Each individual looks at the world through his or her own unique lens. In her writing, Marjorie Saiser, a former teacher by day, a writer by early morning, offers us an untainted view of her home and life in Lincoln , Nebraska.
She writes, looking at us from across the field to deliver us a message that is untouched, like fresh footprints impressed upon the prairie grass. Her messages are of home, how love does and doesn’t work out, and how the simple things in life can be simply pleasing. Her poetry is of surface experiences that are more meaningful because she has dug deep to expose their treasure.
Only a true master of poetry (and former teacher) can take a funny experience and push her readers to unearth a deeper meaning. Also the inspiration for the title of her book, Lost in Seward County, her poem “Looking for Ted” describes an incident where she gets lost driving to former United States Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s house while he is making soup for lunch.
I first noticed the poem’s panicked feel. The sentences seem to run on and on, like the thoughts racing through her mind. The choppiness of the long sentences adds to this anxious feeling. When you’re lost, every detail counts, yet it also seems to be the time when all plans to redeem yourself go awry.
I must turn one way or the other, must choose
as if my destiny. Right or left, which shall it be.
I have long ago lost north south east west,
the sun leering sometimes behind me, sometimes in front.
Ted sets the table and sits down to read, the soup
Her search seems hopeless when she reaches a promising house, then encounters, “Nobody home, nobody looking through the blinds / to see who is stuck, an overweight male beagle / the only creature available to bark.” The fat beagle is an excellent detail because it symbolizes a roadblock, a creature that has lost all motivation.
Saiser uses her mentions of the dog and Kooser’s dogs to build anticipation. “They do not revolve about me, / slow, wobbly satellites on his / hardwood kitchen floor.” It is as if they are orbiting Kooser, who is their world, asking, “When? When will she be here?” Dogs are an interesting example—they seem to have an instinctive sense for when someone is supposed to walk through the door.
The poem takes readers though many trying obstacles of her search for Kooser, but the feeling of home, of being “perpetually found,” shows readers that happiness is what comes from seeing what is familiar— and that everything is going to be okay. In the last lines, Saiser realizes what “home” really is. The way she describes Kooser’s arm extending beyond the porch portrays the oneness you feel with your surroundings when you are home. Here, Saiser is an outsider looking in on Kooser’s home and we see the contrast between her troubled journey and Kooser, at home, perfectly peaceful.
Saiser wrote “Pulling Up Beside You at the Stoplight,” a poem from her collection, Bones of a Very Fine Hand, after she and her husband took two cars into town and ended up beside each other at the stoplights. She wrote about how he looked into his car, a view made new from him pulling up beside her: “The curve of his shoulder / through the glass, / his face fresh from a shave, his hair / against the brown of his neck.” Even the most obvious things can come alive from studying them from a new angle. It is also interesting how her husband’s curved shoulder mirrors the curved top of the car.
The poem points out the amusing situation of being in the car, shielded from what the rest of the world thinks and where more ridiculous antics are permissible. I love how she and her husband talk with no words and play without contact, just these antics. “I roll down my window, whistle in my throat, / pull my glasses crooked on my face, / do my best baboon snorting, / pound the horn as if it were bread dough. / There is only the lady in the white Buick, / but he is embarrassed, glad to see the green.”
Saiser and her husband are wrapped up in their antics, feeling mostly out of the public eye. They are not focused on the road or even the destination, but on how to make each other laugh. The last lines give off a sense of urgency for Saiser to think of something especially clever. “I’m stepping on the gas, / catching up, wondering / what I can do at 56th and Calvert.”
This poem is playful, yet underneath the comical images, readers sense the powerful connection between her and her husband. The act of pulling up beside each other is almost a symbol for the harmony in their relationship. It shows they are in sync, on the same page, in a good place.
Saiser’s comical experiences also teach us about life through their deeper meanings. And Saiser teaches us poetry for good reason. She received an MA in creative writing at the University of Nebraska — Lincoln , winning the Vreelands Award and the Academy of American Poets competition. Her work has been published in many literary journals and her poems have been finalists for the Robert Penn Warren Prize, the New Letters Literary Awards, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2000, Saiser received the Merit Award from the Nebraska Arts Council and in 1999, received the Literary Heritage Award from the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association.
Saiser is a speaker for the Nebraska Humanities Council. Her first full-length collection, Bones of a Very Fine Hand, won the Nebraska Book Award for poetry in 2000. In 2001, she published her second book, Lost in Seward County (Backwaters Press).
She is co-editor of Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace (Backwaters Press, 2002), an anthology of poetry by women of the Great Plains, which was named Poetry Honor Book in 2003 by the Nebraska Center for the Book, and also co-editor of a book of interviews, Road Trip: Conversations with Writers (Backwaters Press, 2003).
Hilda Raz, also a writer from Lincoln, Nebraska said, “Marge Saiser's brilliant poems are gifts of her vision. Packed with sensory detail and the multiple perspectives of the accomplished artist, Saiser's poems take as their subject all aspects of family life. Through generations on the farm and in town, these poems everywhere meet and match the predations of despair, poverty, violence and indifference with the assurance of love. Saiser counsels risk in the face of danger, faith in the natural world. She is the real thing, a poet working for us.”
How special it is to have Marjorie Saiser working for us, bringing us, her students, a new perspective on how the world is, or perhaps, how the world should be. Her love of poetry is infectious, from her mission to find Ted Kooser to her scenes with her husband at the stoplight.
For the Love of Poetry: Marjorie Saiser
by Rachel Talen
Submitted on March 1st, 2010