Some Notes You Hold: New and Selected Poems
by Rita Quillen
978-1-948692-44-1 paper 16.95
978-1-948692-45-8 ebook 9.99
6×9, 80 pp.
Cover art by Suzanne Stryk
Some Notes You Hold: New and Selected Poems is about surviving what life throws at us as we age. The so-called “golden years” are so named because of the high admission price—the tremendous losses, disappointments, illnesses, and failures we all experience if we live long enough. The first part of the book, called “Letting Go,” focuses on surviving deep grief. The middle section is a musical interlude, exploring the tremendous power of music to heal us mentally, physically, and spiritually and to reorder our thinking and our emotions. The last section, “Holding On,” explores the roads leading to survival: prayer and meditation, communion with the natural world, and writing. The price paid for those “golden years” leads to the prize: insight, joy, and a kind of peace we were incapable of when we were young.
Rita Quillen’s novel Wayland, a sequel to Hiding Ezra, was published by Iris Press (2019). Her full-length poetry collection, The Mad Farmer’s Wife, was published in 2016 by Texas Review Press, and was a finalist for the Weatherford Award in Appalachian Literature from Berea College. Her novel Hiding Ezra, released by Little Creek Books, was a finalist for the 2005 DANA Awards. One of six semi-finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, she received three Pushcart nominations, and a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Read more at www.ritasimsquillen.com.
Framed within the twin templates of scripture and domestic ritual, these poems pay loving homage to hard times and the resilience it takes to survive them. Quillen often employs a colloquial voice that perfectly fits these poems, poems that ring as brightly as the “big bell on the steeple” of the family church, narrative poems animated by metaphors of music, “music . . . the creek you swam in.” I am grateful for this collection and how it unfailingly reminds me that beyond heartache, poetry persists in offering deep solace.
—Marc Harshman, author of Woman in Red Anorak, winner of the 2017 Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry.
As I’ve heard it said that harmony creates a longing in the voice, this book creates a longing in the heart—for all that passes as well as for all that endures. Rita Quillen draws for us a world that holds both abundance and quiet, joy and “grace from going without.” Some Notes You Hold is itself a “holy chorus” bringing the human voice together with “wolf howl, cooing doves, hallelujah magpies.”
—Diane Gilliam, author of Kettle Bottom
“Heart wide as the river, / spirit open and at risk every moment / yet strong enough to stand all the sadness and sweet longing”—that’s how Rita Quillen praises fiddlers who take listeners to “the exact spot where music lives.” Those words also perfectly describe Quillen’s own art in these radiant poems. Her deft, generous voice travels the octaves from “the tiny cosmos of root, stem, and vein” to the human complexities of hard work, loss, and love. Quillen knows in her blood that language is the music of living, and her readers will savor her every word.
—Lynn Powell, author of Season of the Second Thought, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize
In Rita Quillen’s Some Notes You Hold, I am sweetly captured in her “Letting Go,” the author giving her total self to the memory of her father. His life becomes the holy in “Garden Rite,” his memory, tender in “Grounding” in its tiny cosmos of root, stem and vein.” And, dare I say it, in her poem “Exeunt,” I feel the soul of Mary Oliver in lines such as “sweet calves quivered on new legs,” and in an ending that left me sighing: “wearing the beauty shroud/to remind us all our last day/will be sudden and bright.”
—karla k. morton, 2010 Texas State Poet Laureate
In the poem “Why I Take Photos” Rita Sims Quillen might as well have said, “Why I Write Poems.” This poem is the heart of the book—and it is subtly tied, without explicitly making the connection, to her poem “Texaco Opera.” The juxtaposition of a Texaco gas station and opera, the sheer emotional friction of desire and unmet need, the discordant images of Madama Butterfly and coal camp smoke. That is what this book is—an answer to a question, a leading, a route of discovery, pairing loss against growth, pain against earned wisdom; a question that is thematically answered by the wonderful line in the poem “Love Poem to Trees”: our only hope:/a photographer/or a woman/with pen and paper.” Rita Sims Quillen is that woman.
—Alan Birkelbach, 2005 Texas State Poet Laureate
Some Notes You Hold begins with poignant poems of a father remembered with earthly details of a private man, rough, solid in character and loving. The earthiness portends the many extraordinary following poems reminding me of Annie Dillard’s “pilgrimage” to Tinker Creek, as Dillard described her iconic illumination of nature… life and death. Quillen gives the reader a similar deeply insightful tour of her views of her inner and outer landscapes, like in her “Prayer For Birds….,” “Let the Fingered dawn launch the raptor/ to carry my heart to deepest secrets of trees,/ my feet to the wild creek, my hands together/ and head up, walking straight and strong/to fox den, bee tree, deer bed—/places where I wait for the truest rejoicing.”
—David M. Parsons, 2011 Texas State Poet Laureate
“Quillen Releases New Book of Poetry,” A! Magazine for the Arts, 28: 1, January 2021.