friday feast: adele kenny’s chosen ghosts

#11 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2012.

Adele with her Yorkshire Terrier, Chaucer.

There’s nothing I love more than having a new-to-me poet like Gail Gerwin knock on my virtual kitchen door with a delicious poem in hand and then have that gift lead to even more deliciousness.

After “meeting” Gail and swooning over the poem sequence she’d written about her mother Cele’s cooking, I asked if she knew of any other poets who might like to join our Potluck. She suggested Sondra Gast (who’ll be here next week) and today’s lovely guest, Adele Kenny.

Adele's paternal grandparents, c. 1920 (William J. Kenny and Anna Brooks Bates Kenny)

Adele is truly a poet’s poet; her first poems date back to childhood (wonderful samples here), and just by reading today’s excerpt you’ll get a good sense of the exquisite craftsmanship she employs in her writing. I love the layers of emotion, her textured, sensual imagery, crisp diction, and haunting lyricism.

Such a rare treat to have Adele share this ancestral communion with us, as well as the wonderful family photos and recipe. A genealogy buff, Adele’s been able to trace her family back to 1600 in Staffordshire! With my love of England and Irish American relatives, it’s safe to say Adele is a kindred spirit. ☺

Adele: The following poem is an updated excerpt from the title poem of my book Chosen Ghosts (Muse-Pie Press, 2001).  I worked on the first version of this poem while I was “gathering history” in a genealogical study of my Irish and English ancestors, and this poem tells how welcome those “ghosts” are in my life. Sharing this poem, a family recipe, and a bit about their backstories is a special kind of  “life writing.”

Original tintypes of Adele's great, great grandparents, John Brooks and Mary Ann Eliza Brooks.

Chosen Ghosts
by Adele Kenny

A chattering wind brings down the leaves,
remnants of bagworm and chestnut lie in the tangle.

Moonlight falls in fractions through dead bindweed,
on milkweed pods that crack open and float away.

Always in autumn, when the backyard thins and
the brittleness starts, I go back to my griefs.

I bury the last chrysanthemums and wish it were still
summer when the sky traveled in a thousand directions

at once or years ago when every season was spring
with its risings and promise. But now, here and now,

in the whirl of this brief, sad season, I call my ghosts
home and gather them around me. Like the flock of

geese that sleeps in an open field near the river, they rise
in a rush of wings that remembers the victory of flight.

Where does it begin? A wandering Celt follows the sun
to a green island and turns his painted face away from

the pagan gods. An Irish farmer digs a harvest of black
moons and surrenders his plow to a coffin ship, weeks

of pitching in the dark hold, a sea-wrack of salt and tar.
My grandfathers, immigrant spirits. They enter my house

and stand together on the stairway. My father, still in
uniform, walks in from the cold and holds my mother’s

hand as if nothing were changed. The others arrive —
family and friends — the company of Heaven. They all

turn toward me and raise their glasses in a toast. These
are my ghosts — the invited, the chosen — a party of souls.

Life, liquid and thick, leaps in their wrists. I touch
their cheeks with gentle fingers, brush stray hairs from

their foreheads — remembering, remembering,
as I kiss the dust from their lips.

Copyright © 2012 Adele Kenny. All rights reserved.

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Staffordshire Irish Stew

This recipe for lamb stew came from my paternal grandmother Anna Brooks Kenny. Grandma came from Staffordshire, England and married an Irishman. She laughingly called this dish “Staffordshire Irish Stew.” While stew is typically a winter “comfort food,” Grandma also served this in early spring, lamb being a meat that the family associated with spring (traditional in Easter and Passover celebrations). (You can view a genealogical slideshow of Grandma’s Kenny’s line here.)

Ingredients

2 pounds lean lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes (I use lamb shoulder; you can order lamb cubes from your butcher)
1 pound thickly sliced bacon, cut into1/4 inch chunks
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups beef stock
Two cups Irish stout (Guinness is suggested but any good stout will do)
5 large carrots, diagonally sliced
8 ounces turnips, peeled and cubed (baby turnips work well)
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed (red or Yukon Gold)
1 cup leeks, thinly sliced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh sage
2 bay leaves, whole
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (adjust amounts to taste)
1/4 cup parsley, chopped for garnish

Directions

1.  Cook the bacon cubes until crisp, and drain on a paper towel. Set the pan with the bacon drippings aside.

2.  Coat the lamb cubes with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Then, in a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, and pepper, and coat the lamb pieces in this mixture.

