Gwendolyn Alley has been doing something extraordinary. In the month of August, she has been setting her alarm clock for 3:15 AM each night before bed. When it goes off, she writes a poem as part the “3:15 Experiment” in poetry and consciousness. Her newest collection, Middle of the Night, contains poems written in this way over the past nine years.
Much has happened in this time, and the collection reads as somnambulistic reportage of pregnancy, motherhood, and the death of both her closest poet-friend and her mother. In taking up Emily Dickinson’s charge to “tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Alley also tells it sleepily, through her dreamlike “315 mind.” Poems are arranged chronologically, titled by date, as though we were reading a diary of the poet’s late-night self.
The poems in this collection celebrate a mother’s adoration of, and fascination with, her son–before and after his birth–as in this excerpt from “Tuesday, August 2, 2005”:
I had never seen
a child in child’s pose
before I had a
child of my own
I never saw how completely
they can pull themselves
up into themselves all tucked in
never saw how tortoise like
they retract their arms their legs
the soles of the feet
slipping in under the torso
only a few toes poking out
Peppered throughout the collection are references to the speaker’s own mother as well, including footnotes such as “written on the eve of my mother’s birthday,” and in reminiscences such as “Friday, August 25, 2006,” which begins with a nod to Shakespeare, declaring “My mother’s hands are nothing like the sun.” It goes on to recall, “Every time her hands touched water / she rubbed the lotion in / a remedy from housework / from houselife / from housewife.”
These are poems that celebrate new life, and mourn death, as only a poet and mother can, transformed by “the baby in my belly / the pen in my hand.” Middle of the Night by Gwendolyn Alley is available in limited edition from En Theos Press.