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DOWN THE MIDDLE
WITH A NICKEL:
a memoir of a
West Virginia childhood
With all the vividness and clarity of a Brownie home movie, these vignettes of a West Virginia girlhood are a mnemonic triumph. Young Patty confronts all the terrors that 1950s America could conjure: the Bomb, polio, Russian spies, the junior-high dance. We watch her growing awareness of rural poverty, marital disharmony, sexual repression and gender regimentation-the hidden casualties of an age of confident conformity. Alternately comical, nostalgic, and poignant, this poetic memoir is notable for its range, its skill, and its sensitivity, but especially for delightful surprises at every turn.
--John Roche, author of On Conesus (FootHills)
Schwartz's poems depict a narrow slice of time in a small swath of America in rich, evocative details. Here is a tantalizing memoir, a personal and remarkably universal history of an era that has left is imprint on us all. This is poetry to savor, to dwell in; this is a book for Everyreader that feeds, as she puts it, `the hunger of our imagination.'
--Karla Linn Merrifield, author of Midst
and Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills)
What we love well--to paraphrase Ezra Pound--as well as what we remember well, is our heritage. In Down the Middle with a Nickel, Patricia Roth Schwartz gives us the dark complexity of memory, its gift and its practice made art, in this solid and moving collection, in which what is loved, what is sweet, runs red like blood all over one's own hungry hands.
--Steven Huff, author of A Pig in Paris (Lake Affect)
and More Daring Escapes (Red Hen)
Down The Middle With A Nickel is a book of edges turned skillfully into centers by a poet with verve and perspicacity. Personal memory becomes living history, vivid recollection of half a century ago shaped into a moving contemporary collection. From the blood of birth to the rare sugar of a cherry popsicle, Patricia Roth Schwartz understands the power of red, and her poems offer crimson's core.
--Katharyn Howd Machan, author of Sleeping
With The Dead (Finishing Line) and Flags (Pudding House)
To revisit childhood in one's sixties through the twin lenses of memory and
poetry is a journey at once of both delight and peril. When I began to
write--inspired by many other poets before me--from memory, I had an
opportunity to grapple with happenings I had long held (I have an amazing
memory--not always a pleasant thing!), but had never quite figured out. The
poems allowed me to do that--at least in some measure.
As I began to write more poems from that time in my life, I realized more
and more that the book was not just about me and my immediate family, but
about West Virgina: the seasonal agricultural workers never quite defined as
such, the legacy of the coal mines, the rural poverty. It also became about
the entire era of the fifties: into my own personal memories crept the polio
epidemic and the administration of the Salk vaccine, the first nuclear
testing shown on television (in fact, the infancy of television itself), the
legacy of WW II veterans returning to start life anew in their small GI bill
suburban houses, beginning families that would become tainted by what they
And so the volume took shape. Several poems from my earlier full-length
collection, "Planting Bulbs in a Time of War,and Other Poem (also from
FootHills), already dealt with similar subject matter: "Just Rewards," "Blue
Ribbon," and "Perihelion," and I consider them part of this body of work as
well. What I ended up with is for me bitter-sweet: I feel for the girl I was
in her scratchy school dresses drawing the birds of West Virgina in order
please her father: I see in her the birth of the poet I would become; I
still carry her emotional scars.
Making the cover collage for the book was lots of fun and helped me to get
used to images I have not always wanted to look at: the faces of those
girls my sister and I were, emotionally buffeted by the storms of our
family's problems, the young face of my soldier father... What I have
learned is that creativity heals, that "story" become the vehicle for our
own transformations--and so here is the book. I hope it speaks to you, the
reader, and helps you to become closer to your own story.
From the book:
ALL THE FIVE AND DIMES
When those plastic pumpkins sprout up every year now in the shop windows, I fall back: it's October in Charleston and Mrs. Fletcher's hauling Billy up in front of the class and ordering him to bend over, even though he's tall as a man, so she can beat him hard with her wooden paddle. It's the kind kids usually play with that has a little rubber ball attached to it by a string, but she's cut that off. Billy refuses to cry. So she beats him some more until the paddle splits in half, then sends him out to the Principal.