3.  Heat the remaining oil in a deep skillet or a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lamb and brown.

4.  Add the onions and the garlic to the pan with the bacon drippings and cook until the onions are caramelized. Set aside.

5.  Dilute the tomato paste with a teaspoon or two of water until the consistency is fluid but thick and stir into the pan with the lamb.

6.  Pour 1 cup of the Stout into the pan and bring to a boil. As the stout boils, be sure to scrape all the “goodness” from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

7.  Add the beef stock, the remaining cup of Stout, the bacon, onions, garlic, carrots, leek, turnips, potatoes, thyme, sage, and bay leaves. Cover the pan tightly and reduce the heat. Simmer for 3 hours. Garnish with parsley. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve with home-baked bread or dinner rolls.

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Adele Kenny is the author of 23 books (poetry & nonfiction). Her poems, reviews, and articles have been published in journals here and abroad, as well as in books and anthologies published by Crown, Tuttle, Shambhala, and McGraw-Hill. She is the recipient of various awards, including poetry fellowships from the NJ State Arts Council and a Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award. A former professor of creative writing, Adele maintains an active schedule of readings and workshops, directs the Carriage House Poetry Series (which she founded in 1998), and serves as poetry editor of Tiferet. Her interests include writing, antiques, gardening, and raising her Yorkshire Terrier puppy Chaucer. For poetry info and weekly prompts, Adele invites you to visit her blog: http://adelekenny.blogspot.com/.

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Previously: Menu/Giveaway/Door PrizesApril Pulley SayreMary QuattlebaumHelen FrostLinda AshmanGail Gerwin, Martha Calderaro, Kathi Appelt, Robyn Hood Black, Charles Waters.

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Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by Anastasia Suen at Booktalking. Check out all the cool poems being shared around the blogosphere and enjoy your weekend!

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Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


85 thoughts on “friday feast: adele kenny’s chosen ghosts

  1. Adele’s poems are filled with grace but that is to be expected from this gentle poet who exemplifies a grace and an ability to work words (e.g., “summer when the sky traveled in a thousand directions at once”in a way that humbles all of us. What a magnificent poem, recipe, and slideshow of her ancestors. She puts us in touch with what has made her the person she is.

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    1. So true, Gail. There is a beautiful grace that comes through in Adele’s writing. Love the line you quoted especially, as well as “they rise in a rush of wings that remembers the victory of flight.” *swoon* Soul stirring words to be sure. Thank you so much for introducing me to Adele!

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  2. This poem reminds me of the old Judd’s song, Guardian Angels, about all of her ancestors looking out from their frames. And where does it begin? Here. Like a seed within us.

    What a glorious poem, such evocative phrases.

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  3. After a certain age, you have more relatives in the graveyard than at the reunion, it seems, and we become more thoughtful, more grateful for their time with us. I love this poem. I loved meeting Adele. Thanks for sharing her with us. The best part of Poetry Potluck is finding new writers, new friends.

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    1. You’re so right, Candace, about the losses growing in number as we get older. Thankfully, we have our memories. thanks so much for your kind words!

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    2. Also with age comes more of tendency to reflect on the past and to really take stock of one’s life, examining our roots and influences, looking back with gratitude at those who made it possible for us to be here now.

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  4. A lovely poem where imagery and history combine to give me a sense of family and friends past and times missed. Very beautiful.

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    1. Adele’s images are wonderfully evocative; the melancholy that’s often pervasive during Autumn sets the perfect tone for reflecting on the past.

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  5. Adele and I go way back, both as friends and fellow poets. I first met her years ago when I was the “visiting poet” in her junior high school English class, and we’ve been friends ever since. She is a wonderful poet, and I love this fine and moving evocation of (and tribute to) her ancestors . . . with the marvelous photos that accompany it. The stew looks great, too. Bravo, Adele!

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    1. Hi Penny! So nice to hear of your longstanding friendship with Adele. The love of poetry certainly binds many of us together in the most meaningful ways.

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      1. Thanks you, Penny for your comment (a bit of our backstory) and for your kind words! Let me know if you try the stew!

