Colleen Powderly’s new book, Psalms from an Ordinary Woman, comes from the observations of a working-class woman. Colleen lives in Rochester, NY.
"These poems are written with an energetic eloquence, bent on finding and defining worlds that are often overlooked. Sickness, displacement, late-night musings are all included. The reader will look into this deft language, with its elegy for what is lost, not just as into a poem but as into a mirror. These poems have the ability both to console and to be remembered."
Inside Colleen Powderly, intensity burns white hot, loneliness aches in ash-gray, joy whispers in the surprise of pink. Reading Psalms from an Ordinary Woman, Powderly's year-long poetic journey into the heart of her own spiral path, a reader is halted again and again by sweetness in anguish, by the power of art to comfort and inspirit during anxiety about health and poverty, by compassion for self and others unlimited by the strictures of a life constrained by circumstances. This ordinary woman is as extraordinary as any other, but the great gift of her unique voice allows a reader to enter the hallowed space of honesty and presence, and to leave transformed.
What are these psalms of a self-described (& self-effacing) ordinary woman? They are plain songs, unembellished with flights of romantic “residual pieties” (a phrase from Lionel Trilling). They are of use to the psalmist herself as she keeps drawing herself upward, for a year of seasons, into her difficult present wherein “no money no money no money [is] the overwhelming fact of life”, & as she hobbles toward another surgery. Her psalms return to revelatory people / places / experiences that become low-key music as she understands herself by way of a Chair Lady, Vincent van Gogh, Joan & Karen, her father & mother, Sallow-Eyes, her present apartment. Colleen Powderly’s psalms are confessional (hear the two tragic psalms of love for a man, & then a woman, that both end “it was years before we split”), relentless, obsessive, & never evasive. Above all else, & remarkably, they are spoken in straightforward conversational language, are intimate, are rendered / splayed on the page as though the page were not a restriction, as though she had our ear in a diner or on a street corner. Psalms for an Ordinary Woman, through 2-3 readings, more than held my attention—I entered it, it drew me into its voice & personality that came to matter in important ways, & I did not want this book to end. Powderly is an extraordinary poet of ordinary voice, & I hope she will compose (& compose herself thereby) many more such psalms.
We need these insights into what Colleen Powderly calls her “plain broadcloth life.”She writes of poverty, struggle, and pain, but also joy and empathy—“stories with veins and blood and sinews and muscle.”We follow her from South to North, in and out of relationships, often angry, always observant, always aware of injustice.Much of the joy comes from Van Gogh paintings, and I will never look at them the same way again.
You hold in your hands a book of rare gravitas. From “the controlled wreckage of our lives” to “the cancer of hungry children,” Colleen Powderly’s Psalms from an Ordinary Woman grapples honestly with societal horrors, whether poverty and gun violence or misogyny and racism. Yet, despite disability, fear, and a loneliness she holds close, she finds “patience to see stars from different ground”—and ultimately triumphs having also found “the self who prizes beauty” that we, too, may discover it . We learn as she did “you must first belong to yourself.” Powderly perhaps describes Psalms best: “This [is a] work of truth & beauty.” We, too, are now better equipped to survive any “pulped promise” that comes our way. I am profoundly grateful for her courage and wisdom.
~Karla Linn Merrifield, poet, Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry BoSelect) and Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North (Cirque Press)
“Plain-spoken yet lyrical, poignant, powerful—Powderly’s narrator *is* an “ordinary woman,” in the sense that she is as extraordinary as every woman, indeed, every human. These characters—the narrator and the people she observes—are themselves “...stories with veins & blood & sinew & muscle/drawn in shapes of lives...”(from the “Winter” section of Psalms), and their frightening poverty, unique dreams and small but tenacious hopes resonate like an alarm bell. This lovely book is a deeply detailed picture of an ordinary, beautiful life, impacted powerfully by poverty and illness, as so many American lives are. It ought to be seen as both a paean to those lives—and a warning.