Sigh blindly from the sand dune backward driven…” and “At the equinox when the earth was veiled in a late rain,/wreathed with wet poppies, waiting spring…”

maat pic monica boedel Monika Bloedel

the redness of your blossoms arrests me

among leaves
and the shadows of leaves
the sleek wet snake of the river disgorges
flicking sunlight
hissing the glistened stones
stairstepping to the sea.

sparrowhawks laugh
scrye down their secret names on us
knowing they are magicians of the morning
for men have all but forgotten their way.

among the lichen yellow moments
at three green strokes past your hour of blue
voices come through you
to paint the afternoon.

no froth of warring stars,
no corrosive desire in the purpled curves of dusk
no worn griefs flayed on the thorns of a day

just hayblown warmth, fragrant
cicada drowse and flare
the flaming of red flowers
burning the fields down to the river
to quench
their longing for the sea.

barbara maat by andrew bellon  The poet, photograph by Andrew Bellon


 Posted by Julianza Shavin

4 thoughts on “Full-Throated Bells – Notes on the Poetry of Barbara Maat

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