May 31 11 by Published in: Interviews, Reviews 1 comment

Before writer Chris Longenecker commits pen to paper, she tests the cadence of lines and phrases with her own footfalls.

“I work it out until I have something to share,” she says. “I feel strongly that a poem shouldn’t just be a release of emotion, but should have a message, something to say that is uplifting in some way.”

The rhythms of her rhymes are constructed painstakingly, turned over and over in her head as she pounds the pavement, to work and home again.

Wherever she has lived, Longenecker arrives at her destinations on foot, walking to work for more than 20 years, first as an immigration law counselor and resettlement caseworker, now as a horticultural assistant at Conestoga House and Gardens.

Those two decades of journeys mark the gestation of her first book, “How Trees Must Feel,” a collection of memories and observations woven into her sense of the natural world.

A book launch will be held 6-9 p.m. First Friday, June 3, at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster, 328 W. Orange St. Longenecker will give half-hour readings at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. In between, she will sign copies of this long-awaited book, which is also available at Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com and Cascadiapublishinghouse.com. Members of her church have had the opportunity to hear some of them over the years in addition to her frequent performances of Robert Frost’s poems.

Longenecker, reluctant to call herself a poet, has also performed a number of them during the annual Spoken Word Festivals at Theater of the Seventh Sister, where she has occasionally volunteered and worked as an actress and director since 1988.

That stage experience, coupled with her daily walks, helps her memorize and work through the lines of her emerging verse.

“I talk to myself, working things out mentally,” she admits, “which is why I only write one or two poems a year.”

However meticulously crafted the 34 poems in this collection may be, they read as freshly and conversationally as if Longenecker were struck by a reflection at that moment.

Exploring the terrain of family stories and observational happenstance, Longenecker’s astute and witty eye captures the essence of a moment and offers it with a keen perspective that is at once wise and wry.

In “Leave-Taking,” the “first poem that I wrote that I thought worth sharing,” she utilizes her extensive knowledge of the habits of deciduous trees to meditate on her own, eventual death.

Noticing leaves that seem to refuse to let go in autumn, holding on until new growth pushes them out, she writes, “It comforts me to know/That if I get all crazy at the end/And make a scene, I’m still within the realm/Of natural things who also sometimes cling.”

Longenecker’s verse seems more ancient, blending a strong oral tradition into her work. While the poems are lovely on the page, it is Longenecker’s performance of each one that truly brings it to life. Which may be why she wisely also recorded a CD of her work. Copies of the CD will be available at the book-launch reading.

Influenced by the “great storytelling” of leaders in her church, relatives at family reunions, and her minister parents, Longenecker didn’t debut her own work until 1990, when she shared “Leave-Taking” with her father.

“From the expression on his face, in his eyes, I could tell it was good,” she recalls. “That moment, that’s when I knew I can do something really special here.”

That something special is to marry her astute observations of nature with the human stories she encounters.

“For me it’s a matter of paying attention,” she says. “When you slow down to pay attention, it is fodder for poetry.”

 

Comments

  1. Judith Kennedy
    Wed 01st Jun 2011 at 9:33 pm

    After several years of hearing Chris perform her poetry at the Festival of the Spoken Word, reading her collection of poetry in print was a real confirmation of my felt sense of Chris as a great poet. It is not only her enchanting narratives and her sense of the musicality of language, but more particularly the wisdom that sprouts organically and in abundance from Chris’s rootedness in family tradition, in a deep sense of place, and in her unique spirituality that resonates so much with the spirit of Emily Dickenson and which is undeniably Chris’s authentic voice and “song”. Her collection of poetry is a real Pennsylvania gem. I hope the message of her poetry carries far and wide across the reading land. Thanks Chris for your passion for poetry and for life itself. Judith Kennedy

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