Starting from Here: Dakota Poetry, Pottery, and Caring

Freeman, Jerome

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-19-2004


This book represents collaboration between neurologist-poet Jerome Freeman and potter Richard Bresnahan. Thirty-seven black-and-white photographs of ceramic pieces by Bresnahan from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are interspersed with 56 of Freeman’s short poems. In his introduction Freeman writes, "Richard’s pottery (champions) both our environment and the need to nourish our humanity through cooperation and caring." Likewise, Freeman notes that much of his own poetry "attempts to focus upon caring." As he also points out, "the economy and simplicity of pottery can resemble the spare verbiage and subtlety of successful poetry."

Indeed, Freeman’s poems are simple, direct, and evocative. Many of them, such as "Carrying On" (p. 3), "Ten Year Old with Rheumatoid Arthritis" (p. 17), and "DTs" (p. 49), create images of patients. (However, the 88-year-old arthritis sufferer in "Carrying On" by no means considers himself a patient!) Others evoke more general human responses to severe illness ("Apocalypse," pp. 6-7), or to the threat of illness ("In Defense of the Hypochondriac," p. 15). In the former, Freeman writes of a comatose ICU patient, "All about keep mostly / thinking there’s a mistake / here somewhere." In the latter poem, Freeman concludes, "The worst might / happen. Keep crossing / bridges before you come / to them."

These poems also evoke the landscape and flora and fauna of the Great Plains: "Lake Superior in February" (p. 29), "The Prairie Gentian" (p. 79), and "When Wild Turkeys Come Out of the Woods" (p. 87). But the outside and inside worlds are closely connected. In "Coma Vigil" (p. 59), a poem about a woman in a persistent vegetative state, he begins, "Dawn’s bounty spills over / the rim of sky to spread / across darkened / prairie." Does the woman want to be kept alive in her "coma vigil"? The poem ends, "The time has / come. / Shadows still conceal / easy ways of letting / go."


Jerome Freeman uses "caring" as an umbrella concept that brings together Richard Bresnahan’s simple and elegant ceramics and Freeman’s own poetry. There is something about a simple pot or bowl or dish that suggests sharing, caring, and nourishing. Similarly, there is something about Freeman’s poems that evokes the same humane traits. These are poems of quiet acceptance and generosity of spirit. In addition, many of them speak with a certain toughness and wit because, after all, as the poet writes in "Revelations" (p. 75), "Piety can be / perilous if too / heavily applied."



Photographs by Richard Bresnahan.


Ex Machina

Place Published

Sioux Falls, South Dakota



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