Mary Jo Salter on Common Human Experience

DSC_0821The best ideas and strangest rhymes come to her when she is half asleep said poet Mary Jo Salter on November 11 during her Writers’ Workshop Series lecture at the Williston Northampton School.

Madeleine Blais, co-founder of the Writers’ Workshop Series, likened Ms. Salter’s poetry to “the gift of water from ice,” in her introduction of the John Hopkins professor. Ms. Salter was the fourth and final speaker in the 16th annual series.

“She takes the moment that is utterly forgettable and turns it into something utterly memorable, which is to say her words are shapeshifting and miraculous,” said Ms. Blais.

Ms. Salter read a number of poems, each about familiar objects and situations. “Our Ping Pong Table” lamented the phrase, “some assembly required” and “Common Room 1970” described furniture with “old New England rickety dignity.”

Shared human experience is at the heart of Ms. Salter’s poetry. “It’s Hard to Say” was written about the only response her ailing mother-in-law could remember at the end of her life. In “Goodbye Train,” a 30-something couple disembark with their baby daughter. They wave farewell to the train and Ms. Salter’s last line is, “I think, what luck it is to be one who says goodbye to trains instead of other people.” A young couple, the epitome of beauty in Ms. Salter’s eyes, embraces in a doorway in “Boulevard du Montparnasse,” inspired by one of the poet’s trips to Paris.

Ms. Salter’s poetry abounds with anecdotes from her travels. Foreign travel allows you to get out of your ordinary rut of noises, she said.

“There’s a kind of freedom in foreign travel, even if you speak the language of that area relatively well, you don’t hear the same way you do your native language,” she said.

“Ultimately,” said Ms. Salter, “it is common human experiences that I find are the most fun to read.”

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