Readers of the work of poet Ellen Bass will find everyday life observed up close and at length.
In “Gate C22” an older couple kisses at length at an airport gate.
Bass joins the waiting passengers and cinnamon roll vendors who can’t look away.
In “What Did I Love,” a first-time participant at a slaughter of chickens describes each specific step.
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One poem details kissing; the other describes killing, and both may have the reader wanting to look away in the interest of decorum or appetite.
“This close observation is one of the ways that a poem allows me to slow down enough to notice and honor everyday life,” Bass, a faculty member at Pacific University in Oregon, said in a recent email.
“It’s one of the gifts that poetry can give us.”
In “Saturn’s Rings,” verse that details the cosmic jolt delivered by the first telescope-assisted glimpse of that planet also finds room for, a few lines later, a mention of the Burger King down the street.
“One of the tasks and joys of the poet is to see the wondrous in the ordinary,” Bass said.
“We get accustomed to seeing and experiencing things without really noticing. I trust there’s a kind of survival mechanism in this. If we were stunned by everything we saw, we’d be exhausted.”
Bass makes immersion in her poetry easy through ellenbass.com, where visitors can read her poems and then hear Bass read them and read along with her, or just watch her on video.
Readers of her poems “Relax” and “The Morning After,” which on the printed page race forward without stanzas, leaving the reader figuratively breathless, are delivered by Bass with a steadied calm.
This is especially true with “What Did I Love,” which details the grisly chicken slaughter process and ends with the following:
“I loved the truth. Even in just this one thing:
looking straight at the terrible,
one-sided accord we make with the living of
At the end, we scoured the tables, hosed the
the stain blossoming through the water.”
This poem appeared in The New Yorker in 2013. Visitors to Bass’ website also can access a New Yorker Poetry Podcast featuring former U.S. poet laureate Philip Levine discussing the poem.
There’s backstory to the chicken slaughter. As Bass explains, when friends who had humanely raised chickens invited her to the slaughter, she accepted, saying “I didn’t want to eat anything I wasn’t willing to kill.”
She found the experience “extremely compelling,” Bass said, and chose to explore it in verse.
“I’ve eaten a lot of chickens in my life, but I never appreciated a chicken the way I did the chickens I slaughtered,” she said.
Besides The New Yorker, Bass’ work has appeared in The Atlantic and New Letters. Her latest book, “Like a Beggar,” was published in 2014.
Bass will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at Arrupe Hall Auditorium on the Rockhurst University campus near Troost Avenue and East 54th Street. Her appearance, part of the Midwest Poets Series, also represents the annual Robert R. Burke, S.J., Memorial Reading.
Admission is $3 at the door. No one will be denied admission for lack of funds.
Thorpe Menn Award
Nominations for the 38th annual Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award are being accepted.
Presented by the American Association of University Women-Kansas City Branch and the Kansas City Public Library, the award winner will be named during an October luncheon at the Central Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The award was established in 1979 to honor a longtime Kansas City Star books editor who died that year.
Nominations must be submitted by May 1. All books submitted for consideration must have been published in 2015 by authors who live in the greater Kansas City area.
For submission guidelines, go to kansascity-mo.aauw.net/events/thorpe-menn-literary-award. For more information, call 913-449-1130 or email email@example.com.