Poetry: Ghosts of Old Virginny

Over the last few years, I've delved into poetry: attending local slam poets, open mics, studying the great classics, forms, and meters, taking a course or two, reading current poetry on various sites and blogs, becoming a contributor at one poetry site, and beginning to read some of my own poetry at St. Paul's monthly Barbaric Yawp open mic.  So when the opportunity arose, I was excited to receive a copy of Ghosts of Old Virginny, a book of poetry.

I had a moment of wondering what I had done.  While I have seen plenty of modern poetry that is good, I have also seen too much that is simply lazy, heavy on angsty navel-gazing complaint and lean on any sense of rhythm, form, or beauty of language.  [Stressing that I have ALSO heard plenty of good poetry.]

However, I was intrigued by the title--those few words alone were evocative--and the description of the book--a collection of poetry based on and set in an old west boomtown.  Like Robert Frost's The Road not Taken or Edgar Allan Poe's Annabelle Lee, this book promised me poems that were about something.

I was not disappointed.  Ghosts of Old Virginny is a collection of free form poetry in the more modern style.  You will find no sonnets, villanelles, or triolets here.  You will find a free form style that holds a beautiful sense of rhythm, of ebb and flow.  There is a shape and beauty to the lines.  This is what free form poetry should be.

Throughout the book, we find evocative and beautiful turns of phrases.  We find beautiful images that hang, like old photographs capturing the moment forever in time.  

...she'll throw
her wild-haired beauty to the wind
and wait for evening....

in Julia C. Bulette.

Quality poetry leaves us with something to take away, some bigger thoughts on life and humanity.  We find this in Washoe Seeress Remembers Love:

...dangers in everyday, summits
even the wise cannot see.

How true.

We are taken on a historical journey through old Virginia City, that engages the intellect and curiosity: Who is Julia C. Bulette?  What's the story of St. Mary's Haunted Clock and what is the Chollar Mine?  At the same time, this is what I would call accessible poetry.  It can be enjoyed simply for itself, without knowing these things.  (I did however look up a few!)

At the same time, the book takes us on a personal journey.  In reading through the poems, a story of a love affair evolves, set amidst the strong and beautiful images of the dusty southwest, of memories of a time gone by, of descriptions of a way of life long gone--as, we find, the love too has faded away into the past and into memories, as the two last poems fly us back to some bright Dutch river and Silver Terrace Cemeteries

It's a beautiful, gentle way of telling a personal story that becomes part of a whole and engaging, rather than narcissistic or navel-gazing.  And it is exactly this that will not only lead me to read through these poems again and again, but to feel that I am likely to see more facets and layers with each reading.

About the Author

Milla van der Have (1975) wrote her first poem at 16, during a physics class. She has been writing ever since. One of her short stories won a New Millennium Fiction Award. In 2015 she published Ghosts of Old Virginny, a chapbook of poems about Virginia City, Nevada. Milla lives and works in Utrecht, The Netherlands.


About the Book

Virginia city, Nevada has been drawing the adventurous for over 100 years. It has been the home of gold-miners, businessmen and writers. After the bonanza, Virginia City reinvented herself and became a ghost town that draws travelers and artists. And, as it happened, a Dutch poet.

Milla van der Have visited Virginia City in 2014, on a writer's residency to finish her novel. But once there, something happened: the Comstock got to her. In Ghosts of Old Virginny Van der Have explores the legends and history of the Comstock by reimagining them. These poems deal with being uprooted and leaving the known behind. They speak of miners, ghosts and horses and throughout of the comfortable tension of love, that greatest journey of all.

You can purchase your copy of Ghosts of Old Virginny at Amazon.
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