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Some Notes You Hold by Rita Sims Quillen

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Lord help me!  Rita Quillen, who I still think of as that beautiful young woman with the voice of an angel, has written a book that deals with growing old. If she’s old, I must be ancient. O.K. I gotta settle down and write this lovely book up! It is divided into three sections: “Letting Go” deals with that most overwhelming aspect of aging: surviving deep grief. Then Rita provides us with a much appreciated musical interlude reminiscent of those occasions when she has graced her companions with her real life music   – called “Interlude: Selah.” The last part, brings us back to the theme of aging on a more positive note, “Holding On.” “Framed within the twin templates of scripture and domestic ritual, these poems pay loving homage to hard times and the resilience it takes to survive them. Quillen often employs a colloquial voice that perfectly fits these poems, poems that ring as brightly as the ‘big bell on the steeple’ of the family church, narrative poems animated by metaphors of music, ‘music . . . the creek you swam in.’ I am grateful for this collection and how it unfailingly reminds me that beyond heartache, poetry persists in offering deep solace.”- Marc Harshman.  “’Heart wide as the river, / spirit open and at risk every moment / yet strong enough to stand all the sadness and sweet longing’--that's how Rita Quillen praises fiddlers who take listeners to ‘the exact spot where music lives.’ Those words also perfectly describe Quillen's own art in these radiant poems. Her deft, generous voice travels the octaves from ‘the tiny cosmos of root, stem, and vein’ to the human complexities of hard work, loss, and love. Quillen knows in her blood that language is the music of living, and her readers will savor her every word.”--Lynn Powell. Like the Carter Family Fold, Rita Quillen grew up in Hiltons, Virginia, in that hilly part of Virginia that squeezes between Tennessee and Kentucky. Her master’s thesis at East Tennessee State University considered the poetry of Jim Wayne Miller, Fred Chappell, Robert Morgan and Jeff Daniel Marion and was later adapted into the book, Looking for Native Ground. After a career teaching at Mountain Empire Community College, where her Appalachian Literature classes were so popular she often taught more than one section of it each semester, she retired early to her lovely Southwestern Virginia farm to write even more poetry and embark on a career as a novelist. Lucky us! She used to have a bumper sticker on her car that whimsically read, “Minor Regional Poet.” Those days are long gone. She is now, indeed, is simply a “Major Poet.”

Lake Dallas, Texas: Madville Publishing, 2020. 84 pages. Trade paperback.