Experience can often be a wearying process. Lori Desrosiers deals with the subject in a mythic way, although the poem’s first line sets the context very directly. After this, she “borrows” the story of an Armenian song and blends it in to suit her theme.
If you conducted a survey today asking random people to quote a line of poetry, the chances are that many would quote something that might be considered romantic. But modern poets themselves, as Desrosiers does here, often play against this sense of poetry and romance being intertwined. There’s a certain going-against-the-expected, too, in how the poet uses the sense of shining. We think of “losing your shine” as a negative thing, but here, I think, the shine suggests that the poem’s speaker has had a difficult experience.
In modern poetry, I think it’s more usual to see experience dealt with in brief moments, rather than dealing with periods of years. The fact that Desrosiers chose the latter lends the poem quite an old-school feel. And maybe that’s appropriate for the long-established practice of marriage in human cultures. But the poet gives us a warning here, a touch of realism to balance the romance. And we all need a bit of both in our lives.
That Pomegranate Shine
Two brides arise from the river, shivering and shining
like pomegranate seeds.
--Words from an Armenian Song
I was the wrong kind of bride,
more sweat than glisten,
more peach than pomegranate.
At twenty-three, in love with marriage,
not the man,
I plunged into rough water,
bringing grandmother’s candlesticks,
mother’s books and two silver trays.
Ten years later, I emerged shivering,
dragging my ragged volumes,
one candlestick and two babies.
On the bank, I shook off the water
Standing with my children,
looking out over the river,
the new brides asked me where
I got that pomegranate shine.
I am a late-bloomer. I went back to school at age fifty for my M.F.A. in poetry at New England College while teaching English Composition locally as an adjunct professor. Before that, I had four other lives, trying to navigate two bad marriages and a subsequent life as a single parent, moving north from New York to Connecticut. For a few years I tried my hand at being a singer-songwriter, writing about twenty-five original songs (I sing and play guitar) and making a CD in 1998. That was a good year for me. I moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts, found work as a teacher and met my husband Gary, who is still with me after eighteen years and I think I may let him stay at least eighteen more. I have two grown daughters and a stepson, and a wonderful two-year-old grandson.
I grew up in New York, in New York City and Westchester County, where I played violin in school. I have a degree in French Literature and one in Education. I am a singer as well, and have performed in musical theater, in choirs, coffee houses and at festivals. I have two published books of poetry, both from Salmon Poetry. The Philosopher’s Daughter (2013) was my first full-length book and is about my parents, my rather eccentric family and my journey through and out of domestic abuse. My father was a professor of Philosophy and died of brain cancer when I was 28, so the book title is for him. The poem is from this book, and is pretty much the story of my first marriage in a nutshell.
My new and second book of poems is Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, (2016) and it is about music, voices, time and memory. It has been a joy to have my book published by Salmon and I have traveled to Ireland twice in the past three years. I read in Ennistymon at the Salmon bookshop and at the Courthouse Gallery there, and also in the Over the Edge series at the Galway Library. I hope to return soon again.
My poems have appeared in numerous anthologies (including Even the Daybreak, Salmon’s 35th anniversary anthology) and in journals such as New Millennium Review, Contemporary American Voices, Best Indie Lit New England, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, The New Verse News, and The Mom Egg. I publish and edit Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry, and teach English Composition and American Literature at Westfield State University and Poetry in the interdisciplinary program of Lesley University’s M.F.A. program.
What can disillusionment teach us?
Certainly we should learn from our mistakes. In this particular poem, awakening to a bad choice in romance results in empowerment as an independent person and single parent. Real recovery is hard. Some of us take longer than others to “shake off the water and breathe.”
Was the poem itself inspired by the lyrics of the Armenian song that you quote? Please tell us a little about the process of inspiration and development for this poem and for your writing in general.
The epigraph is about 50% responsible for the inception of this poem. I heard a song sung live in concert by a group (Qadim Ensemble) who performs songs from all over the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I was particularly moved by this one, and was able to get the translation when I bought their CD. It is also inspired by James Wright’s image of women rising out of the river in his poem “In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned” where he writes, “What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore, / Drying their wings?” I wrote my MFA critical paper on the image of water and rivers in Wright’s work. I also have a lot of rivers in my poems. I grew up on the shore of the Hudson and have lived by rivers all my life.
With the mention of the mother and grandmother, you seem to suggest that we’re destined to repeat the same mistakes as our parents/ancestors before us. Why do you think it’s so difficult for humans to learn from the recurring mistakes of others?
I read recently that our mothers’ suffering remains in our DNA. We’re all descended from people who have struggled, with violence or poverty, starvation or persecution. It’s not surprising to me that we are having trouble overcoming our genetic tendency to become victims instead of empowering ourselves to create peace. I also see a decline in the quality of education due to over-testing and a de-emphasis on the arts. This causes the recent generations to have less understanding of history, so we are, as they say, doomed to repeat it. I really believe we can overcome this, but we have to be vigilant and work together.
Why do you think a person would be in love with marriage, more so than his/her partner?
In my case, I blame my youth and naïveté. I didn’t know him well enough before we married. I loved the idea of marriage, of creating family. We can also be in love with love, where we have an unrealistic image of the person we are with.
Why do you write?
I write because I am driven to write. It is a way to process emotions and respond to events. Also, going to that place some refer to as “poet mind” gives me great pleasure.
If you had one piece of advice for a writer, what would it be?
Read. Read great writing. Read some more. The more great writers’ work you read, the better your writing will become.