AND SELECTED POEMS
Anderson is ideally
an observer of her own milieu: she is both
an outsider and an
she has formal training as a counselor
Carefully recorded detail marks her poems·
is a poet, editor, teacher, and administrator. This is her fourth
book of poetry, she has edited anthologies, she teaches poetry writing
as well as courses which blend cultural studies with writing and
study, focusing on the Appalachian region and on working-class writing,
and she directs the Wick Poetry Program at Kent State.
Anderson's poetry practice balances creative pursuits with
editorial, and administrative modes or approaches to writing.
background and general upbringing also contextualizes her
She was born and raised in New York City. Both parents were
her mother was a political scientist. When she was thirteen, she
moved with her father or parents to West Virginia, where her father had
been raised. Her mother died young, perhaps around the time of
Here is a letter to my mother in the hospital.
I was eight years old and didn't know she
was dying. I drew a picture for her of my parakeet.
in West Virginia for her education, completing two master's degrees,
in social work, at West Virginia. In her early pursuit of poetry,
Anderson worked teaching writing as a social worker in Appalachia in
1970's, in coal country just after the oil embargo and Vietnam.
Aunt Nita had worked for the Farm Security Administration during the
as Walker Evans did, as Anderson mentions in a series of poems from an
earlier book included in this collection. She then seems to have
worked as a poet in the schools in Western Pennsylvania around the time
the steel industry was consolidating.
... one rainy April afternoon,
exhausted from teaching six classes
of junior high school students,
I sat in my car at the top of a steel hill
in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and stared
for a long time at the closed mill.
she goes on to describe the way in which social conditions affect her
Anderson is ideally situated as an observer of her own milieu:
is both an outsider and an insider, and she has formal training as a
and participant observer. Carefully recorded detail marks her
In Spanishburg there are boys in tight jeans,
mud on their cowboy boots and they wear huge hats
with feathers, skunk feathers they tell me.
["Spitting the Leaves"]
Especially fine natural
much of Anderson's lyricism:
Chamomile and dill still volunteer
among the wild mullein and cinquefoil.
["Abandoned Farm, Western Pennsylvania"]
modesty divides the narrator and the poet from the story and the
"Closed Mill," quoted above, begins with a different type of closure,
narrator's: "I'm not going to tell you everything, / like where I live
and who I live with."
in this volume are even more direct, and they have more personal detail
than Anderson's older work. In the quote of "These Greens," the
break between her mother and her mother's fate, "she / was dying,"
power and control Anderson's gained over her early flat line breaks,
the slight grammatical reversal, "I drew a picture for her of my
rather than "I drew a picture of my parakeet for her," is an incredibly
expressive hitch. Overall, however, it is amazing how little
detail and personal narrative these poems narrated in the first person
whole "opens," as it is chronological, and readers read Anderson
into her craft. The title, Windfall, is apt. It is
homely kenning which has evolved two colloquial meanings: fallen
fruit, sometimes free to the harvesters, and any unexpected boon.
There are fashions in
in criticism, and Anderson's respectful handling of her subject matter
or world carries her through some, but not all, of these style
She felt it necessary to change the word "Eskimo" to "Inuit" in a poem
title, now that "Inuit" is the politic usage. Only fifteen years
ago, to use family photographs or "famous" photographs as a poem topic
was a common poetry workshop assignment. Maggie Anderson's series
about Walker Evans photographs of West Virginia are a bit
the poems were published in book form at about that time and they are
photographs taken in an area where Anderson's family lived. It is
interesting to read the ways in which Anderson uses the distance of
and Evans' framing to negotiate her own separation from her family
titles as the titles of her poems. While titled in the 1930's,
titles are very much like the splendidly over-specific titles popular
the 80's. However, the intervening concentration on similar topoi
has placed the mechanics of these poems in relief for readers
In "House and Graveyard, Rowlesburg, West Virginia, 1935" she begins,
can't look long at this picture," but then describes both the picture
what is not in the picture in detail. She begins her conclusion,
"It's a good photograph, but Walker Evans / didn't know my family, nor
the distance / his careful composition makes me feel now." It is
a criticism of Evans which Anderson is not alone in making, but more
made of his photographs published in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
depiction of a snarling girl and phrasing of the thoughts she ascribes
to the figure in "Independence Day, Terra Alta, West Virginia, 1935"
her alive and identify the narrator with the figure, but the balance
description and narration would be adjusted tonally more carefully
Anderson tends to "tip" poems in the first lines, then end with a
"Mining Camp Residents, West Virginia, 1935" begins, "They had to seize
something in the face of the camera," which is a fine line. A
of the "seizing" and a negotiation with the Evans she summons in all
of these poems follows. But the recap, "... And they did what he
said," shuts the poem down.
to William Matthews, and "Long Story," at the center of this volume,
narratives having to do with caves or mining, where the physical and
structure, poem process and poetic event, all have a coherent and
shape. "Caving" is nominally about spelunking. "Long Story"
metaphorically also takes on narrative and mining, coal mountains
glass mountains in fairy tales) and death, but powerfully turns these
into an image of the relationship of work to life and story to
Another of Anderson's most moving poems is "Heart Fire," which compares
a person, rather than a process or event, to the world of Anderson's
The more disjunctive "Daphne" also absorbs a figure into the landscape.
at the end of the volume continue to attempt to negotiate the tides of
fashion. Anderson's use of italic is more widespread, as it is
in poetry now, especially after the advent of word processing, but her
italic doesn't represent a use of multiple voice as effective as her
photograph poems. The new poems do show an increased facility and
a move by Anderson from the periphery into the center of the poems,
is psychologically healthy, after all. In "Self-Portrait" she
"I was far outside the frame," and turns, "Until now / when I come into
the picture." Her knife poems center around a primal scene, and a
black dog ÷ a figure of grief, worry, and obsession in an early
returns in a series. Perhaps it is unfair to compare these poems
with animal poems like Ted Hughes' Crow poems, as they don't have the
gravitas. However, a mythical reading, and rereading of the older
poems, is supportable, as Anderson's father and mother and her larger
history are important to understanding the sources of Anderson's poetry.
Anderson, Maggie. Windfall:
New and Selected Poems. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: University
of Pittsburgh Press, 2000. ISBN: 0-822-95719-1 $12.95
© by Catherine Daly