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      1. And the “t” in “that” should have been capitalized in the above correction. Sheesh! Bad allergy day …

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    1. Yes, it does seem to be a running theme this year. I’ve really enjoyed meeting not only these new poets but their families as well.

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    2. Kate Coombs — thanks for your comment! The poet Gerald Stern once said at a reading, “It’s the poet’s job to remember.” I truly believe that! We keep our “company of souls” alive and with us through these recorded memories.

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  6. Adele’s poetry takes my breath away! I love how this one so naturally transports us to the spiritual plane, reminding us that this plane is our true home, and spirit is our true self. Beautiful!

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  7. I loved this poem. Jama, you should do know how to find great poets, and entice them to your kitchen. Thank you both for the excellent company. I’m coming back later in the day to reread and ponder (and maybe some stew).

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    1. I have Gail to thank for suggesting I invite Adele. Everyone has been so gracious and generous with their poetry, recipes and backstories. It’s an honor and privilege to have their work grace this blog, and of course always a pleasure to have faithful blog readers read and comment!

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    2. Thank you, jeannineatkins! I hope you make the stew and find it easy to prepare (one pot!) as well as enjoyable!

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  8. Talk about channelling! Here reborn is Emily Dickinson, replete with the mystery, the haunting spirituality, and the metaphysical imagery. Adele of more than any other contemporary poet, balances all these elements so well, though with a touch far more personal than Dickinson’s.

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  9. Your album/slideshow is marvelous. What a gift for all the family! I loved the small tintypes of those serious people, & then finally a smile! All your work for the genealogy is impressive Adele, and your poem brings tears & connections to my ghosts, too! I admire “An Irish farmer digs a harvest of black
    moons and surrenders his plow to a coffin ship”. That is the wealth of poetry don’t you think? To bring forth emotion from someone! Thank you Jama for inviting Adele. And thank you Adele for all your words!

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    1. It’s very cool that Adele’s been able to trace her ancestors back that far. And those tintypes are amazing, aren’t they? This poem’s such a gift for us all.

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  10. That’s my Mom! She’s even teaching me how to bark in Middle English so I can live up to my name (Chaucer was the author of THE CANTERBURY TALES)!

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    1. Chaucer, I’ve never met anyone who could bark in Middle English. I must say I’m highly impressed! I read the Canterbury Tales a long time ago and even visited Canterbury Cathedral once. We are all pilgrims on a journey.🙂

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      1. Mommy visited Canterbury Cathedral once, long before I was born. Oh, you’re so right, Jama — we’re all on a journey, and isn’t wonderful that there’s poetry to share along the way! Love and Puppylicks, Chaucey

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  11. “Always in autumn, when the backyard thins and
    the brittleness starts, I go back to my griefs.:

    What amazing lines. But that autumn-rich stew looks good enough to get us to love autumn!

    So nice to bump into Adele here. I am a fan of her poetry prompts (rich nudges to get us thinking and writing poetically).

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  12. Thank you, for your kind words, Violet! And thanks for your interest in the poetry blog — I subscribed to yours and receive your posts via email.

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  13. I’d copied those very same lines to fawn over. What a gorgeous poem. Thank you, Jama, for widening my poetry circle, and thank you, Adele, for enriching this Potluck with such depth today! I’ll be circling back.

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  14. Chosen Ghosts is just beautiful and profound. I am going to read it to my mother tomorrow when I go to see her. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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    1. Thanks Libby — how wonderful to know that you plan to share “Chosen Ghosts” with your mom. Thank you for sharing that!

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  15. Dear Jama,

    Before shutting down the computer for the night, I wanted to thank you again for the joy of being part of your Poetry Month celebration, for the chance to “meet” the lovely people who left such warm and generous comments, and for the opportunity to share in the amazing work you do as a “community builder.”

    Grandpa Kenny loved Friday the 13th and always said that it brought him luck. This Friday the 13th brought me to your “Poetry Potluck” and made the day very special. My sincerest thanks!

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    1. Adele, I guess you and Grandpa Kenny showed us the luck in “Potluck!” For it’s really by lucky chance that kindred spirits meet, that like-minded folks connect in meaningful ways, that circles widen, as Robyn said. In this big world of millions of people, what are the chances? I’ve always believed in fate; I suppose luck factors into that. You can see by the comments how much your poem resonated with everyone. Proof positive that we’re all part of one big family.🙂 Thanks for being you and writing what you write.

