William Faulkner is famous for mining “his own little post stamp of native soil” for what he called “the old universal truths.” In Chestnut Ridge, Dawn Potter is following Faulkner’s wise path, giving us a polyphonic portrait of southwestern Pennsylvania in an impressive range of voices, pitches, and forms. She starts with the region’s tragicomic history—“the undiagnosed roads littered with sorrows”; “the pale and ruminating / heifer”—moving gradually through time to the present. All along, mining the full possibilities of persona, our intrepid author takes possession of her own origins as melancholic witness to a bygone America whose history it would be a terrible mistake to lose. This sad, moral, and really smart book is essential reading for anyone interested in hearing a master poet sing an indispensable bereavement song.
Betsy Sholl writes:
Dawn Potter’s rich and remarkable Chestnut Ridge gives us voices and artifacts tracing the development of southwestern Pennsylvania, from 1635 to 2013--from missionaries to racial conflicts, mining disasters to the way changing times can leave us adrift. Potter makes history alive and compelling. These poems hold up a mirror to the way assumptions and pressures shape our lives, as they trace how the land changes from wilderness, to commercial venture, to the aftermath of industry. It’s hard to know what to praise more: Potter’s deft and supple forms, the rich empathy through which she creates the voices of others, or the way her poems make the past alive in all its complexity. In a time when history and truth are under attack, these poems are not only beautiful and profound, they are utterly crucial.
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