In 'Necklace,' Powell strings poems of loss

08/29/2008 12:00 AM

08/29/2008 11:13 AM

Many newspaper reporters dream of ditching their day jobs to do real writing – fiction. Not so Dannye Romine Powell.

Years ago, Powell aspired to write nonfiction and felt guilty when she wrote poetry. Frivolous stuff, her father always told her.

Luckily, she eventually overcame the poetry guilt.

Observer readers know Powell through her news column. They may not know she's also an award-winning poet, now with a third collection, “A Necklace of Bees,” ($16, University of Arkansas Press).

Loss is the theme in this new book. In several poems, Powell writes of her mother, who remained a presence in Powell's life well after her 2002 death.

In other poems, she examines the consuming fear of losing a child, specifically one son who has led what she calls “a scary life.” The book's title is from a poem examining her fear that she'll have to break the news to her granddaughter if he dies:

Perhaps I should begin today stringing

her a necklace of bees. When they sting

and welts quilt her face, when her lips

whiten and swell, I'll take her

by the shoulders. Child, listen to me.

One day, you'll see. These stings

are nothing. Nothing at all.

Writing poetry is a habit for Powell now, but it wasn't always. Her father believed in facts. BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal. It took Powell years to give herself permission to indulge in poetry.

She still remembers writing her first poem, inspired while attending a teacher conference when her sons were young: “It was like discovering a muscle I didn't know I had, and it was such a pleasure doing it.”

Often, she recalls wisdom gleaned from authors interviewed over her 17-year stint as the Observer's book editor. You must sit down and surrender to the page, the late Walker Percy once told her.

And so she does. That's when the ideas emerge, from her unconscious. “I have no idea what's going to come out until I sit down to write,” she says.

After she has a draft, she revises obsessively. She even admits to taking poems in the car and revising at stoplights. “You're just so in love with it, you can't let go of it. It's all wrong, but you know you've got something.”

Powell suspects poets are born, not made – endowed with brains that think in metaphors. You see some of those powerful, original images in her newspaper writing. In her poetry, they're really on display.

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