Award-winning poet Gary Margolis gathers four books of poetry in Raking the Winter Leaves: New and Selected Poems, including a selection of poems from his new collection, The Other Flag. These poems speak from the heart of New England and our nation, from the worldly places and habitats, stripped by war and the heated climate of politics. They speak in a style familiar to his readers of almost fifty years with thoughtful feeling, humor, curiosity and the surprises to which following the threads of a poem’s unexpected, yet inevitable, language can suggest and provide. As he writes in “Consider Yourself,” “As a rule stones will sing, Give what you can, what there is to give, what you have been given,” these poems fold in and blossom, bring us to a falling night and rising day.
author of Blue Hour
Raking the Winter Leaves is the work of a poet with a gift for meditative attention, falling awake in our precarious century, where war never says one thing/ and means another. In a New England of town meetings, harvests, hay-scent, bee hum, and a sprig of God, Margolis reminds us that That something was said here once to wake up/ a nation. Over three decades, this poet’s lyric art has held calm vigilance, alert to things as precise as a cow’s numbered ear, her black and white/map of a head. Wars end and begin in the war president’s gobbling song, the animals stop traffic, but much can yet be seen in in the branchless/ forest of the clouds. Margolis writes as a husband, father, counselor, healer, and citizen of the Republic, where, he confesses, Doubt/is my democracy, but his language is light and tensile, playful and sprung from its own music, where we are never far from such hard-won admissions as conclude a poem on the art of dying, where, he writes I have done everything I could. For having done that and more, abundant gratitude.
author of Care of the Soul and A Religion of One’s Own
I hope this sweep over a lifetime of words will show the world that Gary Margolis is a distinctively American poet to be celebrated and honored as one of the classics. At times he reminds you of his neighbor Frost, at his best, though Gary is more contemporary and dimensional. He does the poet’s thing of turning the ordinary into a revelatory text on the meaning of things. Like a Vermont pond in the sunshine, every poem emits layer upon layer of light, helping us to see what we usually overlook or simply don’t have the eyes to notice.
author of World Tree
For over three decades now, Gary Margolis has been refining his considerable virtues: among them a steady, Horatian speaking voice—wry, lucid, affecting. These are remarkably attentive poems, combining astute observation of experience with a capacity for listening that is a rare thing when the period style seems to call for chest-thumping posturing. As he tells us in a searching elegy for a fellow poet, “Oh, for the life grief gives./A prescription for grieving/And side effects we can live/With, like living…”
Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated, Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure
Like a cop or a reporter, Gary Margolis works a beat, at once his little patch of New England and “the whole wide world. It would be easy to regard him as a poet of place, and surely he is, for his poems take us places, often more than one at a time: a country road and the barricades of a protest; an undulating sea and Fenway Park; a meadow and the blank page. Lucky for us, Margolis (as he might put it) gets it down on that blank page before the skittish doe of a thought flees into the woods.
Vermont State Poet, author of I was Thinking of Beauty
In his long and rich career, Gary Margolis has produced a canon that is laudable not only for its monumentality but also, and more importantly, for what I must call its astonishing decency. Raking the Winter Leaves is full of elegy, but that elegy is part of its determined, sometimes even gritty celebration.
Wallace Stevens named death the mother of beauty; relatedly, Margolis knows that suffering, his own and others’, is the mother of compassion. In “It’s You They Come To,” a consideration of his equally distinguished career as a member of a college mental health staff, he asks, “Isn’t that / what you’re here for, too? / To listen to the wheezing / songs inside their chests, / to sing something a mother, / a father might sing, / if only they were here….”
Like his awkward and aching patients, we come too, finding in these fine poems the sense, which they roundly justify, that our poet knows where our hearts live, as few others can.
Allston, England, author of Silence Fell
Reading a Gary Margolis poem is like being taken on a walk in a landscape, sometimes rural, sometimes urban, sometimes public, sometimes intimate, and led on a gently winding path until suddenly, one cannot quite see how it happened, one is looking out upon a huge vista from a great height, and hears the ringing of bells, joyous, majestic, ceremonial.
These are poems as ceremonies, as rites of passage. They are enactments. They provide room for events to happen and to “turn into experience” (in the words of the poet’s memoir Singing the Songs). In fact they do more. They enact a new kind of experience. A tangible one, as a poem, as song is. As in Tom Verner Shows Us a Trick “it’s magic to be here / in a living room.” In this “room” is made possible a containment and an expression of personal and community grief in Below the Falls, with its transcendent final lines: “throwing / out a line, an oar,/ another boy can reach.”
Such poems are living experiences taking place on the page. They can be re-experienced anew with every reading. Each poem, and each reading of each poem, is a re-enactment of a negotiation between head and heart, a dialectical and open-ended event with the power to transform. The bravery of the poet is in the struggle at the limits of what can be expressed/constructed/enacted with words and of inviting the reader to witness and share in that struggle.
If the heart could conduct elegant arguments, this is much what the arguments would sound like. Not so much to say something, nor to reach a conclusion, as to listen to the voice singing in the room the poet creates. This room is a space where solitude and community can engage. Simply by the act of allowing the words, the gaps between the words, the resonances, the silences. They are linked by imagination. “Imagination isn’t a reality show. Yet it is.” (What it is We Have to Write).
And these are poems to read with the heart. Metaphor has its truest value here. Carrying the reader from one realm to another. Words become like musical notes, they ring and sing from the heart.
Gary Margolis is the author of 8 books of poems, including his previous collected poems, Museum of Islands (Bauhan 2020), Below the Falls, Fire in the Orchard, Falling Awake, and The Day We Still Stand Here. His memoir, Seeing the Songs: A Poet’s Journey to the Shamans in Ecuador, is recently published. He is Executive Director Emeritus of College Mental Health Services at Middlebury College where he was also a part time Associate Professor of English and American Literatures. A recipient of Vermont Arts Council and Millay Colony Awards, and a Robert Frost Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, his poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, American Scholar, Poetry Northwest, and the Journal of the American College Health Association. He has taught at the Bread Loaf, University of Tennessee and University of Vermont Writers’ Conferences. Dr. Margolis was awarded the Sam Dietzel Award for mental health practice in Vermont by the clinical psychology department of Saint Michaels College and the Covey Community Award by the Counseling Service of Addison County. He lives with his wife, Wendy Lynch, in Cornwall, Vermont.