Thursday, December 23, 2010
Poems on the side
By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
School children learn that poems are words and space.
Poets know that words are soul — the heart of a matter distilled into verse or prose.
Being a poet, like any other art, is not a path one typically chooses, but something inside that must needs come out.
So it is for Shirley Ashford.
Ashford’s book, “Reflection and Other Poems” was a gift of love.
As an Iola mom, wife, daughter, friend, Ashford shared her observations of the world with those she loved.
The favor was returned when Richard Zahn, the son of her lifelong friend, Eunice Zahn, had published a collection of Ashford’s poems.
“One year at Christmastime I compiled some of my verses and gave them to friends,” Ashford said. “He found them,” she said of Richard, going through his mother’s things after her death.
“One day, I came out and here on the porch was this big box — here were these books. He had, on his own, published them as a gift for me for my love for his mother.”
That depth of love is clearly evident in many of the poems, written over the span of many years, Ashford said.
“Some pertain to my life. Others were assignments when I took a variety of writing classes at Allen County Community College. Others are figment of pure imagination.”
She leaves it to the reader to guess which are which.
Ashford began writing poetry in junior high, she said. “I can still recite most of” the first verse she ever wrote, she said.
A lay minister, some of her poems have a religious theme. A few of these had been published in Christian magazines over the years, she said.
Ashford said she may have pursued writing as a career, but “my life took over.”
A number of the poems in “Reflection” are about loss.
“My very best friends have almost all left here,” Ashford said of Iola. “So many of my dearest friends have moved away,” resulting in much of the loss and longing that fill the verses.
One poem, about a grandmother’s aching arms for a grandchild moved away, was written for Ashford’s granddaughter Natasha when she was two. “She’s 34 now,” Ashford said.
And there are poems for her mother, who shaped her life. “When I lost my mother...” Ashford began. “I’m an only child. She’s all I had — I always thought we would grow old together.”
Ashford recalled spending much of her childhood in her grandmother’s kitchen, and there are poems for her, as well.
“She was a big woman,” Ashford said, often at the stove.
“You might call her fat,” a poem in her honor goes, “you would not know ... how those plump hands could fashion rolls as light as air, cook a dozen meals at once or braid a grandchild’s hair...”
Ashford said people focus on the outside of things, never learning what lies within. About her grandmother, she said, “she was big in the way she worked so hard. She was always good to me.”
Other poems are about her son, her grandson, her daughter.
In recent years, Ashford had written less, she said. She has instead “supplied the pulpit” in numerous churches, most recently in Neodesha.
“I served Humboldt Presbyterian Church on a bimonthly schedule for three years. I’ve served in Fredonia, Chanute and Iola over the years,” she said. After Christmas, she will serve in Yates Center.
“If my life had been different, I might have gone into ministry,” she said. “You always wonder ‘what if.’”
Ashford said she has enough poems collected to publish another volume, “but I don’t think it will ever happen.”
As she said, life gets in the way.