The Light Relaxes into Evening--by Kendall Merriam
I am a collector of Kendall Merriam poetry. Whenever I see a poem of his in the paper, I must cut it out. I had signed copies of his work that were lost in the flood, so when I got my copy of his new book of poetry, The Light Relaxes into Evening, I was ecstatic. I hope to run into him at the museum or at his home in the South End when I come home so he can sign it for me. I went to school with a few of the Merriams and our families are still friends today.
The Light Relaxes into Evening is dedicated to an Indian artist, Shubhra Das Chand, who did a portrait of the daughter of a Waldoboro resident, Kitty Fasset. Her daughter, Francie, died of a brain tumor, the same illness Kendall’s brother, Fred, died of. He wrote these poems in exchange for the portrait of Francie which appears in the front of the book, done by Shubhra. Other paintings in the book are done by Stephen Petroff, of Tophsam.
It is in Kendall’s nature, to use his gift of poetry to benefit others. He has a social consciousness that appears as a regular theme in his work. While he was poet laureate of Rockland, he made a weekly trip up to Houston-Tuttles to copy his latest poem which he distributed to businesses along Main Street and to friends. If you provide him with a piece of paper and a pen he will write you a poem right then and there.
The first poem in the book is the title poem, “The Light Relaxes into Evening.” It is a tribute to the memory of Francie. He wrestles with the meaning of death here, especially of one so young and concludes that “all creators, if honest do all they can in spite of death next door.”
I appreciated Kendall’s South End references and the poems of coastal life, including the lobsterman. “Fisherman’s Moon,” which I have read before, is particularly poignant on the subject of fishermen being lost at sea. “…they go out…challenging the sea to give up its wealth…tonight, the moon shines…down to the seabed, deep down…does it wake the lost fishermen…sleeping there”
If you read the book carefully, you will find snippets of Kendall’s own autobiography. His growing up times and later years, including the good times and the bad. He bares his soul to us. His strong belief in the goodness of mankind and his dislike of war comes through strongly. His hope for cross-cultural understanding shines through in his work.
I enjoyed the poem, “Seeing a Ghost,” which essentially pays homage to Edna St. Vincent Millay. I discovered within the last year that both our families are related to the famous poet through the Emery side of things. His poem, “The Italian Aviators,” appeared in the old Village Soup in December, 2011. If you get a chance to read it and the story that goes with it, please do. There is also a picture with that story of Edna’s mother, Cora, sitting on the porch of the Emery homestead in Owls Head.
“Gallery Day” relates Kendall’s travels as he distributes his weekly poem uptown. As a writer, I can appreciate his thanks to his muse: “…for I never know where words…take me, I don’t control…the pen or the typewriter…whatever God gives me…I put down on paper…a gift to you—my muse!” I tend to write in the same manner. As it happens, my own muse is Millay. I have a picture of her, signed for my great-aunt, Mary Sue Emery, on the wall above my desk.
Notice Kendall’s mention of the “typewriter.” I see by one of his poems that he has finally given in to the computer way of doing things. I hope he will get the full use out of his computer set up. An email address would be nice too. Are you listening, Kendall?
I highly recommend The Light Relaxes into Evening if you love poetry. Here’s to more from our favorite South End poet, Kendall Merriam.