MJ Werthman White’s poems have appeared in The English Journal, The Main Street Rag, and on the website of The Poetry Project: Poetry and Art from Ireland. Some have been anthologized in From the Tower. In 2006 she was awarded the Paul Laurence Dunbar Poetry Prize, and, in 2012, the Antioch Writers’ Workshop’s Judson Jerome Poetry Prize. A retired teacher, she lives in Xenia, Ohio with her husband and the good dog, Nikki. When not writing poetry, she paints watercolors. Her favorite subjects are dogs, especially mutts. This is her first book of poetry.
As Mary Jo White’s long-awaited book of poems, How the Universe Says Yes to Me, shows, she is only capable of writing good poems. Her best work is comparable to such brilliant poets as Amy Clampitt and Mona Van Duyn, combining consummate craft with deep insights gleaned from a long life well-lived. Her poems are rich in lush and suggestive language as well as sophisticated, making reading her work richly rewarding. ~Gary Pacernick, author of The Jewish Poems
Mary Jo Werthman White invites you into her universe, her house, where the wiring is faulty, but the lights are still on. Despite the wet dog scratching at the door, she fills her house with irony and mischief. Inside, you will meet elephants, hawks, and a bat that looks like a feral angel. But first, “Come in, come out of the cold.” You’ll love the dog, and these poems, which are cheerful, wise, and resolute. ~Cathryn Essinger, author of My Dog Does Not Read Plato
While reading MJ Werthman White’s How the Universe Says Yes to Me, I found myself wanting to open up my front door and shout out all the great lines to that universe, or, at least, to my neighbors. These tight, sharp, and often hilarious poems find a fresh approach to subjects that in the hands of less talented writers lend themselves to cliché. Wherever she turns her sharp eye, she creates illumination and wonder. ~Jim Daniels, author of Rowing Inland
Ten o’clock, already eighty degrees, and there are four
quarts of overripe strawberries from the farmers’
market, destined for jam, leaking
juice onto the seat beside me;
I take a shortcut, turning right onto Hawkins Road,
where today cows are out in the pasture
with their calves. Berries be damned,
I stop the car and walk over to the fence.
The mothers, up to their matronly hips in cool muddy water,
are congregated in the wallow. Their babies born in March,
toddlers now, are scattered throughout the tall grass,
napping in the warm sun on the hillside:
they are white and brown spotted wildflowers
dropped from heaven. I want to declare Ohio a Hindu state,
let these little ones grow up wandering the streets and byways,
revered, free, brass bells tink-tinking as they placidly snarl traffic
and children run out to place woven crowns of phlox
and purple salvia, Queen Anne’s lace and variegated ivy
on their sacred shaggy heads, twining the garlands carefully
with their small hands round and round the dangerous horns
as the blessed ones moo.
Do angels argue
all wanting the assignments
they know invariably cause no end
of trouble, the interesting ones
who’ll curse thrillingly,
ignore the rules
and commit mortal sins with impunity,
drink too much and start fights
on the pitted blacktop of rain-washed parking lots
under the glare of sodium lights?
Do they then catch themselves
saying oh, shit!
and swiping smokes
from a stray pack, lighting up
as they sit, feathers askew,
on the running board
of a rusty Winnebago with two Dobermans,
watching their bad boy
toss back a couple cold ones
with his miscreant buddies?
Do they grow to love
the potatopotato snarl of a Harley
and suffer sympathetic hangovers
the morning after
standing in front of the bathroom mirror
and drinking glass after glass of cold water,
studying the dark circles under their angelic eyes,
the dried blood crusting the scrape on a cheek
where it met the pavement the night before?
I can’t hear you.
You want what? Oh, please.
Now? Okay, maybe next week?
Is never soon enough for you?
Did you not hear me?
Give it up.
Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.
It’s not what you think.
Oh, all right, just this once.
But you won’t like it.
I had a great time.
I’ll call you.
I’m happy to see you.
I’m happy for you.
You’ve made me so happy.
You look great.
No, it doesn’t make you look fat.
My family really likes you.
I don’t mind.
I’m happy to do it.
I’m sorry I forgot your birthday,
No, I didn’t eat it,
break it, do it.
It wasn’t me.
I didn’t lose it.
You must have misplaced it.
I can’t. I won’t.
I didn’t get your message.
I was at my sister’s.
Yes, all night.
No, I’m not bored.
Yes, I love you.
No, I never loved you.
I hate you.
I don’t care.
It’s not you; it’s me.