Joanne Durham’s To Drink from a Wider Bowl, winner 2021 Sinclair Poetry Prize
Cover photo by Mylie Durham IV
In her luminous collection, To Drink from a Wider Bowl, Joanne Durham asserts: “Every home/needs a map of the world.” What she has drawn for us here is nothing less than a map of how to navigate our days with honesty, grace, and a deep mindfulness that leaves nothing unnoticed. Her richly layered and musical poems bear the contours of every phase of life, and like time itself, each one “stretches like an accordion, stores lullabies, love songs and funeral chords between its folds.” This is a beautiful, timely book you’ll want to pick up again and again.—James Crews, Poet and Editor of The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection and Joy
When Joanne Durham tells us she learned from her father that “a line/is the shortest way to connect two points,/a line of poetry, two people,” she hints at one of the major themes of To Drink from a Wider Bowl: connections. In her skillfully-crafted poems, she spans decades of connections with family members—from a grandmother who played a “mean game/of crazy eights” to a son “who hums as he sorts/the silverware, noticing how each spoon shines.” She chronicles encounters with children in her classroom, with friends living and dying, with strangers she meets anywhere. And she makes those connections in a poetic voice that is wise, endearing, and compassionate. This collection will undoubtedly delight readers who thirst for poems that invite them to drink from a wider bowl of human experience. Brava! to Durham for sending such an enticing invitation. —Carolyn Martin, Poet and Poetry Editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation
From the Russian grandmother, who grew up in a mud shack and gathered cow dung to seal her windows, to the grandson, still in the womb, who “riffs off tangled strands of history,” Joanne Durham’s poems encompass it all–a life lived to the hilt and felt in every cell. She writes of love, of course, but also isolation and fear, of bravery and joy, of awe and elation. Part of the vibrancy of her poems comes from her insistence on viewing her own life in the context of the larger world. She sweeps the reader into the arc of a life that knows both vulnerability and contentment but doesn’t doubt the future is ours to shape. A triumphant collection from a woman at the peak of her gifts. —Dannye Romine Powell, In the Sunroom with Raymond Carver (Press 53)
Her grandmother “never smiled…but played a mean game of crazy eights.” Her mother “smoothed hurt feelings like she ironed wrinkles from my father’s shirts.” With sharp, poignant images, Joanne Durham takes us from childhood to grandparenthood in fifty memorable poems. The chronological order of this collection allows the reader to follow the poet through significant life experiences in a compelling narrative. As a teenager, Durham thinks the world “is a giant jigsaw puzzle and someone has hidden the picture on the cover of the box so nobody can agree on where to put the pieces.” As a grandmother, she vows not to give up “the search for a perfect world for my grandson.” To Drink From a Wider Bowl offers insights and warm moments from a poet with a keen eye for striking details. —Jacqueline Jules, author of Manna in the Morning and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String.
Joanne Durham is a fan of the art that conceals art. She sets up her new poetry collection with a quiet flourish, sneaking all six of her section titles into the text of a lyric prologue poem. Its declaration of intent: to chart the course of a richly lived life. “Old folks,” she tells us “are thirsty still, but we drink from a wider bowl.” True to her promise, she celebrates broadly—the child’s perspective every bit as much as the mature adults’; the people she knows and has known as much as the natural world; what we keep “in our hollow place” as much as our own “place inside the world’s tenderness,” language itself (“words matter”) as much as its limitations, in the face of a “world so magnificent poets can’t stop trying to describe it.” At the same time as she tells us “you can’t put the Red Sea in a poem” she explains why, putting the Red Sea in her poem— Durham is unafraid to confront hard topics, whether in her own life and relationships or in the cruelties of the broader culture. She may observe keenly, but the “tiny range of [the] human eye” can’t match “the expanse of the human heart.” There’s a poem near the end of the book, “Photo Through the Glass Window…,” which encapsulates beautifully the proper balance between layers of seeing and layers of feeling. For all its “jumbled layers of reflection,” through all its “refracted fragments of our full and fleeting lives,” the photograph finds perfect focus in a single face; in a mother’s love for her child. I highly recommend this warm, wise, and artful book. —Derek Kannemeyer, poet, photographer, author of Unsay Their Names and Mutt Spirituals
Read Joanne Durham’s poetry in Evening Street Review