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The Dark Is Where This Poem Wins - The Poetry Of Chris Locke

Sean Hurley
Chris Locke prepares to read "Waiting for Grace"

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry month.  The idea is to draw our attention - to remind us - of the art of poetry. To celebrate National Poetry month locally, every Friday  NHPR's Sean Hurley will introduce us to a New Hampshire poet.  First up -  Christopher Locke.  The NH native has just published his second full length book - "Waiting for Grace and other Poems."

Born in 1968, Poet Chris Locke has lived most of his life in the Granite State.

I was born in Laconia and I grew up in Exeter. I was a townie and I was proud of it. And I left vowing "I will never return to this town." And all I look forward to is going back to visit my folks.

Locke dabbled in storytelling as a kid but it wasn't until high school that he wrote his first poem.

It was about the dark, nebulous soul-sucking night. You know typical teenage poem. And the ending was really bleak and I showed it to my English teacher. And I had changed the ending to be a little more sunny because I was afraid that it's not acceptable to have a dark ending. And she said, "What are you doing with all this happy clappy stuff at the end? That's ridiculous, the dark is where this poem wins."

But darkness itself is not the prize.  Familiarity and connection - remembrance and insight, are. His poems are small stories that proceed with  the intimacy of diary entries - a walk in the woods, waiting for his daughter at the bus stop. But then something like the reflection of clouds on a pond unearth old and difficult emotions. 

I think the role of poetry is to make people feel - or remind them that they're not alone. I think the voice of the poet does that very well. It helps the reader understand and see that he or she has a compatriot in this world that speaks for them.

Here's Christopher Locke reading "Waiting for Grace":

Waiting for my daughter’s school bus, a March 
afternoon brushed haunted and grey, I keep 
company with the clouds, their gaunt reflections 
charcoaled atop our pond, the wind tugging its iron 
cloak around trees standing nude along the shore, 
as if between acts and someone has stolen their 
beautiful gowns. I feel feral and alone, slouching 
in my black coat and sipping a Pepsi One, thinking 
again I’ll never shake my lust for pills, narcotics 
which have unknit my life so completely. I close 
my eyes and concentrate on something brighter, 
take another swig off my harmless soda. Above
me, a small abacus of birds fills a telephone
wire, and I smile when I think of her, my daughter
Grace: ten-years-old and sunk deep in a harem
of gossip as she navigates fourth grade; deciding
at lunch which queen is ripe for the plucking. And 

if it isn’t hysteria wrought by the Jonas Brothers, 
then it’s the complaint her arms are too fat, holding 
them out, incredulous, for my wife and me to inspect. 
But what she doesn’t know is that every day she saves 
my life—drilling the science quiz together at night, 
or just by asking that I pass the ketchup at dinner
is what keeps me here, awkward yet alive. And 
now, the yellow cube of her bus rounding the corner, 
stopping in front of the driveway. I see her through 
the windows laughing, popping gum at her friends. 
It’s only when she steps onto the pavement, crosses 
the street toward me that I realize we’re both moving, 
both in the process of leaving something behind.

Is there any truth in that one? Oh yeah. Absolutely. That's a hard poem. But it's good. It's about life instead of existing.

A difference that can be found in almost all of Chris Locke's poems where the dark that wins discloses a shadowed prize of light. 

Chris Locke Reads Three Poems:

"On Learning We Would Not Lose the House"

Chris Locke reads "On Learning We Would Not Lose the House"

"What Love Is"

Chris Locke reads "What Love Is"

"Returning to the Woods"

Chris Locke reads "Returning to the Woods"

For more information on Chris Locke, visit his website:  http://www.christopherlocke.net/

Sean Hurley lives in Thornton with his wife Lois and his son Sam. An award-winning playwright and radio journalist, his fictional “Atoms, Motion & the Void” podcast has aired nationally on NPR and Sirius & XM Satellite radio. When he isn't writing stories or performing on stage, he likes to run in the White Mountains. He can be reached at shurley@nhpr.org.

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