Friday, October 16, 2009
Carlisle poet’s collection tugs at common emotional strings
Marriage. Divorce. Parenting. Caring for elderly parents. Also wedding china, plastic dinosaurs, the aquarium, and marathon training: of these quotidian details are Margaret Crouse Skelly’s elegant poems crafted.
Skelly, who lives on Berry Corner Road with her husband George and two children, was raised in a low-income housing project in Watertown. Poverty combined with her mother’s mental illness, facets of her heritage that she explores in her poetry, proved to be no match for her passion for books. A fourth-grade teacher, commemorated in one of her poems, recognized the child’s potential and encouraged her in every way possible. Skelly still credits this same teacher with the fact that she became a writer.
“I’ve always enjoyed writing. I used to write short stories when I was in grammar school,” Skelly recalled. “I started writing poetry in high school, after I started reading it, because I so enjoyed the playful use of language and recognized how interesting the English language is: the nuances in words, the Writer Margaret Crouse Skelly self-publishes her first collection of poetry double entendres.”
Winning a writing contest led to a scholarship at Cornell University where Skelly originally planned a pre-med program, but became an English major after her first college-level English course. She spent ten years working, first writing press releases for the Dukakis administration and then writing copy for a lingerie company, before continuing her education with law school at Northeastern. For several years after completing her law degree, she worked in a law firm, but has more recently turned her professional skills to the field of arbitration.
Skelly’s daughter Caroline is a seventh grader and her son William a first grader; both children figure prominently in her poetry, sometimes in positive and inspirational ways, and other times to illustrate the occasional down-and-dirty tedium of parenting. In the poem “Snow Day,” Skelly laments the change of plans forced by a school cancellation and the frustration of seeing a potentially productive day lost to children’s bickering as the storm keeps them indoors.
“My style is along the lines of poets like Billy Collins, who write accessible poetry about life observances,” Skelly said. “There’s a misrepresentation about poetry in our country; that it’s elitist and people can’t understand it. Sometimes that’s true, but I like to write poems that are about topics people can relate to. I try to elicit a common emotion related to being a mom, being a wife. I write about observances of nature.”
Although some of her writing has already been published in poetry journals, Skelly decided that, rather than tackling the improbable odds of finding a commercial publisher for her work, what really mattered was to have her poems archived for her children. After gathering ten years of writing into a collection entitled The Girl in the Orange Dress, she began investigating so-called vanity presses, which allow writers to pay to have their own work published. She chose ECPrinting, a publishing house in Wisconsin; local photographer Jill Goldman took the back-cover photo of the author.
Skelly received the first shipments of her book in late September and is now selling it in person, as well as at Willow Books in Acton and on Amazon.com. Positive reviews have come in already, including one from Carlisle resident and poetry therapist Patti Russo, who has been a mentor to Skelly. “Her poems are a pleasure: sometimes playful, sometimes somber, always moving,” wrote Russo in a recent review.
For now, Skelly is happy to have her book in print and available to the public. However, she also dreams of seeing poetry become a more influential force in American society. “I have a lot of respect for Oprah [Winfrey] and what she did with her book club to get America to read really good literature,” Skelly said. “I sent her a copy of my book with a challenge that she do the same thing for poetry. In some parts of South America, you can buy poetry from a vending machine in the train station. Wouldn’t that be great to see here?”
Reading on November 12
On November 12, Skelly will be reading her work in Union Hall at the First Religious Society at 7 p.m. All are welcome. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito