For those of us who make our home here in the Washington,
D.C., literary community, it is disorienting to realize, in this spring of
2010, that our beloved friend, Jacklyn Potter—poet, teacher, dynamo,
nurturer of poets young and old, dramatic presence in our lives—died suddenly
four years ago.
Jacklyn was well known in Washington as, among many other
things, the director of the Miller Cabin Poetry Series held each week in June
and July—at the cabin Joaquin Miller built for himself in 1883—in Rock Creek
Park, from 1984 until her death. She feted the poets with appreciative
and memorable introductions and a reception at her nearby home on Kennedy
Street, NW, just off 16th Street. In her introduction to the anthology
she edited with Dwaine Rieves and Gary Stein, Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin
Miller's Cabin, 1984-2001, she described the scene:
Reading poetry under the stars, in
the woods, has called for certain arrangements.Necessary gear includes water for the poets, insect
repellent for all, a portable table for materials, and plenty of series flyers
(designed by Janice Olson).For
audience seating we created a small amphitheatre [after the series outgrew the
cabin itself], with the essential help of audience muscle-power, lugging
several large picnic tables and locating them in a rough semicircle next to the
Cabin.They faced tall trees, Rock
Creek and the poets.For reserved
seats, audience members would need to bring their own folding chairs or picnic
She closed in typical fashion:
May the poetry in this anthology
give you peace and pleasure.If
you've been to Joaquin Miller's Cabin to hear the poets, may the memories
return.Join the poets now, under
the stars.It's the right
place!It's the right time!
Toujours le mot,
Jacklyn W. Potter
The poet Peter Klappert remembered the readings this way:
For more than a quarter century,
poetry readings at the Miller Cabin have been a joyous way to spend a summer
evening, capped by a celebration (read: party) at Jacklyn Potter's home.Jacklyn and her co-editors have
captured—but not contained!—that eclectic energy in a lively gathering of
poets.This is the kind of cabin
fever that makes you want to stay home and read poems, the kind of fever that
sends you down to Joaquin Miller's cabin to hear poetry take to the air.
I met Jacklyn around 1999 at an American University MFA
alumni reading where, in my metaphorical book, she stole the show with her
fish poems.My first impression
was of an impossibly cute, little big woman—who, if on tiptoe, might have
reached five feet—with an incongruously, and charmingly, husky voice.Jacklyn was all energy and commitment. Animated by a life force of gargantuan proportions, she knew her own mind, her opinions
many and vigorously expressed.She was, at
the same time, generous in her appreciation of others.I well remember conversations with her
about this poet or that poem and her emphatic and melodious rejoinder to
opinions she found congenial:"I agree!"
Jacklyn was an original, a star.She'd been brought up that way, as her father ferried her, when a small
girl, from stage to auditorium to TV or radio studio, where she would sing into
a lowered microphone, then accept the crowd's acclaim.Like Shirley Temple, at least for a
time, she thought this was the way all little girls spent their days.A few of her poems arise from that
You said sing, Daddy.
And I sang with melodies
lilting through my baby
shoelaces; down into my eyes
fell the starlight of yours.
And my proud heart filled
Let's hear some songs,
you said, for Red Cross
war veterans and heroes and
the Chamber of Commerce. My braids
glistened and my hands
tossed kisses to hundreds of hands
You said sing, Daddy,
and school days ended early
with a microphone
in my hand. My smile
and the bow in my hair
were on the air.
Perfect and best
I sang and heard
your banjo ring.
You said sing.
Read through these watermarks.
Your starlight falls from my eyes.
Can you hear this scratching on the page?
Daddy, I am singing.
AFTER THE CLOSING SHOW
In the lobby
people kept their distance
watching you with awe
Off stage you’re even more
present but who wants you real
They didn't dare approach you
and left you standing
in impenetrable space
Now I see you
white and scarred
like the ghost of a hare
with your face so frightened
with your hands so naked
Some years ago, Jacklyn was diagnosed with an
"inoperable" brain tumor.She battled the symptoms and the judgment that nothing could be done, found
a skilled and willing surgeon, underwent three surgeries, lost of much of her sight, suffered a
series of setbacks, but never stopped enlivening the many who loved her or living herself or writing, including a poem for
''Very nice shoes . . . a little bit wild . . . .''
Then he shifted his view.
The breeze lifted strands
of his coal-dark hair
in an indulgent, lover-like way.
He looked down and touched the rock
he was sitting on
as if each crevice was his bride.
