Receipt for Lost Words, the 2022 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize winner, is a mother’s attempt to understand a world in which her child does not, cannot speak. It’s an accounting that Catherine Arnold renders in breathtakingly moving, spaced-apart phrases, little gasps of insight into a parent’s heartbreak, bafflement, and isolation. Catherine began to write these poems in response to her daughter’s mysterious loss of speech. She felt compelled to explore what had happened, to try to find a way to make it bearable. One poem became two, then three—before long, she’d produced a complete manuscript. The collection went through many revisions, developing in surprising, sometimes painful ways. The poems are about loss, grief, joy, and love. They are about the myths and realities of maternal love; they’re an examination of language, its force and its limits.
Rebecca Kaiser Gibson
Judge, May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize
Catherine Arnold has accomplished nothing less than the embodiment, in words, of wordlessness. A moving receipt for what has been lost. —Rebecca Kaiser Gibon
“Nature now is what I see through glass.”
And, if we hold our breath through desperate parental denial and efforts to “word the silence,” we
release it when Stella—the one who cannot speak—makes her presence known.
“the strong unhurried length of me/ I am Stella.”
The spare, sensual language of Stella’s point of view stuns—as in this description of her father.
“a big thirsty shape/ the hum of him”
What emerges is a new sense of the world, a magic and fairy-tale shift, in which
“…everything/which seemed to matter before/has been forgotten.”
Catherine Arnold grew up in England and, having fallen in love with painting, moved to the US to study at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduating, she exhibited and taught widely, and received awards from The Royal Academy of Arts, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Flintridge Foundation and The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. While making her living as an artist, she also wrote, torn between the equally seductive demands of words and color. Over the years, the need to write became increasingly urgent. Her poems and prose have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Gettysburg Review, Natural Bridge, and Prairie Schooner, among other publications. She lives in Pennsylvania.