Salem poet, watercolorist, and musician Virginia Corrie-Cozart (1932-2012) told a true story in this poem. The piece, appearing in her book, A Mutable Place (Traprock Books, 2003) starts and ends in a workshop, a placid setting. But Virginia chose words—from scribblers to squirms—that are loaded with action; and, she enlivened the narrative with images of sights and sounds. This is a tale of two writers—Virginia and the girl in her story—crafting their experiences into poetry.

 

Girl on a Horse

The visiting professor saunters

through the classroom of scribblers.

He observes the teen, who came

to the workshop with her nervous mother,

as she purses her lips to write,

her cursive leaning backward,

her i’s dotted with circles.

She asks permission

to offer her work,

awkwardly scrapes her chair

and begs pardon.

 

She rode out alone

on her horse, she reads,

under Orion and the full moon.

When the roan took her bare-

back at a canter,

they cleared the fences,

and when he stretched to a gallop,

she smelled the lather of his sweat

where the leather reins rubbed,

felt him move beneath her,

the two of them together

pounding an unfamiliar road.

She hung on for dear life,

wanting almost to lose it,

and when the ride wound down,

she gave him his head

to take her home.

 

The professor clears

his throat. She squirms

at her mother’s glare,

murmurs, “But it’s about horses

and the wind in my face,” demurs

when he says with terrible care,

“I see you’ve written

a love poem.”

Virginia’s teacher in that workshop was William Stafford (1914-1993), the author of thirty-five books of poems and the first Oregonian to win a National Book Award for Poetry. He served as our state’s Poet Laureate for fifteen years, and, for two years, as Poetry Consultant for the Library of Congress (later renamed US Poet Laureate). A professor at Portland’s Lewis and Clark College, he mentored many poets across this country and abroad.

The Friends of William Stafford (www.williamstafford.org) presents celebrations of Stafford’s life and work each January. This year’s special events mark one-hundred years since his birth. Virginia and he shared the same birth-month, and, thanks to her care in depicting him, this publication of her poem pays tribute to them both.

 

Ada Molinoff and Virginia Corrie-Cozart, of Salem, shared poems and lasting friendship as founding members of the Peregrine Writers critique group.