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Edge Effect

Trails and Portrayals

Sandra McPherson

Publication Year: 1996

Edge Effect is Sandra McPherson's most original work to date. Constructed in two parts, the collection embraces secretly related worlds: the poetics of natural history and artistic discoveries of self-taught folk artists. Throughout, waves from one poem mark the shores of others. In natural history, an edge effect occurs where two communities, such as land and sea, overlap, that zone becoming more diversified than each of them. McPherson explores this effect in nature and art, questioning our notions of inside and outside, center and margin. Profound and moving, she recasts the very premises of formal understanding in poetry, accommodating at once the arts of nature and the nature of art.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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pp. ix-x

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Choosing an Author for Assurance in the Night

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pp. 1-2

I hoped it would be someone who, burning through her last mask, debuting with the creases earned from its petrified pillow, would show me how to live persistently. Reject (I asked) the hollow protection of your headdress, mystagogue, inspiritor, its copper wires and antelope skin, its bronze or cam wood or coconut hair.

1 Portrayals

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Affirmation Against Critics

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pp. 5-6

Defending the unreasonable, deranged design, as art of a different wellness, as something wholly well only when it is wild, led me to see it as an aesthetic testing those who never pieced a thing: Failing this severity, they went on making nothing and judgments. Her children studied the nonsense of the quilt,

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Painting Self-Portraits with the Wisdom Project Women

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pp. 7-8

What is my personal power symbol? I didn't know then and I don't know now. But I needed to brush it three times on very large and visible paper, along with an animal and a gift of comfort I'd give to a friend (a teacup— I can paint it easily).

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Eclipse Facsimile

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pp. 9-10

It is cheaper than sitting for a portrait: The Xerox shakes out a picture— but of what presence? An iron stove with heat waves tressing it. This is a face, perhaps. Or perhaps it has seen behind her face. Had it worked, she'd be urging others to try it, too, lay a cheek on the windowplate, make a jacket a blind.

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The Study of Genius

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pp. 11-12

I am passing behind one of five Ringling Brothers clowns, the one with green hair and white piping on billowing outline, as he stands at the back of the convention and watches the film.

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The Clown

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pp. 13-14

There, between Leakey's yellow fingernails, was the first skull becoming human. And the angels, who could use gold paint, were also pedigreed in their time. Whatever the order of beings, the clown was roped off from our gods and our families.

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Ode to Early Work

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pp. 15-16

Of those who finally win notice, of these artists it is said their early work is either purer, more astounding, or fainter, less filled in, too central. Or all vision, little hand.

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My Personal Hercules

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pp. 17-18

I have no way to earn a living but to find a giant horse and make it stand in a yellow tent, one harvest-amber town after the next, beside the bigger and sadder bull and the tiny, resourceless stallion, Garboesque, lying on pale straw in a sunken, untouchable court.

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Spirit Writings

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pp. 19-20

Murry wants to write; he loves the glyph flood of written speech; he cannot read; he invents a graceful script anyway, with watercolor; his paintings are this way verbal and liquid; they present shapes of ghosts, washes for bodies; he reinvents the ghostwriter; his spirits' eyes are important—those who can't see he puts glasses on; he has inspected cursive and found it divine—full of intimation, moment, forbidding paraphrase. He feels God gives him...

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pp. 21-23

My left hand is weeding millet out from under blue-blossoming rosemary. As its spark enters my skin, the bee squats in disgust, distraught. Light passes out of its fur. What if our last two acts are anger and sleep?— just look at this hero.

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Outsider: Minnie Evans

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pp. 24-25

Now, because of you, symmetry and asymmetry interest me equally. Paints tinting the cisterns in which they mix slosh and overflow, but you tend the garden gate. You are so celestially symmetrical that if you have a sun rising from the sea on the left in your picture, you'll put the echo of a sun rising out of the same ocean on the right, an island for their hub.

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Outsider: Juanita Rogers

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pp. 26-27

Except for when she's spirited away, she'll never leave Alabama. Cohorts and tutelaries believed from the television line the one-room surrounding her womb a cottage abortion smoothed into a huge tumorous study of pregnancy. "Here": is pigment and mud. "Not here":

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Great Art, Great Criticism

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pp. 28

Van Gogh as bedding— a woman healer's starry night: Pyres of crushed skirts, of black and brown light, of blue and hot pepper search-beams, comfort my Louvre. It is a strange thing to want— for there is no scrap pomp; and pins are left in the monument of wide neckties. There is no doctoral unapplied comment of cloth but shock of its fuchsia-loud gag. Quilt talking, poem talking, student speaking. The persimmon-colored tongue.

