There is an expression that you are the place you come from. This is especially true of Ida Stewart and her poignant outpourings of home, heart and homily, as collected in her first book of poetry, Gloss (Perugia Press, 2011)
It is also true that you are the way in which you say it.
Gloss is a Greek word for “tongue” or “language.” Reading Gloss we understand a woman honing a new way of saying what she means or comprehends.
Stewart is from West Virginia, home of the Appalachian Mountains, and the mountaintop is a real presence, punctuating the collection with a recurring appearance:
The mountaintop solemnly
The mountaintop as expression or choking on her own words
The mountaintop as a magician falling for her own trick
The mountaintop unmoored
The mountaintop sends a postcard from The Breaks Interstate Park
The mountaintop as is
The mountaintop is mother, activist and counselor, adjuring Stewart to “find her center,” her voice, her alphabet. Her alphabet includes a series of “glossary” poems, in which Stewart explores root words, root causes, building a new kind of vocabulary to discuss her longing homesickness. The mountaintop is under siege, and Stewart defends it with words, with language, with a singsong celebration of all that it is.
The first poem of the collection is “Ginseng,” a wild hymn to the “forest-body, heart and mind.”
You are real and dream and dissolute.
I mean you are a tangle and a song.
Stewart plunges language, the vernacular of the mountain, exploring other iterations of gloss. In the title poem “Gloss,” she deals with the speaking in tongues:
The clamor from the mouth—as in glossolalia—
words untrapped and tumbling: the spirit
into and out of the body from the margins.
In “Bless Out,” gloss is annotation, words in the margin.
The trouble is finding language that tells the truth.
The margins are wide here, and steep;
In West Virginia it rains so hard the ground can feel like it’s literally falling away. In Gloss, Stewart chronicles the slippery washout, the loss, with a breathtaking propulsion of poetic expression. Perhaps she leaves home. Perhaps she leaves a relationship. Perhaps the mountaintop developers win. Perhaps the wildness leaves her. Just a little.
But she knows where she comes from and holds onto the song of it:
I need you like/I need another vowel in my head another/home in this hope-heap of hope upon hope/that becomes me my knoll my knoll-edge/my backbone my hymn-knell to this earth.
Reviewer’s Note: Perugia Press produces a great book of poetry with a high quality look and feel to the book.
Tori Grant Welhouse is a writer and poet from rural Wisconsin. She holds a BA in English from Carroll College (Wisconsin) and an MFA from Antioch University International (London). She has worked in media for the past two decades and is currently at work on a YA novel, as well as a poetry collection. Connect with Tori on her new blog: http://torigrantwelhouse.wordpress.com