By Elizabeth Marshall
Cecilia Woloch is an extraordinary poet whose 2015 book, Earth, was the winner of the 2014 Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize.
Woloch has been a poetry mentor to me for approximately 10 years. I heard her read on the anniversary of 9/11 at the Carter Center in Atlanta and cried during her entire reading. Why? Because her poetry was incredibly beautiful; before that day I had never seriously read nor really liked poetry. I started studying with her the next week.
Earth is Cecilia Woloch’s sixth book of poetry. In this collection she writes, according to Terrance Hayes, “with the wonder and resilience that are essential, not only to empathy, but to transformation. Woloch weds us to the natural world through language that is both straightforward and particular.” These remarkable poems are hymns and requiems; they are made of “blood mixed with earth.” This poet is a total master of the prose poetry form, an example of which is given below.
There was a tree I had loved and had always loved. Silver willow, I had heard it was called. I called it Grandmother-as-a-Girl. I called it Grandmother-Under-the-Ground. I waded the river beneath its shade; my feet in the cool, shallow water, then lay in the sunlight to listen for her. When the storm crossed the meadow—a sudden darkening; great ships of clouds racing overhead—each leaf of my grandmother’s tree turned its shimmering back to the breeze; each leaf a tongue to the rain, many-tongued. I stood up in the wind and ran through the high grass, as if through a sea of light. Half afraid that the tree would fly, but I turned to look and the tree didn’t budge. Its branches only swayed like the arms of a woman waving good-bye. A woman who’d stood in the doorway, once, of a house that would burn to the ground when she’d gone, shaking the crumbs from her apron for birds. A woman I knew would die too young, earth in her mouth, and keep calling me back. I reached the road with my arms full of wildflowers, weeds, one twig I’d snapped from a branch. All this I saved for an altar, a grave. Drenched in the sky—gray, then silver, then green.
Cecilia Woloch’s book Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem has been published in English, French, and Polish and adapted for multi-media performances in the US and Europe. She has taught poetry in Istanbul for the past several summers and served on the faculties of several creative writing programs, including years at the University of Southern California.
Cecilia will present a 90-minute workshop and a three-hour intensive workshop at the 2016 San Miguel Writers’ Conference. Her book will be available in mid-February at La Biblioteca and for sale at the Writers’ Conference.