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What We Take With Us by Sylvia Woods

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If you cannot buy this book, DO NOT read the title poem! It will get you!  It is written poetically, but the prosaic gist of it is that she wanted her high school students (she taught at the school I attended decades earlier – Oak Ridge [Tennessee] High School)  to memorize poems and passages so that when they had nothing to read they could find solace and stimulation from words in their heads. She insisted that they might need this in a literal prison or in those figurative prisons of meetings or marriages or fears. I never made students memorize anything, but I, too, insisted on education as an antidote to the inevitable bad things likely to happen to my students. I said they might need research and writing skills when the insurance company did not pay a claim or a doctor prescribed Ritalin to their kid.  Here, especially in the second part, are other poems with deep reflections on the role of educator and some on the passages from daughter to mother to grandmother. The first part evokes Appalachia more, starting with “Mining.”  As a native of Clay County, Kentucky, and a resident of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, she knows disparate parts of the region well.  I had the great good fortune of publishing an earlier version of “Grammar Girdle” as “Wearing My Grammar Girdle” when I edited Appalachian Heritage.  I love both the concept and the presentation of it in this version as well as the one I proudly claim as “mine.”  It was well worth the wait for this very first Sylvia Woods poetry collection. 

 Rochester, Massachusetts: Eastover Press, 2021. 84 pages. Trade paperback.