Maureen Ryan Griffin
ISBN: 978-1-59948-504-1, ~136 pages, cover price: $15
ISBN: 978-1-59948-504-1, ~136 pages, cover price: $15
MAUREEN RYAN GRIFFIN has loved words since her Cat in the Hat days. She has taught the art and craft of writing for more than twenty years through Queens University and Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina; the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina; Chautauqua Institution in Western New York, and a wide variety of other venues. She offers individual coaching and critique, as well as an expansive selection of retreats, workshops, and classes, through her business, WordPlay (www.wordplaynow.com).
An award-winning poetry and nonfiction writer, Griffin’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Catalyst, Calyx, Chelsea, Cincinnati Poetry Review, Iodine, Kakalak, Kalliope, The Main Street Rag, moonshine review, Potato Eyes, The Charlotte Observer, and The Texas Review. She is the author of Spinning Words into Gold, a Hands-On Guide to the Craft of Writing, a grief workbook entitled I Will Never Forget You, and two previous collections of poetry, This Scatter of Blossoms and When the Leaves Are in the Water.
A literal chorus emanates from Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong, Maureen Ryan Griffin’s New and Selected Poems, in language that is wonderfully, compulsively precise. Griffin inspects and catalogues the grand and the infinitesimal as through a jeweler’s loupe—parsing, quantifying, enumerating and especially illuminating. There’s not a jot of tedium involved in the tally—for the poet or for the reader—but rather a joy borne out of the sheer expanse of the world Griffin claims not merely for herself, but returns to us transformed. This is a magnanimous, glowing volume.
— Joseph Bathanti, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina
Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong—Maureen Ryan Griffin’s collection of new and selected poems—opens with cicadas, and those cicadas keep singing throughout the book. These exuberant poems find holiness in what we may overlook or refuse to think about too deeply—aging and dying, yes; but also pokeweed, dandelions, stinkbugs, crickets, oak gall, acorns, the first wild strawberry, a mother ironing—all those ten thousand things that make up “the messy, glorious/ noise that is life.”
—Becky Gould Gibson, author of Heading Home (Winner of the 2013 Lena Shull Book Contest)
A lover of the seasons, Maureen Ryan Griffin hunts for all things falling—acorns, the childhood sky, the people we love. Yet nature for her brims with promise, agreeing as she does with Rilke that “everything that happens keeps on being a beginning.” Her cicadas long buried beneath the earth inevitably emerge, shed their exoskeletons, and sing.
— Janice Moore Fuller
What’s with right anyway?
I mean, what’s to love about
a word whose dual meanings
carry us so far astray—
“I take a left here, right?”
“Wrong, it’s a right.”
Ridiculous! And speaking of,
what kind of bloody
bully of a word relegates a full
half of our bodies—from the crown
on down to this little piggy,
from shoulder to ankle,
elbow to knee—to the antithesis
of right? (The coming separation
of the sheep from the goats
spells it out: it’s wrong
to end up on the left
side of the Lord.)
Can’t we blame the word that creates
such a schism
for our willingness
to sacrifice so much
for its sake, our failure to consider
the pugilists’ broken noses, the bodies
on the floor when another dares to challenge
what we’re so sure is right?
Or wrong. Can we blame ourselves
for what’s left?
A story: Once, after a personal growth workshop,
I told my husband what the leader shared
about how, when his wife fusses at him,
he pauses before answering to ask himself:
“Do I want to be right or do I want
to be in love?” Not even a heartbeat later,
in perfect unison, my husband and I blurted,
“I’d rather be right.” And neither of us
was bloody well kidding.
When my griefs sing to me
from the bright throats of thrushes
I sing back.
~ Linda Pastan
Is it the smell of hyacinths in the house
that makes you notice
people falling all around you, falling
for want of words? A boy loses
a father, a boy you knew only once
on a summer evening catching fireflies,
and mostly you remember his face
was dirty…. Still. To lose
a father. You want a word.
But you can’t find one, so
you are silent. Finally
you understand why people turn
their heads away, won’t look
grief in the eye. Now someone you love
is losing a brother and again
the silence reaches up to strangle
the words in your throat. For what
do you know? Is it enough
to listen to Rachmaninov while
you knead bread for her, pat comfort
into the dough? Is it enough
to plant a garden? To teach your son
the word pieris as you show him
their pendulous blossoms, to hear him
love the word, make a litany
of it, affirm over and over,
pieris, pieris, pieris, is is is,
he’d been born
to learn how to sing
Summer sings sweet songs for her supper,
but her golden slippers aren’t for sale—not unless
you happen upon some celestial bargain basement
of goodly delights. There, nearly hidden under
last year’s turquoise silk sky, raspberries ripen, rampant,
as the mourning dove’s plump notes whirr, winged,
into basil-drenched dreams. All this,
and watermelon, too, and fireflies, and the daylilies
from your mother’s last garden, double-headed. Just don’t forget
there are chiggers, and mosquitoes, of course, and that heat
everyone speaks of, muggy, tasting of
mildewed shower shoes, sounding for all the world like
kudzu unfurling in Jackson, Mississippi, where Janis Joplin
might have sung supper songs of her own. I don’t know.
I’ve never been there. I do know freedom’s not
just another word for nothing left to lose, and that you’ll never
find that bargain basement, no matter how long you look.
Listen, ten thousand cicadas can’t be wrong.
Anybody knows larvae never lie, not as long as
persimmons pucker and peaches procrastinate.
Lollygag in your hammock if you must, whenever
the tomatoes lean, but remember
that the persnickety bookie of guilt and doubt
is keeping score. You can’t hide but you can
run. You can steal the chiggers right out from under
the blackberries. You can rob from the raspberries
in bruised homage to the summer afternoon—
the two most beautiful words in the English language,
according to Henry James, whose afternoons
are elsewhere now. Tu connais Uncle Death?
No worries. Aunt Morning will waltz willfully
wanton beyond noon, yea, and onward, well past dusk,
in Sister Summer’s silver slippers, the ones
deep in her closet that she seldom thinks to wear.