Alumna explores loss, consolation in poetry
Kathryn Marshall | Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Listeners witnessed the journey from brokenness to consolation at a poetry reading in Carroll Auditorium Tuesday night at Saint Mary’s College. Mary Pinard, a Saint Mary’s alumna and professor of English at Babson College, read from her book “Portal” as part of the spring season’s visiting writer series, sponsored by the English department.
Pinard said her brother drowned during a freak tugboat accident in the Grays Harbor Estuary in Washington, and the event inspired the content of the collection.
“‘Portal’ is a book which started with a personal story, a story of deep loss for me, that I think blinded me from being anything but sad for a long time,” Pinard said. “I worked my way through some very raw places, trying to find a voice, an elegiac voice that could somehow respond to the loss of a beloved brother.”
The resulting book is her personal elegiac journey from brokenness to consolation, she said. The book begins with a poem full of broken descriptions, titled “Theory of Disappearance,” followed by a series of poems involving the speaker talking to the lost brother.
Writing a sonnet about her brother’s love of the smell of diesel, a poem about film found in the pocket of his raincoat after his death and another titled “Blue Lath” — named after a woodworker’s tool used by her brother —among other poems, helped her move forward towards consolation, Pinard said.
“Late in the series [of poems] is where I am trying to face the matter of my brother’s death, and to make sense of it,” Pinard said.
Pinard said the image of peonies inspired a poem titled “Seeing Peonies,” written during a writing residency in Peoria, where she went to learn more about tugboats, so as to better understand the environment in which her brother died.
The book ends with a poem of praise for an estuary, she said.
“The complexity that is in an estuary, where saltwater and freshwater braid, suggests that there are species that can only survive there,” Pinard said. “Because it is so easy to discount it, it is also so easy to hurt it. For me, the coming together of consolation and the loss of my brother connects with my sense of consolation around trying to understand the nature of the estuary and potentially to save it.”
In response to a student question, Pinard said she developed a love of the languages of sciences after switching her course of study from pre-med to theater and English her sophomore year at Saint Mary’s.
“I do think that there is a lot of beauty in language that poets can have access to, if they have a better relationship with disciplines that seem different from theirs,” Pinard said. “I think that’s the beauty of poetry. If you take it seriously, then you have to become a scholar in a lot of different areas, if you are going to make all of those language work in those poems.”
First-year student Emily Harrast said she enjoyed the reading because she finds herself similar to Pinard because she is a biology major who also likes English.
“It was interesting how she talked about poetry in relation to other subjects,” Harrast said. “I also thought it was interesting how she made the whole book about [the loss of her brother]. You could really tell how she changed over time, how she started the book so upset and then grew from there, eventually viewing something completely different from the same situation.”