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Justin McCarthy, Naive

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pp. 29-31

Tormented by grace, he had to scratch at it, leave the marks of his enthusiasm, his best imperfect penstroke. All to gain a keepsake of a yellow bathingsuit; of an iceskate as the season of pleasure changes. And especially one figure, her skin

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Lessons Learned from a Small Drawing by Victor Joseph Gatto, Self-Taught Artist

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pp. 32

If you cannot make a living from your art, double the art, double any part (but not the whole) of the body of a woman, multiply eyes in every head. She'll never view you in a simple way. If you cannot make a living from your art, the freak is yours. Think of your lady's two heads on your shoulder. Make only what you cannot bear to part with.

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Preliminary Designs

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pp. 33-34

When you actually build it, it calls for repair, spackle, cedar, tiny hardware. But not to know how to build! Only to design! A fantasia. In the lookout tower: rotating, sky-lit, circular compartments, glassy clean surfaces, a museum's unmessy curio drawers, counters, rooms of every shape in Geometry II or crystallography— garneto, the swallowtail twin crystal (a good practical interior for reversible despair). Someone is just doodling arches, viaducts, mottling low walls with yews, water with shadows of causeways,...

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pp. 35-36

Who are you, coming without flash and standing high on a chair in the doorway? —And who are you, living in this room these twenty years, testy and messy, pitching bibelots more from weariness than from anger— but casting things aside for charity, too? Flannel shadows, caning, a clear old mirror whose "flaws" avert the eye around to the present shiftiness of surviving— I see them where you live, do you?

2 Trails

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Waiting for Lesser Duckweed: On a Proposal of Issa's

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pp. 39-42

December, a weekday, no one else crossing (by way of the wet path) the bird sanctuary's yellow spongy bottomland, no duckweed any longer willow-green— for now, the almost smoldering gas-lacy water says,...

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In Memory of the Surprised

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pp. 43-45

A shin-high zoo goat stood on a sheep; a fish seemed to look up and question us. That was on solid ground, in even water.

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Coastscape and Mr. Begley

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pp. 46-49

One eighth of an inch across one petal of the yellow field. Or each with a green strap narrower than a hospital bracelet, sedges raise the height of a marsh. The entire estuary could leak drop by drop through cupped hands, egret's beak, or a shed's mossy roof as rain.

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Research Trail, Cold Canyon, November

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pp. 50-53

Direction: bronze knee-snagging flower-head, unsprung from the weathered bank. Direction down: bird; bird song...

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Path Through a Few Things that Must Be Said for Putah Creek, at the Foot of Monticello Dam

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pp. 54-58

Before we know we are spun, between the dam's spilled staircase and dismaying face (a Venetian blind holding back an ocean) and a violence waiting for our trust to turn its way, we track down the old yellow canyon of pipevine swallowtails,...

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Paths Rounding Timberline, Mt. Hood, Last Week of Summer

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pp. 59-64

All-mantling, the grit— scoured and beaten and rinsed by glacier sap, ranging over scrubbed slope sides batting off the sun, the previous million snows, the engraving summer rains, clean rock to eat—...

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Phlox Diffusa

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pp. 65

Is it calm after midnight on its rocky slope, exactly fitted to its nice little rubble? Easy to think it's a bedtime slipper of a flower, owning no boots. It lies flat on its back and looks at stars.

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Bluegum: On the Curving Paths of Golden Gate Park

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pp. 66-68

A deep blue layer of scent on the ground, long scrolls of bark, fallings, sickles and minisci of leaves on the path edges.

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Trail to the Farthest Spring, Mt. Hood, September

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pp. 69-71

Farther than the last cistern, where yet another final world's end pool collects, reflection of a sky or self is bounded on the upslope by fattest moss, golfhat chartreuse. It feels like a sweet, misleadingly thug-bodied cat when you pat it. Pressing back, it rubs with licked-fur undersides:...

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Ocean Water Absorbs Red, Orange, and Yellow Light

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pp. 72-74

in a flash and allows only the green and blue to penetrate the depths. As we love deeply those we love, they are our blue and green. And what if the sex so easily replaced by next and next times is the last, lapsing into the Dalai Lama's "method of coping with lust":...

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Genius of Fog at Ecola Creek Mouth

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pp. 75-76

The horse meadow quarters roots as large as if they'd cantered from the stable. They lie in salt rush and spiky large-headed sedge. They recline in bird's-foot trefoil the horses crop. Loggers' drift-stumps, they rave at the root end, but on their misery-whipped plane light springwood bands, dark summerwood rings, weathered and fuzzed. Up to the woods of small alders, they gallop in heavy recumbencies. One swirling wooden mane holds a crow.

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Edge Effect

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pp. 77-80

Even under a petroglyphic coastal overcast, the sand flushes with a heat almost innocent, unhurt as it burns, and thus it is so often the purest place for us as children. Now, when we imprint its edge, we know it will wash. While we may squint, its glint is broken lenses. Rubbing sand in my palm, I feel vision in that hand. I see...


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pp. 81-82


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pp. 83-84

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572509
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819522252

Page Count: 95
Publication Year: 1996