Donna Baier Stein - sometimes you sense the difference
Humility of Spirit
sometimes you sense the difference – by Donna Baier Stein (Finishing Line Press, 2012)
Book Review - by Ron Starbuck
Future poets will be born, they will arise giving birth to a time when poets long dead, are read, remembered, and celebrated. Inspiring new acts of creation, crafting their own work into a new voice, a new language, and old wisdom. When one poet reads the work of another some inner inspiration of the poetic spirit, is always generated, in a calling forth of our creative imagination. An inner listening takes hold, an indwelling happens, a transformation begins to form, and a genesis of new voices originates.
Poetic forms and verses resound within us intimately, as a subtle memory of the spirit. In a single moment known now, or discovered later on, across decades, scores, and even centuries later, remembered, gathered up and embraced, treasured. The voice of the poet lives on, beyond time, not simply within a single moment of history or eternity.
So it is with these poems from poet and writer, Donna Baier Stein, in her newest collection of poetry titled, sometimes you sense the difference. And we do, you know, sense the difference. We do begin to sense something new, a remembrance of the poet’s inner voice and spirit, a universal memory, even if it is only for the first time. We are drawn in by the power of her voice and images. The words you see becoming our own, intimate and immediate. As in these verses …
Once I spoke to a dozen Chinese executives
who didn't understand English.
My words floated in the air between us
stupidly. I was a puppet,
filling hours and air
as long as it occupied
the space between us.
Buber says: God is the electricity that surges between us.
One night I dreamt
of a room full of people
reading their parts
from a powerful, mind-altering script.
A script that would change their brains
the way dual-hemisphere meditation,
surgery, and the end of a love affair do.
I want so much to communicate.
I want so much for my words
to be heard.
Ripe fruit plucked from the space
between us and eaten like peaches,
their juice nourishing your chin.
You are the one I'm addressing.
You are the one both God and I crave.
Poetry and spirituality are voices of the ancient muses, our oldest creative ancestors perhaps, those souls who have come before us, divine inspiration. Our poems are the voice of the spirit calling out from a vast depth and distance, from another world, invisible and unseen, as a memory of the spirit dwelling within all humankind.
In reading these poems, we hear the poet speaking with a strong feminine voice and intuition, strength clearly felt, passed from one generation of women to another. You can feel each verse forming on your tongue. You can hear the sound each word makes when spoken. It is unmistakable, palpable, real, intensely intimate, a knowing, a passing of knowledge. Readers will walk away with a greater knowledge and humility, where wisdom becomes a humility of the spirit. Listen to these verses from this poem – Edith Rose Hinote.
Here, in my great grandmother's kitchen,
with its wood-burning range,
scored oak table and square ochre tiles,
she fed hungry farm hands
steaming drop biscuits, honeycomb from her bees,
ham and mustard beans, candied dills, raisin pie.
I can taste that raisin pie, my own great grandmother and grandmother were farm women, strong women, loving compassionate women, born and raised in the rolling hills of Northeastern Kansas, just west of the Missouri River, the Big Muddy. They never left their homes, at least not very far, they stayed rooted to the land and their families, raising up families of their own, and passing what wisdom they acquired to another generation. In these verses, Donna Baier Stein has captured the memory and spirits of the women living in that time, as well as their grief.
Whatever grief was in her life stayed hidden behind
a face like rock above a hand-crocheted collar
on a flower print dress. Her hair curled tight as Brillo.
At 83, she still shared strong coffee each morning—at 6 a.m.--
You wonder about the grief as you wonder about the woman. Was it grief from a lost child, still born perhaps, or dead from some childhood disease when vaccinations were unknown and unavailable? Was it a lost dream? The dream of something more, another life, another love, another path not taken?
The reader can only imagine as they share in that moment of hidden grief, and the strength behind it to move on with life as life calls out to life. Sharing her strong coffee at 83, at 6 a.m. each morning, and baking pies until the end. Why is it women find strength in baking, in feeding the world? They do you know, they still do even today in the 21st Century, it is their birthright, an inheritance. In the poem Kinfolk, we find another story of women and relationships that helped shape a life, the life of a writer and poet.
The land rose above a flat plain.
The fields crowded with unfamiliar faces.
I whispered as I travelled:
"Women, draw near to me."
Stand here at my side, sturdy as silos,
resilient as summer wheat, fruitful as loam.
Draw close and stay here,
for we are kin.
“Women, draw near to me.” Here is a call to other women, a call to relationship, to women as relational beings, to both family and friends, found in the mystery of women, in women’s many ways of knowing. Knowing one another intimately, their world and the world they share together. Here, we find the kinship of all women, grounded in the memories of all women that are surely passed from one generation to another. It is another remembrance we are witness to in the words of these poems.
It has been said that humility is the path to wisdom, true wisdom is true humility of spirit. And if we are to find such wisdom, we must first unearth our own humility. There is something within these poems that teaches a humility of the spirit, and then goes on to discover the wisdom we all hope to learn in life. I am struck dumb with humility in reading these poems, I am made mute, and can only marvel at the mystery it unveils.
There are certainly no words of mine own that I can truly offer in response, but I can see and imagine, and I can hear. I can remember. And what it is I see, imagine, hear, and remember are the woman I know and have known throughout my whole life, within my own family and extended family, in a single marriage, and as friends where friendship is granted as a gift. I distinctly hear their many voices, their intimate conversations, their laughter, and the joy and strength they share with one another. It’s all here, it’s all presented wonderfully in every poem and verse within this collection.
Life is too short not to read good poetry, the stories it tells, the hidden wisdom it reveals, and the lessons we may learn and share in any form. Take a moment and share these poems with yourself, and then with someone else. Read them alone, read them out loud, read them to a friend, and then see how the words begin to dwell within you, how humility comes upon you, and perhaps, just perhaps, a bit of wisdom.
Saint Julian Press
Donna Baier Stein's writing has appeared in New York Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner and many other journals and anthologies She has received a Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, a Scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the PEN/New England Discovery Award, Finalist in Iowa Fiction Awards, Honorable Mention in Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, two Pushcart nominations, a New Jersey Council for the Arts grant, awards from the Poetry Societies of Virginia and New Hampshire, and more. Her chapbook Sometimes You Sense the Difference was published by Finishing Line Press. Her story collection Sympathetic People will be published in 2013 by Serving House Books. She was a Founding Poetry Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and is Founder and Publisher of TIFERET Journal.