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Margo Taft Stever acutely observes and describes human society, past and present. From her compelling and beautiful descriptions of life inside a nineteenth-century private insane asylum to her colorful and often critical depiction of elements of contemporary society, her poems profoundly speak to us. They describe the delicate line between the certifiably insane and the irrationality of everyday life; they depict a society sometimes harsh and ugly, sometimes soft and loving, with stunning visual imagery. Stever speaks to us about our interactions with each other and with the natural world. Each segment tells its own story that captures us and makes us think.
Cracked Piano is out NOW!
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Margo Taft Stever’s poetry collections include The Lunatic Ball, The Hudson Line, Frozen Spring, and Reading the Night Sky. She co-authored with her son, James Taft Stever, Looking East: William Howard Taft and the 1905 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to China. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. She is founder of the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and founding and current co-editor of Slapering Hol Press.
For more information about Margo, please see www.margotaftstever.com.
The descent beckons, wrote William Carlos Williams, and in her latest collection, Margo Stever hears and heeds a similar call. These poems bring us step by artful step to the “bottomland” of being. It is a place where “fear, fearful fear” flows freely. It is that place in the heart where our direct and indirect encounters with madness, loss, and pain add up and weigh us down. Yet there is a counter-current running throughout Margo Taft Stever’s poetry. The taut, unflinching lyricism of this work reminds us of the courage it takes to see our lives as they are. These are poems that affirm the saving grace that we remain ready and eager to sing in our sorrow, even if the accompaniment is only a cracked piano.
– Fred Marchant, author of Said Not Said
In the rarified world of the unwell, sense and senses fool both the speaker and writer into a language of mysterious compromise. One poem’s persona recalls eating animal scrackers bought by the mother and devouring them thinks, “Once again, I want to be perfect/ like the elephant./ I want to be thin.” In Cracked Piano Stever introduces us to her great grandfather Peter Taft (half-brother of the president) in a Cincinnati asylum and through poems based on his letters, we experience the abject loneliness of a young man who is not even permitted to touch his own child. That he was probably wrongly diagnosed and treated with medicine that we now consider poison is as captivating as it is heart-wrenching. The reader is also guided into the realm of other perceptions where an army chaplain describes the “mushroom cloud” as beautiful (yes, it is beautiful, ironically, if one could live to tell of that vision); where Van Gogh feels his missing ear; and where UPS men carry out funeral rites by delivering ashes. And so Stever reconstructs perception in this insightful and straight-forward collection, Cracked Piano.
– Kimiko Hahn, author of Brain Fever
In “Bottomland,” Stever observes and writes, “How a mother can change from angel/to sour mudqueen of all decay” (68). Though this could be interpreted as simply pointing out the ambiguous nature of mothers, in the end, the poet instructs us to “remember your mother,/a mother who loved her children” (68). A mother is a not a caricature, she is fully developed human being. This is the lesson that is culled from the “estuary of the deep” (68) and Stever has rendered it unforgettably.
– Barbara Ellen Sorensen, author of Mary’s River
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Margo Taft Stever
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