"There's no place like home." "Home is where the heart is." The theme is well documented in literature, from a range of angles, from Greek literature to modern classics. In fact, home as a concept seems so common that the idea of a book of poetry about home feels almost mundane.
Nevertheless, Jim Perlman, Mara Hart, Pamela Mittlefehldt and Duluth poet laureate Deborah Cooper have poured themselves into assembling just such a book called The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home. (Holy Cow! Press, 2013)
The poets in this collection hail from points north, south, east and west. And their efforts to reflect the meaning of home are likewise from all perspectives and points of view.
The poems and short narrative pieces have been arranged in six sections that help induce thematic harmonies. The first set of poems are reflections on "The Amber Wilds of Childhood." Next we have the "Folded Maps of the Past" with sixteen poems about being away from home, leaving home, coming back home.
The third section is called Living a Second Time in Memory: Looking Back at Home. This is followed by a set of poems on the theme of Seeking Shelter: Without a Place to Call Home which begins with a painful by Ethna McKiernan called "Dear God of H____" The title makes you wonder whether it will be about the God of Heaven or God of Hell. But by tale's end it is the God of Homelessness. Another piece in this section is called A Shelter Is Not a Home, by Linda Kantner who says with seeming understanding, "It's a place to go when there is no place else."
The fifth section is called "Where Rain Returns: Claiming Home." It ends with an Ellie Schoenfield poem titled "Patriotism' that in her typical style takes a word or subject which we commonly understand in one way and re-invents its application. The summing up is a fresh take on both patriotism and Martin Luther's Reformation:
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.
The book's last section -- The Contours of Private Geography -- gets into the more complicated meanings of home, though much of the book has already been unearthing many of these thoughts and questions. What is home? How do we understand home? What is a home away from home?
In the essay Seeking Sanctuary we read, "What makes a home is the feeling of sanctuary. It is a place of respite from the world or an invitation for someone to join you, a place of intimacy with yourself and loved ones, a place that is designed to be a reflection of who you are, what you love, where you've been, and your hopes and dreams." Wendy Brown-Baez writes that she has come to realize that she has carried this idea of home to whatever new place she has landed, and by various gestures keeps a continuity with where she has been.
Each of as as travelers on life's road has had different experiences and understandings about the meaning of home. For those who relate well to poetry, there's plenty to take away from the poems and essays in this collection. And for those who get squeamish about reading poetry (perhaps due to a bit of bad teaching in high school) you may want to give it another chance as the themes are things we can all related to.
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This blog post is a replay of a 2013 post as a result of a visit East to be with my own family and the sense of "home" I'd received growing up, for which I am ever grateful. Life is complicated and has many challenges. Having a sanctuary where we can find safety and nourishment is needful. I have much to be grateful for.