Meek and quiet we sit in rows--those desks were screwed down, anyway, as I recall, fast to the floor. Opening up our notebooks we get to list all the West Virginia Facts we need to know: State Flower (mountain laurel), State Bird (tufted titmouse--before the cardinal was chosen instead), Capital City (Charleston, where we live), State Hero from History (John Henry, even though he's Colored), Principal Products (coal and steel). Mrs. Fletcher tells us that tomorrow we need to bring something for Billy which we can get, she says, at the Five and Dime: pencils, candy, gum, erasers, a little box maybe of eight Crayolas, nothing bigger. We're getting him, she says, a real hollowed-out pumpkin to stuff with all the things he needs. No one mentions soap or clean unripped clothes that fit or the ability to spell or add or subtract. No one asks why he and his brothers--Victor who poops in his pants and the other one with the dirty neck whose name I forget--leave school every year for half the year. They miss so much school that Billy gets to be fifteen and still in class with us, nine-year-olds.
I had to get to be twenty-four, not eating California lettuce or grapes, hearing Cesar Chavez speak at the local college, to finally figure it all out. All the Five and Dimes are gone now, but I still remember Billy's face, when he sees the pumpkin, how it floats up pale and round, the huge dark holes of his eyes. . .
DOWN THE MIDDLE WITH A NICKEL:
is a 28 page hand-sewn chapbook - $8.00
TO ORDER ON-LINE
Also by Patricia Schwartz
"Patricia Roth Schwartz's compelling poems unflinchingly address family's history and history's family, and we are the better for it. Hers is a voice of empathy and grace, a voice that reminds us in all ways to be mindful of `the other.'"
Thom Ward - Small Boat with Oars of Different Size and
Various Orbits, Carnegie-Mellon Press
"Patricia Roth Schwartz says, 'To live long is to remember/what things are called.' She remembers. These are intrepid poems, opening the dark rooms of family, of love, finding possibility. Her ear for speech has perfect pitch. Most at home in her herb-scented garden, her land, tuned to her world, she rings true."
Linda Allardt - Accused of Wisdom, FootHills Publishing
"Patricia Roth Schwartz explores the rigorous claims of family and earth, of memory and desire, as if 'uprooting regret/from the mind's terrain.' In a voice that accommodates waves of joy and sorrow, fearlessly pursuing the telling detail, she allows us to experience through language 'that explosion of grace/rare as deep touch.'"
Kathleen Wakefield - Notations on the Visible World, Anhinga Press
"What a pleasure to read Patricia Roth Schwartz's new book of poems, to see how the work of poet and gardener find such fruitful common ground. Whether celebratory or elegiac, deeply personal or widely political, Schwartz's poems take us in with their rich, tactile textures, their insistence that we attend-'like a fingertip/ held to a pulse'-to the unsung and ordinary moments of our lives."
Ralph Black - Turning Over the Earth, Milkweed Editions
"Reading the poetry of Patricia Roth Schwartz is like visiting a splendid aunt who left her husband for a delightful and potentially dangerous 'other woman.' Reflected in the lovingly detailed images is a deep respect for language."
Bruce Sweet - What I Really Wanted, FootHills Publishing
From the book:
PLANTING BULBS IN A TIME OF WAR
A morning for choices: bed,
the muzzy drone of half-sleep,
the sinking heart-or instead, thick socks,
rubber clogs, a sharp trowel in gloved hands,
the garb of earth's midwife.
Out under the struggling sun, the lifting breeze,
you bend to work, a swarm of lady-bugs
clings to the porch door; beyond
the dying tomatoes, sumac warms
the field of fading goldenrod.
Hunkered on rain-damp ground,
deep into each hole you've dug
you press one bulb, tear-shaped;
like the ancient Egyptians
leaving the dead food for the journey,
you scatter bone ground fine as ash.
