Monday, April 24, 2006

Skillman Cliffnotes


Judith Skillman is the author of eight books of poems. She is winner of many poetry awards, including the Eric Mathieu King Fund from the Academy of American Poets, and has received grants from the Centrum Foundation, King County Arts Commission, and the Washington State Arts Commission. Her poems have appeared in Field, The Iowa Review, Northwest Review, Poetry, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Malahat Review, JAMA, and many other journals.

Skillman holds a Masters in English Literature from the University of Maryland, and has done graduate work in Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. She has taught Humanities courses for fifteen years at City University in Bellevue, Washington.

Read Judith's Ars Poetica.


David Robert Books, 2005

LatticeworkDavid Robert Books, 2004

Circe's Island
Silverfish Review Press, 2003

Blue Begonia Working Signs Series, 2001

Red Town
Silverfish Review Press, 2001

Blue Begonia Press, 1998

Beethoven and the Birds
Blue Begonia Press, 1996

Worship of the Visible Spectrum
Breitenbush Books, 1986


Seattle Weekly, published January 28 - February 3, 1999Poetry explodes our old habits of experience to make the world (and thus ourselves) new again. Some poems take us apart while putting us back together, enfolding our perceptions in the act of smashing them, and this is one of literature's great mitigations--the work of art that can possess its own chaos tells us we, too, may be able to hold ourselves steady. Look for no such mitigations in Storm, Skillman's new collection of poems. Her work tugs us into the maelstrom of being alive and strands us there, dust devils and curses blowing by, the ground buckling under our feet. Attention twitches, like tic douloureux, from Styrofoam replicas of molecules to memories of palsied Uncle Jake in the kitchen where the dog humped your red-faced mother's shin. A schoolgirl's briefcase holds "the stink/of instruments and limbs"; vision darkens in the "sackcloth of winter"; somewhere "between sewer and hedge" a turtle stalls. The nervous system is a scraped and shaken web on which moments crazily stitch themselves while "the earth gallop[s] closer." If we opened up, we'd feel this storm under the skin of even the sunniest picnic afternoon, but survival seems to require closing off most of our perceptions. Shall we open Skillman's book, then? Pricked and prodded by her restless, strenuous interrogations of the world we thought we knew, we'll shift uncomfortably, failing to find a place where the heart can rest. That's the point. -- Judy Lightfoot

Analysis of “Storm” by Judith Skillman

Skillman is a seasoned poet whose connection with life brings depth and insight to her poetry. This is particularly exhibited in her book Storm. Published in 1998, Storm is a collection of poems that revolve around the storms of life that inevitably come our way. Skillman carefully weaves a journey throughout her poetry, one that does not downplay that difficult times happen in life. Just as we cannot control the storms of nature, so to can the individual not control the storms that come with daily life. While storms may try to beat us down, it is possible to stand firm and weather the storm, to not let the storm wear us down, but to come out of it with life still in tact.

Skillman’s poems are divided into four sections within her book. Section I is titled “The Thunderheads” and centers on the reality that storms happen in life. This is exemplified in Uncle Jack, the nuclear physicist whose hands have been removed (“Rookery”, pg. 13), in the death that separates lovers (“Madrona”, pg. 16), and in a complicated pregnancy that resonates black and deeply grained (“Complications”, pg. 17). Section II, titled “The Spoils”, begins to rake through what the storm has left behind. For example, the sea sweeps the beach clean and years pass since the forgotten diagnosis (“Red-Headed Woodpecker”, pg. 34). There is a sense in Skillman’s poems that even after the storm passes life still exists, however mangled and hurting it may be. In Section III, Skillman’s poems focus on a recognition and desire to work past the storms. In “Paperweight”, the voice in the poem declares “I thaw from the center, but the house is wood and stone” (pg. 52) and in “The Indoor Garden”, the plant that is potted and repotted eventually becomes a tree (pg. 53). The idea that it is never too late to push past the storm and the spoils it leaves behind leads the reader toward Section IV of the book titled “The Robin”. In this section, it is clear that the storm has been weathered. The poem titled “The Robin” states that “The robin’s orange breast is a sign . . . In the round chest I see a little heat left over from the beginning of the universe” (pg. 67). There is life after the storm.

The natural flow of Skillman’s poetry leads the reader through the journey of life, a journey of weathering the difficulties that life brings. Skillman’s poems accentuate those experiences in life that we may not plan but that we inevitably are forced to deal with. Through it all, life can and does endure through the storms of life.

Themes/Big Ideas/Symbols-

Throughout the book, Storm, some elements that repeat significantly throughout. The first of some of these motifs are of winter and snow, coldness and nighttime. These are all themes found in (“The Comet” p. 70) (“The Indoor Garden” p. 53) (“The Paperweight” p.52) (“Another Nutcracker” p. 51) (“Tic Douloureux” p. 44) (“Storm” p. 37) All of these among others show us darkness. We feel sensations and realize it’s the sting of death, of disappointment, of disaster; all things that aren’t necessarily what people want to talk about and feel and make reference to.

Other references that show up often in the book are animals, nature references like trees, and a holly bush. She talks about insects and bark. In all of the poems above and also in (“The Snags” p. 42) I think all of these are symbols of hope in something good, in resolution, and things that are hidden in our lives. The journey of life has all of these things literally speaking, but also figuratively speaking. From this book, nature and it’s inhabitants can show us the ups and downs and the way out. From a sunset to a sunrise, to potato bugs and centipedes, “even a centipede can feed the lost and hungry.” (“As Lot’s Wife” p.29)

I think the pivotal poem in this book and an obvious theme throughout, naturally, is “Storm”. This poem is a journey with nature as the guide to help us make sense of the importance of the struggles and getting out of the darkness. It speaks of “…lightening, storms, electricity, spiders, a fallen tree, wren, swift, and the barometer bird, grass, twilight, constellations, planets, stars, thunder, sun, moon, flower, lightening bugs…” All of these words are in the poem in this order, with much in between them, but even as you read them you can almost see the journey and feel the ups and downs that are conveyed so simply and clearly with these words as the structure and guide to the deep emotions and experiences that are hardly easy to find words to describe and to derive such a response from the reader as hers do.

Struggle; fighting with life and the world. The journey and the path that is taken. This is what she is showing and doing with so many images in nature. She ties them with experience just enough to not let a lot of information be straightforward, but rather more of digging through these images. It’s work, but it’s there in a big way.

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