I adore Amber and her poetry. I’ve known her to be tender and caring when talking about her mom, and in the next moment relay an incident about her in such detail and with such a wicked-good sense of humor I’m in tears laughing. She brings that same observational skill to her poems.
Amber’s collection, A Brief Catalog of Common People, is about ordinary people, but with her microscopic look at human nature, Amber exposes the raw emotion and psychology of what humans beings do. Her poems often come with a wink at the reader, a tongue-in-cheek, and language that turns a phrase to the unexpected and never sugar-coats. She draws the reader to recognize the common people in their own lives. With Amber’s permission I’m sharing two poems from her collection. (Titles are bolded).
So here’s Amber!
1. Do you remember the very first poem you wrote? How old were you? What was the topic?
Well, this depends on what counts as a poem, and whether or not consciousness of genre must exist. When I was a toddler, I wrote what might be called a poem, if not a piece of flash fiction. It was called “Red and Blue are Friends.” I’d argue that it was a poem, simply because there was no narrative arc. However, there also weren’t any discernible poetic devices at work. I believe that what I was trying to communicate touched on themes of loneliness, equality and the power of friendship to overcome differences. Can you tell I’m being tongue-in-cheek? I hope so. Anyway, I also did the illustrations, as you can imagine. Maybe I wrote a children’s book? A children’s poem? I have no idea, but by elementary school I developed a fascination with the natural world and learned how to rhyme. A little Mary Oliver in the making.
Later, I returned to my roots, became enthralled again with humans, and human psychology . . . a bit of an anthropologist poet. I’ve remained such ever since. I would say it wasn’t until very recently (the last ten years or so) that I started writing poems that I’m not absolutely humiliated to go back and read. The poems I wrote in college should be burned to ash then buried in the earth twelve feet deep – and I was proud of them at the time! Pride is awful. If I’m proud of a poem these days, I squash it. I think the feeling I go for now is of closure overlaying the usual despondency. Something close to satisfied, but even that is dangerous.
2. If you could raise a glass of wine or a cup of tea with any poet, living or deceased, whom would it be?
I was going to say Sharon Olds, but I think I’d rather be disturbed. Poets need a good disturbing from time to time. So, like probably thousands of other female, middle-aged, white poets, I’d pick Anne Sexton. And pat myself on the back for not choosing Sylvia Plath, right?
Anyway, the plan is I’d get Anne Sexton drunk, or watch her get herself drunk, then listen to that low, gravelly voice curse me into a weeping pile of bones and excess visceral fat. I imagine she’d be angry from the get-go, disturbed from her rest. Especially to face some pipsqueak woman who chews the inside of her lips constantly. I think she’d probably trail off to find a gentleman who knows how to light a lady’s cigarette before I could get her knocked out and back in the grave. In the meantime, maybe she’d throw out one or two statements that I could use to give my life some direction and my work some pizzazz, or maybe the reverse – give my life some pizzazz and my work some direction. Either way, just imagine. She’d smell awful, but her hair would be in place. That’s something for any poet to aspire to.
The Early Risers Carry On with Marriage
Soft, silver light.
Night’s hooks out,
morning’s cold claw
ready to grip, rising
from the low cloud howl
She can play dead,
but he shifts and the bed’s
creak is too loud to deny,
so she makes a noise,
like a murmur, a whimper
that recalls their fight.
Then his fingers are at the
underside of her breast,
gentle because it’s morning,
aren’t they careful with each other
in the morning? Holding their
coffee mugs shyly. He uses
this new hour as an excuse
to be tender, a tactic
he couldn’t reach last night.
Not even to save her life,
or his own. But morning
has a way of making them
birth-raw, and ready to try.
Rachel Cooks Her Last Casserole
Tonight I used an old boyfriend’s recipe.
Your friends raved. One woman,
a sweater wrapped around
her shoulders, let her perfume
waft through the house like it was invited.
During dinner, she took off her shoes
under the table, reached for the bread
and laughed while her boyfriend worked
his jaw. You handed me the basket
holding one hardened roll, asked for more.
After dinner, I lost you for an hour
while I cleared the table, started on the dishes,
blew out candles. You startled me when you
came in behind her, bringing in big
handfuls of plums, dropping one,
a small bruised thud on the floor.
Amber Shockley ~ A Brief Catalog of Common People
Available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co.
The Early Risers Carry On with Marriage first appeared in Kakalak
Rachel Cooks Her Last Casserole first appeared in Atticus Review