Last night with fierce surprise
you found yourself calling down
from the pale stars your parents,
as if this time they'd enter their lives
capable of comforting, but really
what you ached for was just a chance
to ask, before dark fell, for one
last story, the one you never thought
you'd need to hear:
What was it like
when a moment arrived--like a fingertip
held to a pulse--when a hawk's shadow
dropped over the day? Afterward then,
still childless, apart, did each of them dare
to conjure a future that one day arrived?--
a station platform, a baby whose picture
they'd pose atop a globe of the world,
then print up for cards at Christmas.
And here you still are this morning, still riding
that spinning world, the sun your incantation,
after so many burials ready to catch,
when it comes--as it must--the howling
spring, writing the story yourself, not
the final chapter but the next, deep under
your broken fingernails
ashes and dirt.
WALKING THE LABYRINTH AT ROWE
IN MY 57TH YEAR
October 12, 2003
I am not done with my changes.
walking lichen fern
this green earth holds me up
circle of stones hummocks of thyme
center of stone curves closer
walking curves closer walking
curves closer draws away turns again
this sojourn begins arcs into
darkness turning toward winter circle
of stones walking fern lichen
hummocks of thyme center of stone
draws away this green earth holds
me up world as lover sole companion
walking curves closer further away
center of stone turns arcs into
darkness hummocks of thyme lichen
Five o'clock in the afternoon,
fifteen finches decorate my feeder,
delicate, ingenious, as if crafted
by Faberge--although for who
really did make them, I haven't
That old pine
I've been urged to smite
down to kindling
is clearly their home.
Lighting here now myself
in stillness, for once, lawn chair
in shade, to write,
yellow pad on my knee,
back and forth to those
aged shaggy branches where dead
wood mixes with new, green-gold
feathers of growth bright as their
summer backs, I see them dart.
These birds have settled
into my care: as one who's had
a haven betrayed, I know
just how they're going to feel,
swooping back one day
on a homing flight, oblivious,
unprepared, only to realize-
through layer after layer of forcing
eye and disbelieving mind to reconcile--
that where once sanctuary
so firmly stood
now only remains
Patricia Roth Schwartz, poet and fiction writer, grows herbs and perennials on her 35 acre property, Sage-Thyme Haven, in Waterloo, in the Finger Lakes region of central New York. She teaches at The Writers & Books Literary Center in Rochester, as well as volunteering to conduct an ongoing poetry workshop in Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum security men's prison in Auburn, New York. Her work has been widely published in small press journals, as well as in book form.
Born in West Virginia on Columbus Day in 1946, Pat has also lived in California, Massachusetts and Connecticut. She holds two degrees in English, from Mount Holyoke College (B.A.) and Trinity College, (M.A.), plus one in counseling psychology from Antioch/ New England (M.A.). Having taken early retirement to both write and pursue her prison work, as well as other projects, she worked previously in Boston as a psychotherapist in private practice, then in this region as an adjunct instructor in both English and psychology for several colleges as well as Cayuga Correctional Facility.
In June 2002 Pat received an ImageOut poetry award in Rochester, and was a Finalist in 2003 and 2004. She was also selected as a Finalist in the Willamette Poetry Contest from The Clackamas Literary Review in 2004, as well as the Sow's Ear Poetry Contest, 2004. She has appeared in the Genesee Reading Series at Writers & Books as well as in numerous other readings including poetry for peace. Pat served for several years as a volunteer co-coordinator for a regional summer poetry festival held at Writers & Books' Gell Center for the Arts. She was also co-facilitator of Rochester's "Wilde/ Woolf Society," an lgbt writers' support group, and is now a member of "Just Poets."
Pat is working currently on another full-length manuscript, The Crows of Copper John: the History of Auburn Prison in Poems, a portion of which was presented in November 2004 in a readers' theatre format in Rochester as a benefit for CEPHAS, a former inmates' halfway house.
Planting Bulbs in a Time of War is a 72 page hand-sewn book with spine - $15.00
TO ORDER Planting Bulbs in a Time of War ON-LINE