From The Mind

Recalling Susan Sheppard with Great Love

by Grace Cavalieri

It may have been 30 years ago — I did not know this sad day would come when I’d have to recall the exact time I met Susan Sheppard — maybe the early 1990s. We’d just relocated to West Virginia so my husband could build a sculpture studio.

My radio show “The Poet and the Poem” was looking for exciting new poets. This young woman walked into my traveling studio and — first thought — this was the most gorgeous woman: black hair, sparkling eyes, porcelain skin. Susan was open and candid about her early life as “born in a holler,” then followed up with anecdotes that sounded out of the 19th century. She recalled an elementary age in a one-room schoolhouse with a limited number of books that were “read-ragged.” Susan was an artist, as well as a poet, but said she’d never seen an actual painting by an artist until she was 21 years old. I’ve never forgotten that meeting because I’d discovered Susan’s poetry before discovering her — and I couldn’t wait to meet this poet, writing poetry with such honesty and emotional exposure. Now, 2021, I received the manuscript, Glamoury, and was asked to write a comment.

From a bright, defiant childhood, these poems emerge with a passion, strength, and dark beauty which is Susan’s signature. Each poem is a story, sometimes raw, about a culture only a poet could transform. Her subjects elevate the ordinary with skill, diction, and imagery. Situations that are basic and concrete are lifted by the color of words so that reality and fantasy are one — scenarios of magic — but I want to go further, for I believe Susan was magical energy, weaving legends as effortlessly as casting a spell.

Poetry is often called “sweet lies.” In Susan’s hands they were better than sweet — poems were evocative, testing the limits of what we know about human behavior — language existing inside and outside the imagination to make a poem.

Susan preserves humanity with an intimate understanding of what is prayerful, soulful, and painful in our lives. A great American poet was not recognized enough, but now Susan Sheppard, no longer encased in time with its limits, is available for a larger audience to find her.

Art moves society forward, and Susan Sheppard did that.

Grace Cavalieri
Maryland State Poet Laureate

The Life of the Soul

It is hard to imagine the soul without hands,

And yet, it is so.

It is hard to imagine the soul without a mouth,

And yet this is so.

Some souls pause quietly inside the body,

As obedient children on chairs . . .

There are souls that stutter and twang

Ones that shutter as nerves do on air.

When the soul flies, it flies

As an owl in darkness,

A stir of white feathers

Descending in pity upon the earth.

Where the soul swims, it is

Limbless, within a lake of many gems.

When we count the burning stars, these

Are the souls that cannot be

Extinguished. They thrive on light, not air.

The soul is most beautiful

Without the body

When it cannot be counted as being here

Susan Sheppard

from Glamoury

From The Mind is our editorial page, for topics related to poetry, creative writing, and literature. Please feel free to submit your editorial for this page, putting From The Mind in your subject line. 300 to 700 words. We’d love to hear from our readers and contributors here. — Vera Ignatowitsch