The waves rolled in.
''This is an empty rock,'' he said
and he smiled.
RETURN TO THE GALLERY
Mary Cassatt's ''Child in the Straw Hat'')
For seven years I wandered
through a planetary bower.
The straw brim of your hat
circling toward me
brought me home.
Here in the city of winter flowers
your breath, rich as pomegranate seeds,
hardens into pigment.
I cannot speak. You cannot see.
A blind man's cane strikes the years
in sidewalk cracks beside the avenue.
Mother I speak in your shadow
I see your glare beneath a wet cobweb of lashes.
I watch your tears turn in the circles
of your swollen eyes.
I am arched,
my body, string and bow
launching good will your way.
You despair in it.
Good will rots your martyrdom.
I come to cut the chains you've made
and watch them crumble
at my least touch.
You remain locked in.
Mother, you make death
I call you, more than once,
mother, salt of the earth;
I know the brine of your kiss.
That shrug of lost hope toward me
pushes me away.
I am the good daughter,
giver of gifts, giver of every conceivable jewel:
rubies, emeralds, pearls of touches
silver smiles, rings of arms
endlessly slipping around you
holding you from yourself.
Mother, I speak in the shadow
of your tongue. With your silence of words
I spin an empty web.
I will put you carefully away
in the box and I will strike
from its lid.
after Else Lasker-Schuler
You never come with the morning—
it's your time of day.
I sit with my pillow of stars.
Among the tea roses, there is no more
tea in their luscious cups.
I color your sky with my red pen's
heart, remembering your words.
There is a knocking at my door—
It is my own heart
among the fronds. The terrible glow
of roses burns out in the sky's grey.
You never come with the morning—
I do not hear your footstep.
Oh, those golden earrings.
TWO VIEWPOINTS ''POST BALZAC'' 1991, JUDITH SHEA
The coat was to greet
you, not hanging so much as standing
in the garden's stone vestibule.
It is impervious to sleet,
rain, morning dew. Balzac missing,
the regal coat stands for
immortality, or the illusion.
It's empty you say, a notched lapel,
collar up, braced for a modern cold century.
Time is crossed with a double X
at the sculpture's base. It's ready
for the dissonance of Gustav Mahler's
second symphony. The bronze, a chilly
structure, that can't outplay the Dictator's brass.
Ah! Under Rodin's hands, the monumental robe
hid Balzac's potbelly. Shea’s coat
covers nothing, unsentimental as a tour
of Auschwitz. It's too large for Columbo.
But it stands, holding its own space.
It waits to hold the artist larger than time.
He arrived at
evening with pink gladioli.
Stems clustered in
the stalks curved
a bright cobra
She brought the
to her lips in its
then touched his
wrist.At her window
a long blade of oak
tapped its way to
At dawn, new petals
thin as tissue paper
From a porcelain
they strike the air.
Mouth near another
In a miscellaneous
Of all the spark
plugs, wing nuts, star bolts!
One mouth closing in
Not merely for one
To touch another
Two mouths in vast
Each moving toward a
closed space opening,
As hungry as a
prayer for the dying,
Mouths with ears
filtering soft-spoken demands,
Trying not to hear
violated treaties, bombed truces,
The huge despair of
One rosy lip against
A whisper for
Potter's poetry and translations appeared in The Hollins Critic, The
MacGuffin, Poets On, Plainsong, Poet Lore, The Washington Review, Stone Country, and Jazz a Go-Go (Warsaw, Poland). Her work was
anthologized in Weavings 2000, Maryland Millenial Anthology; Hungry as We
Are: An Anthology of Washington Area Poets (Washington Writers' Publishing House); Quiet
Music: A Plainsong Reader's Anthology; If I Had My Life to Live Over, I'd Pick More
I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction and Photographs (Papier-Mache Press); the WPFW-FM
(Bunny and Crocodile Press); and in The Stones Remember, Native Israeli
Word Works). She was lead editor of Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller's
(The Word Works, 2003). In 1994, Delos, a journal of translations, featured her
interview with Richard Harteis and William Meredith. In 1994-95, District
included her Spanish translations in a children's literary poster series on
Washington Metro buses. Journey Proud: Southern Women's Writings (Carolina Wren Press)
included her chapter about living on the Virginia Eastern Shore. For 22 years,
she directed the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series, readings under the stars
in Rock Creek Park. She received several fellowships from the D.C. Commission
on the Arts. As a child, she performed as a singer on radio, television, and