Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Lindsay Tigue reads “Water Sign” by Margaret Hasse.
This is a neat little poem you’ve shared with us today, Lindsay. When I looked up this poem for reference I found that it was published in a series of three poems about this Charlie character at Verse-Virtual. What can you tell us about these Charlie poems and Margaret Hasse’s work in general?
Lindsay: This is perhaps a bit of a digression, but I feel I need to explain my introduction to this poem. I first encountered Margaret Hasse and this poem in 2009. I heard her read it as part of a panel at AWP in Chicago. It was my first AWP and I was in the midst of my first failed attempt at applying to MFA programs (I didn’t get into a program until my second try a year later). This poem meant a lot to me, partly for its insistence on this final image, for the way it re-sees a child’s mistake as abundance and beauty.
I was mostly writing fiction at the time, but Hasse’s use of this image reminded me of a prose ending I was working on. I had written poetry in the past and would end up returning to it during my MFA program a year later. I don’t really remember thinking of myself as a poet at this time at all. I don’t remember thinking of myself as a writer even; I was at AWP in a work capacity as an editorial assistant at a nonprofit publisher. I went up to Hasse in the bookfair after the panel to buy a book and my friend told her I was a poet and she wrote “To Lindsay, fellow poet” in my book. The timing of that simple message provided a buoying feeling of hope as, similarly, this poem does for me.
Margarat Hasse is a Minnesota-based poet and the author of five books of poetry. This poem comes from her book, Milk and Tides (Nodin Press, 2008), which includes several poems dealing with motherhood and adoption. The series of poems in Verse-Virtual were reprinted from the book and all feature the character of “Charlie,” the speaker’s son and speak to the experience of mothering a child at various stages.
Chris: By the end of this poem I feel like I’m reading something both cute and innocent, but also something dark and sinister. I can’t quite put my finger on it though—the final lines I feel like they take the slightest twist. What do you make of the ending of “Water Sign”?
Lindsay: I do see something complicating the celebration in this poem. There is a bit of violence in the suggestion of play between Charlie and his brother “who spray tomatoes with the intensity / of fire fighters at a five alarm fire.” There is also the acknowledgement that Charlie’s enthusiasm is “inconvenient” and it is the narration that suggests the mother and brother have to check their reaction in order to admire Charlie’s unrestrained love of the water he pours through the floor. There is acknowledgement of intensity in this poem and also the nod to the self as source of some of the world’s forces.
Chris: You mentioned that “Water Sign” provides you with a feeling of hope. How do you see the poem achieve that emotion? Are there other elements of “Water Sign” make it essential to you as a writer?
Lindsay: For me, there is hope in this re-seeing the speaker undertakes. It suggests an enlarged empathy, an enlarged love for the world. For me, another essential element of this poem is the title, the way it points toward astrology lends a layer echoing differences in character or temperament. The way the meanings of the title expand out delicately was a strategy that was really useful for me when thinking about titles.
Chris: In addition to “Water Sign”, what other Margaret Hasse poems should our readers look for? What would be on your Hasse must-read list?
Lindsay: Other poems to check out include “After I Tell Four-Year-Old Charlie the Story of His Adoption, He Counters with His Own Version” and “What It Is Like for Me This Fall.”
Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, which was the winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is a finalist for the Foreword INDIE Poetry Book of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Julie Suk Award. She writes poetry and fiction and her work appears in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, Rattle, diode, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other journals. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a James Merrill fellow at the Vermont Studio Center, and a former graduate assistant at the Georgia Review. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University and is a current PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She is originally from Michigan and now lives in Athens, Georgia.
Chris Petruccelli is sometimes a park ranger, sometimes a teacher, and takes what he can get the rest of the time—but he manages to stitch it all together. Chris is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press) and his poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Connotations Press, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. Chris recently started the Alola island challenge with his Rowlet. In his free time, Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.