Thoughts on a Couple of Veronica Patterson’s Poems

Written by Renee Ruderman
You should know that living in our midst, here in Colorado, is the poet Veronica Patterson, whose words touch my heartstrings. Her poems gentle the anxieties, the general angst I often feel about our existence. How do her poems do this?
Let me give you a taste of her verbal architecture and the feelings they elicit for me from her book Thresh and Hold, a 2009 winner of the Gell Poetry Prize, a publication of Big Pencil Press, Rochester, NY. I first turned to part III of this book, and found what I thought was an ekphrastic poem about Monet’s famous ponds and water lilies. I had written a Monet poem long ago, so I thought I’d start with this one, “Seine Backwater at Giverny in a Mist, 1897.” The first of three stanzas contains the line, “…some pigment/ from the third day of the world thins/ or thickens here.” I feel the movement of the paints, the music of the oils, and the allusion to God’s creation of light and dark trills toward the sacred. And I sense how carefully this poet is observing not only Monet’s brilliant brushstrokes, but her protean imagination.
The second stanza calls out Monet’s “lucky life,” that he could float among “(five swans and the moon framed/lifting)…” Ahhh! Until the third stanza. Then Patterson’s words, although they pun on Monet’s “eyes clouding” and “brush…leafing,” expose the Monet whose colors are such “that no black, with all its history,/could enter.” What a respite. And here the poem ends. I want to drift there with the poem and the painting a long while.
For the next poem in part III, “Natural History,” with the subtitle “after seeing the tarsier,” I had to Google “tarsier.” Patterson captures the animal’s eye “a disk of onyx” and paws, “five inches of cling” precisely.
After this imagery, and beginning the third and final stanza, I feel apprehension — “You look caught, in shock…” she writes, addressing the tarsier itself. It’s as if the poet has described and researched the creature enough and now must give it personal dignity. The tarsier seems “the last remaining witness…”to what we might assume is the world’s end. But then Patterson asks a question that pivots the poem, “Would a soul be Thoreau’s ‘bright invisible green’/or is it more like you — [the tarsier] /peering into the dark of what’s left?” I love the balance in the allusion to Thoreau’s generally upbeat essay, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” and that big-eyed tarsier’s stare into a bleak future.
These two poems from Thresh and Hold, with an introduction by poet Lola Haskins, represent only a tiny room of Veronica Patterson’s poetry cathedral. Inside you can find her recent book & it had rained (CW Books, 2013,) which contains many prose poems, as well as her prize-winning earlier work Swan, What Shores? (NYU Press Poetry Prize, 2000).
I urge you to enter these spaces with open heart and an upward-facing gaze.

About Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver.
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