Jacklyn Potter

In Memoriam


Jacklyn Wayne Potter

October 19, 1943 – April 10, 2006   


What I don't like about poems

is the voice, full of feathers and light

pretending to know

what it does not know.

(from "To The Neurosurgeon" by Jacklyn Potter)

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 blankets.


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 experience:



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
your repertoire.


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
clattering praise.


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.




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

and raw

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 her neurosurgeon:



            for A.K. Ommaya


What I don't like about poems

is the voice, full of feathers and light

pretending to know

what it does not know.


My voice comes now

to your hand.

You tell me you know more

about me than I think.


Soon you'll touch

what I can't see.  Silent,

it grows and hangs

beneath the lobes


at the inner crossroads

of my eyes.  Have you seen

a blur of birds, thrilled

by their progress to the wire?


With startled landings

they seek a balanced air.

They bend and flap and turn their heads

until they can hold

still enough to see

still enough to fly.




for Marchant

This year, before the lightning

of the fly sparked the trees,


before the night train

crawled across these eyes


with its headlights

scattered through the heavens


and on earth, black leaves

filled our kaleidoscopic garden;


before the air turned into this ball of fire,

I remember you held this elbow

(birdsong riddled the sky)


and you steadied my waist

(I had already turned and broken

the soil for seed).


You cut the plastic name

from my wrist.  And lifted me


oh softly

into the foaming water

to wash me clean.

["Permanent Vision" first appeared in Poet Lore (www.poetlore.com)]

Four documents can be downloaded here:

Memorial Service program, May 20, 2006, St. Albans Chapel, Washington, D.C.

Eulogy by Marchant Wentworth

"The Groaning Bed," Jacklyn's unpublished manuscript of poems, written for her MFA in 1983

Jacklyn's CV

More poems by Jacklyn Potter:



Work.  Smooth

your amber hair

across your ear.

Work.  Smooth

your painted nails

over IBM keys.

Smooth your eyes

over a man and his


Disguise your flesh,

but not too well.

Smooth the nerves

of the man whose coat

you hang and let

your skin speak enough.

He calls then

for coffee, he dictates

your work.

His thighs unclench

on soft leather.

a smaller smile than yours.

He has a wife

who later smiles at him,

a smaller smile than yours.



The black coat.  It's the key to fashion.

She wants it.  The one with the collar

that won't quit, the mid-calf, pure wool

black coat—the limit, the essence,

half-price, the black coat.  She wants it.


She tries it: the perfect coat.

She is particular, precise,

she is the woman in the black coat.

See her lie in iridescent foam!

Soft wool rides the waves.


But now she gives it

back to the rack.


As she watches the boats

that go for clams and scallops,

the wind slaps her,

the wind that wears kid gloves.

She has consumed

many heads of lettuce,

she has picked

at many bones of fish.


Each day she repeats

a thousand motions,

she gathers her heart and body

at last, home, at peace

with her solitary choosing.

The seagulls wing before her window screen.

She wears her skin alone to bed.




I remember my mother's hair rolled in rags

as she slipped from room to room

her right arm crooked before her.

Sometimes she carried a rattling

glass of iced tea and a feather duster.

Her face had already found

the habit of searching corners warily

for what she'd lost.


My home was World War II temporary quarters.

The first roads I traveled

were grit dull, tight and steamy, not

like the colored veins of the road map

beside me now in the passenger seat.

I will not be like her.


But I sleep in wadded, sweaty

sheets.  My dog near me,

I let him fill the bed with burrs

and dog hair.  In the morning,

the road fills with honeysuckle mist

curling through loblolly pines.


For my mother, a dream for herself

was forbidden.  She did not find

this out.  She ironed dresses

for my song-and-dance routine

as soldiers practiced maneuvers

out back in the Belvoir Woods.

She tied bows around my French braids

and taught me to say "sophisticated"

while the troops marched by

singing and shouting Sound off!



The man she would marry

sat on a rock and smiled

at the sea in particular.


He told her he like her red shoes.

''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.




            (to 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

play overtime.


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.


Some day

I will put you carefully away

in the box and I will strike

Pandora's name

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.







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 his hand,

the stalks curved upward

a bright cobra spreading

through his atmosphere.


She brought the bouquet

to her lips in its fullness,

then touched his wrist.  At her window

a long blade of oak

tapped its way to barrenness.

At dawn, new petals

thin as tissue paper

raise their blossoms.

From a porcelain vase

they strike the air.



Mouth near another mouth

In a miscellaneous universe;


Of all the spark plugs, wing nuts, star bolts!

One mouth closing in upon another,


Not merely for one tongue

To touch another here are


Two mouths in vast territory

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 parting

Sighs, tentative farewells, endings,


Broken vows, violated treaties, bombed truces,

The huge despair of nations

One rosy lip against another

A whisper for defense.

Jacklyn 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 Daisies, If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction and Photographs (Papier-Mache Press); the WPFW-FM Anthology (Bunny and Crocodile Press); and in The Stones Remember, Native Israeli Poetry (The Word Works). She was lead editor of Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller's Cabin, 1984-2001 (The Word Works, 2003). In 1994, Delos, a journal of translations, featured her interview with Richard Harteis and William Meredith. In 1994-95, District Lines 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 stage.



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