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Dreaming Invisible Voices

Poems by James McGrath

Drawings by Margreta Overbeck
Sunstone Press, ©2009, Pgs. 137. ISBN: 798-0-86534-713-7

A Review by Mary F. Morris


It is said that Mary Oliver speaks for those who cannot—the animal world, the wind, the field. In the poems of James McGrath, there is a sense that he actually embodies creatures and the natural world, often in ethereal terms.

Bear (pg. 23)

"I am the fur-covered stone in the mountain."

Deer (pg. 49)

"I carry the roundness of the moon in my horns."

Fox (pg. 69)

"I am the smiling bite of you./ I am the soft teeth of you./ I am the sleeping alertness of you./ I am the Kabuki dance in you that does not move when dogs bark./ I am your fox. I am your morning sun./….Let us travel together,/ changing our colors,/welcoming dawn."

These poems are not simply dramatic monologues, they personify, incarnate, breathe each being here, flesh, fur, and skin.

The poems in this enchanting collection had their beginnings during the 70's while the poet was living and working in Japan, Korea, and many other areas in the Far East. Influenced by animals in the Asian Zodiac Calendar, as well as his childhood in the natural landscape of Western Washington, McGrath placed these poems aside. For years.

During the 90's, McGrath was (and continues) teaching art and poetry to the elderly at Ponce de Leon Retirement Center in Santa Fe, NM. It was here that he met Margreta Overbeck, who later gave him all of her drawings. McGrath was astonished to find that many of her drawings easily interpreted his poems of twenty-five years before. Accidental fortune! Hence, this collection of illustrations, lovely gesture drawings, along with pen and ink washes complement the beauty of these poems. Earlier in her life, Margreta was a stained glass window artist, assisting in the windows of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

James McGrath was a creative writing instructor at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in the early 60's. His work naturally reflects a Native American influence. James is the creator of the narrative poetry for the PBS American Indian Artist Series. He spent twenty years as the arts and humanities coordinator for the Department of Defense Overseas Schools in Europe and the Far East. He was poet-artist in residence with the U.S Information Service Arts America, in Yemen, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in the Republic of the Congo in the 90's. James was recently nominated for the "Living Treasure of Santa Fe" award. He lives in La Cieneguilla, Santa Fe, New Mexico, paints, writes, and teaches art at Ponce De Leon Retirement Center and on the Hopi Reservation.

What breathes in these poems is always humanistic, creature-filled, ecology.

This poet man is not afraid to say I love you. In the darkness, he demonstrates compassion for all beings.

Each poem is a prayer to the living thing, an embodiment of each. Universal.
This is McGrath's third book of poetry.

Wind (pg. 131)

Sit with me.
Let me surround you.

I shall carry your cries and murmurs
to become your voice
for a thousand years.

I shall speak for you
through masks of beaten gold,
masks of carved wood and bone,
masks covered with painted cloth.

I shall travel about the universe,
entering pyramids and tipis,
caves, openings behind stars
and rusted bodies of ships.

I shall travel out of time.

I shall meet you on your return journey
on your way home.

We shall talk together to awaken sleeping shadows
in the dusty mirrors.


Mary F. Morris lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is the winner of the New Mexico Discovery Award and the Rita Dove Award. She has published in numerous literary journals, including Quarterly West, Indiana Review, St. Petersburg Review, Poet Lore, The Sun, and Nimrod. She was a finalist this year for the Stan and Tom Wick Book Prize. Contact: Water400@aol.com

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