Awake at the End: A Heights Arts Poet Laureate Anthology, features the work of three Cleveland Heights poets: Meredith Holmes, Loren Weiss, and Mary E. Weems. The anthology begins with an introduction citing the inspiration for the Laureate Project (a poem by Ben Gulyas for Heights Libraries’ staff day, 2004) and briefly introduces each poet. In her introduction, Mary Weems says, “I want my tenure as Poet Laureate to be remembered as one of using poetry to build a stronger sense of community across race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, culture and mental and physical ability.”
The poems in this collection immerse the reader in the sights, sounds, and feelings of living in our city. There is a mixture of styles; each is excellent and approachable in its own way. Meredith Holmes tells whole stories in her poems. The images she evokes are somber, melancholic. The nostalgia of summer. The coming winter. The burning of our river. A knowledge that is “held in the body”. But there is also levity in “Library Dos and Don’ts”. Holmes writes, “Never interrupt a librarian/ who is telling you how/ to find something, even/ if you think she’s telling you/ way more than you need to know.” I paused on this beautiful image of a young girl jumping into a pool for the first time: “I go down a long way/ in my own plume of white,/ How quiet and capacious/ this big blue room/ and how little used,/ like a church during the week.”
Loren Weiss writes in a rhythmic, staccato style. His lines are brief and impactful. Whether in his backyard, the opera, or operating room, Weiss observes and brings to glorious life simple everyday things. Like when he describes two aging alumni at their high school reunion, “Pressed against each other,/ hug held. Soft and warm,/ lips brush slowly, briefly,/ sixty years late.” Or when he observes an old man “sun-baked face and head of salt and pepper curls” sitting on a bench in Malibu feeding a flying seagull Cheetos from his “weather beaten fingers”.
When he is charged with writing a poem for a high school poetry slam, Weiss recalls a moment of writer’s block before realizing, “If I can write a poem/ about writing poetry, it/ will be about the poets…/ how they yearn and suffer,/ their need to expose feelings,/ to set minds at peace.” This poem made me think about the importance of poetry, of being able to write freely, to share and explore our thoughts and feelings. With vulnerability there is risk, but it is more risky not to write, or think.
Mary E. Weems’ poetry bristles with energy. They are perplexing, inviting you to think and investigate hidden meanings: “The whole world this space/ a song un-played/ the lyrics caught/ like a voyeur/ inside a just occupied/ room.” They are haikus that allow your mind to wander and connect to something else. There is a deep power in her words as well. In “The Kiss”, Weems portrays the return of soldiers after World War II: “There is a march from madness/ back to a U.S. that welcomes white soldiers/ with one hand, begins putting new locks/ on doors to make Black heroes knock over/ and over like jokes to no answers/ with the other.” In these melodious, pleasurable arrangements of words are philosophies and life lessons, and the pleasure of understanding from reading a really good poem.
Cleveland Heights’ current Poet Laureate (2020 – 2022) is Ray McNiece. Awake at the End is available at Heights Libraries and the Clevnet catalog.