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  16. A wonderful poem from a wonderful person. Very deep and moving! I know nothing of poetry or poets but I know the person. She’s guided in that direction but I move as slow as a childs slinky toy. It’s a old toy, you pull on the head and sooner or later the butt catches up. :> )

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  17. Dear Jama, first off, I just have to say that I love your vivid descriptions of your guest poets. I know that usually we quote from the poems shared here, but let me quote from your own writing as you describe Adele’s poetry in this manner:
    “I love the layers of emotion, her textured, sensual imagery, crisp diction, and haunting lyricism” – that’s raw talent, indeed.

    Now on to Adele’s poetry, reading the lines sent a few chills up my spine, while not ‘scary’ in the usual sense, the thought of inviting ghosts from the past and having a kind of quiet comfort in their presence – that’s hauntingly awe-inspiring. It also invites a different kind of quiet, one that is pregnant with various possibilities and both darkness and light coming in. I love this post! A lot to think about. I shall look for Adele’s books here in our library. Must Pin in my Pinboard so as not to forget.🙂

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    1. Thank you, Myra, for your kind words. I often feel at a loss for words when trying to describe these awesome poets and their poems, and can only hope my short intros will do them a bit of justice.

      Having said that, you are someone who always leaves insightful comments; please know that I appreciate your taking the time to do so. It shows that you’re really thinking through what you’ve read and it extends our enjoyment of the poems in unique ways.

      I agree with your observation that Adele’s poem is “pregnant with various possibilities.” The tone she strikes is part lament, part celebration, part gratitude. Longing for those who are gone, yet joyful to be able to hold them in her heart forever.

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      1. Thank you, Myra, and thank you, Jama! It’s so interesting and really wonderful to read these comments. Writing poetry can be a lonely occupation with little feedback. More often than not, the poet has no idea of how a poem has been understood. I’m overwhelmed by the kind and generous comments and by the observations readers have made.

        I’m glad, Myra, and it’s good to know, that you felt the quiet I worked to create! I always remember this Dylan Thomas quote, “You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick … You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps … so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”

        P.S. Jama, your intros are all brilliant!🙂

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  18. Once again, WOW is all I can say.

    Adele has written a breathtakingly beautiful poem. I loved this line,
    “at once or years ago when every season was spring
    with its risings and promise.” Isn’t it so true? To me, the poem seemed a lament a person might have in their final days as they sat on the bridge of the their life and eternity.

    I was intrigued by the line breaks in the poetry. I always find this interesting, and Adele has chosen interesting places to separate her lines. I’m going to have to ponder these for awhile.

    Of course, I enjoyed the pictures of the ancestors from long ago. Fascinating.

    Jama, this month of following your blog has been delightful. Today I realized when I read your words about poets and poetry it is much like enjoying and savoring a delicious dessert. Thanks for sharing another poet I want to find out more about.

    Cathy

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the poem, Cathy. I have to agree with your assessment of “Wow.”🙂

      Your comment about line breaks is interesting. Stanzas 4 and 5 are my favorite and I like how after “a thousand directions” you glide into “at once,” a pause that takes me by surprise, like I’ve landed with gentle impact.

      I only wish this blog’s main column was a tad wider so that all the poem’s longer lines would format correctly.

      Happy to hear you’ve been following along all this month. “savoring a delicious dessert” = the highest praise 🙂. Thank you.

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    2. Thanks for your kind words, Cathy! I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and that you noticed the line breaks. I like working with unusual enjambments.

      I agree with you that Jama’s words are much like savoring a delicious dessert!

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  19. I don’t think I had Chocolate babies and Frosty Malts. There used to be a candy store in town that sold all sorts of ‘old fashioned’ candy, but there was a massive fire and the whole thing burned, even the candy cigarettes. They never re-opened.

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    1. It’s definitely interesting to study Adele’s line breaks. I’m generally curious about them with most poems I read, but as you say, with this poem you can get an entirely different perspective.

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      1. Cathy and Jama, it’s interesting that you mention my line breaks, and I thank you for noticing them! I like to work with enjambment and what I call “blocked” lines.

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