I admire her. I like her. I know her. And I’ve never met her. She’s Ann Hutt Browning. And she’s just published a book of poetry – her first book-length collection – titled “Deep Landscape Turning.”
Here’s a brief biography:
Ann Hutt Browning has two master’s degrees, one in psychology and one in architecture, four grown children, five grandchildren, and one husband of 50 years. Born in England, raised in southern California, she attended Radcliffe College and has lived in Missouri, Kentucky, France, Macedonia, Chicago, Virginia and now Massachusetts. She and her husband, Preston, a retired English professor, operate Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, a retreat center for writers and artists. Some of her poetry has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, The Southern Humanities Review, The Dalhousie Review, The Ecozoic Reader, Dogwood, Peregrine, Out of Line, Salamander, and several on-line poetry journals.
Here are two of her poems:
AN ORDINARY LIFE
When she awoke in the morning
She threw back her all cotton sheet,
Cotton woven in a far off country
By a dark skinned girl chained to her large loom.
When she went into her kitchen
She ground beans to brew her coffee,
Beans grown, roasted in a far off country
Where the tall trees were cleared off the land
For the coffee bushes to be planted
And tended by boys not in school and men
Old before their time and where all the waste
From treating the beans is flushed and dumped
In the river, adding that detritus
To the human waste and chemical run
Off already there in the gray water
And where downstream others used the water,
That dark water, for cooking and bathing.
After her children boarded the school bus,
Wearing clothing made in the Philippines,
Mauritania, Taiwan, a hodge-podge
Of imports from other worlds, far off countries,
Where sweat shops flourished,
Filled with child workers,
She went shopping:
Guatemalan cantaloupes, Mexican tomatoes,
Chilean oranges, California lettuce,
Carolina rice, Michigan peaches,
Blueberries from Maine, all bought because
In her garden she grew hybrid tea roses,
Siberian iris, cross-bred daylilies in six colors,
Held down by pine bark, chipped in Oregon.
Then she roamed the market aisle marked
“Special,” and bought a basket, its colors
Imitative of Mexican folk art, made in China,
The price suggesting child or prison labor
Dyed the fronds of grass, wove the basket
And attached the label.
She ate a quick lunch of a hamburger,
The ground beef from a far off country
Where the virgin forest was burned off
So cattle could graze on tropical grass,
The bun made from Canadian wheat
And the ketchup, again those Mexican tomatoes.
She drove home to prop up her feet
On the foam cushioned sofa, turn on the TV,
Assembled in Nicaragua,
In a maquiladora by a woman
Who rose at five a.m. to walk three kilometers
To the bus, who then rode twenty-five miles
To the factory in the tax free zone,
Who worked from eight to five
With a quarter of an hour to eat
Or use the toilet,
Who got home at eight o’clock
To bathe and feed her three children,
With eighteen cents an hour in her pocket
On good days.
The woman on the sofa
Watched two soap operas
As usual on a week day,
And ate ice cream,
American ice cream.
She liked American ice cream.
She lived an ordinary life.
AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
What happens now,
In the moments of our nights,
In the continuity of our days,
Shall be written in blood lines
Of darkened hearts, in the liquid
Gold plate of our broken souls,
In the long ligaments of naked limbs,
In the marrow of our fractured bones.
We stumble on with hesitant bodies;
We fall back, floundering.
How many are victims,
How many witnesses?
Can reason comprehend
The horror of explosions,
Lost lives of ordinary persons
Going about their ordinary work.
Hands touch and grip fast,
We embrace for soul’s sake.
Bond now and breathe together.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Take breath from autumn trees,
From ripe tomatoes on brown vines,
Grown old now, just as we
Are grown old
Before our time.
I encountered Ann Hutt Browning’s poetry through her husband Preston, who has worked long and hard to gain his wife’s poetry the attention it deserves — and to publish “Deep Landscape Turning.”
I heard all about Ann — and came to feel like I know her — during a week-long stay in spring of 2009 at Wellspring House a writers and artists retreat Preston and Ann started in Ashfield, Mass., in the eastern foothills of the Berkshires, in the neighborhood of Northampton and Amherst. It’s a beautiful dream-come-true, and the spirit behind it — the vision shared by the Brownings — permeates the place. During my stay, I joined a few others in an informal readings of our works, five of us gathered around the hearth in Wellspring House’s cozy downstairs living room/library. Preston, a writer and scholar in his own right, chose not to read some of his work, but instead to read some of Ann’s poetry – and she was there in the room with us, even though she couldn’t be there, as Preston’s beautiful reading of his wife’s writing made it clear that his effort to get “Deep Landscape Turning” into print was nothing less than a true labor of love.
“Deep Landscape Turning” was just published by Ibbetson Street Press in Somerville, Mass. Here’s how to order the book. Ann’s poetry is lovely and intelligent, lyric and insightful, both personal and universal. Her book costs just $15. And how can you go wrong spending just $15 on a new book by a fine poet named Browning?