“In Dodge & Scramble Morgan Grayce Willow becomes the poet-cantor of the prairie. Through the music and poetry in “Sorghum and sugar beets./ Northrup King. DeKalb./ Archer Daniels Midland” she examines memory, place, and time set on the prairie, the essence of infinity. Willow intones, “…wither us backwards into time” and “…place/that remembers itself as marshland/and longs to return.” Using myth, history, ecology, nails, sows, and winches she makes of splendid meditations and narratives a desire that is like “…some trick of magic,/of dream or good sense, that can shape/the wilderness inside us into a better garden/than the one we’ve so longed to reenter.” —Sharon Chmielarz, Love from the Yellowstone Trail
“Dodge & Scramble has a view as large and open as the prairie and as steady as a row of corn. The people in these poems ‘staked their lives on wind / and high plains,’ and Morgan Grayce Willow tells us how and why they gave themselves to ‘the one moment / that is enough.’ In this book, we learn something true and beautiful about the children of the children of the Midwestern pioneers.” —Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota Poet Laureate, author, First Words
“What a delight to discover Morgan Grayce Willow’s new book Dodge & Scramble. Here’s a poet who dares to engage the reader in a world of farming and the land, then pushes the experience to the higher level of transformative myth. Every poem, every page demonstrates the thoughtfulness and grace of this insightful poet.” —Mary Swander, Poet Laureate of Iowa, author Desert Pilgrim & Farmscape
“In this splendid collection from Morgan Grayce Willow, America’s rural midwest is draped in what can only be called grandeur—grit, cockleburs, and all. The landscapes presented here are often larger than life, and the passage of time geologic in scope—yet Willow never loses track of day-to-day amazements: a wayward billygoat, a Greek myth transplanted, a machine shed, a haymow or two. With Dodge & Scramble, the reader is visiting emotional and geographical territory both familiar and fragile—clearly a journey well worth taking.” —Marilyn L. Taylor, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2009 – 2010
“The Midwestern landscape, physical, social, political, is the foreground for the poems in Dodge & Scramble. Cornfields, silos, barns, far horizons are the stage upon which the poor players, farmers, families, daughters, live and act. It is honored, praised, worshiped, from the rhythm of horse hooves over gravel roads, to the sweeping flights of swallows under creek bridges, to the sentinel blackbirds returning to their towering cattails. In the tradition of Bill Holm and Robert Bly, Morgan Grayce Willow in her deeply moving book, Dodge & Scramble, gives us a litany of poems so that we can chant our way to the barn and know exactly where we are singing.” —Walter Bargen, First Poet Laureate of Missouri
“Some poetry is poetry of memory and some is poetry of desire. Morgan Grayce Willow’s wonderful collection, Dodge & Scramble, shows that poetry can be both. Many of the poems recall precise details of a farming life that has passed us by, but through memories emerge a childlike longing to “unfreeze our desire/ for the perfect garden.” These are thoughtful, informed, and moving poems that should be on a reader’s bookshelf next to Wendell Berry, Ted Kooser, and Mary Oliver.” —Jim Heynen, author, The Fall of Alice K
“With rhythmical sophistication, allusive richness, and precise figuration, Morgan Grayce Willow both invokes and evokes the spirit of America’s heartland. Part elegy, part praise-song, Dodge & Scramble could only have been written by a poet whose profound connection to this landscape resonates “deep in [her] cells.” Like Amy Clampitt before her, this is the muscular verse of “an uprooted prairie-dweller.” And, like Willa Cather, another literary forebear, Willow’s allegiance to those who labored, broke the sod, and planted their crops is made more powerful because it is rooted in the traditional touchstone of myth. In a world in which nature is always capricious, in which “the indivisible/tapestry of seasons” shapes the soul, Willow summons up “a disheveled history” so vivid that the reader cannot help but react viscerally to these poems as they open out and reflect our communal, human condition.” — Francine Sterle, author, Nude in Winter, Tupelo Press
“Morgan Grayce Willow’s elegies, blessings, and myths evoke not only the cultural time by which a family farm lives, but also the deeper time of the earth’s geology, usually imperceptible due to our brevity. Reading these poems, I remember how our lands grow because of, as well us in spite of us, and will continue without us.” — Michael Walsh, author, The Dirt Riddles, Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize Winner 2010
“Morgan Grayce Willow celebrates our daily connections to agricultural cycles, grounded in seasons, community, and family. At once contemporary and historic, Willow creates vivid word pictures with quiet, unforgettable commentary. In clear-sighted verse, she returns to the family farm, lacing memory into fabric of rural experience, including its beauties and challenges. All of us benefit from her vision.” — Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2009-11, author, Ghost Stories of the New West and Words of a Prairie Alchemist
“Reading Morgan Grayce Willow’s Dodge & Scramble, I’m reminded of the wisdom of objects, how the tools, utensils, and ornaments of our homes guide us through the days. Silently observing, they offer us wisdom when we need it and correction when we deserve it. This rich evocation of growing up on the farm, where the connections to plants, animals, and implements are primal, captures both a child’s inherent sense of security and an adult’s acquired determination to survive, as the parents ‘dodge/ and scramble yet one more year/ to keep this land/ in the family.’ If you also spent childhood days on a farm, as I have, be prepared for sensory memories to come back in rush. Full of barn cats, Holsteins, fallow fields, harmonicas, thunder and lightning, haymows, and laundry hung on a line to dry, these poems honor a way of life that is close to the land, where ‘the seam at the edge of prairie and sky lives/ deep in our cells,’ and that unfolds in the thick of history, ‘beneath wagons and graveyards/ fanning across the breadbasket.’ In Dodge & Scramble, Morgan Grayce Willow pays wise and worldly tribute to ‘the workings of things.’” — James Cihlar, author of Rancho Nostalgia and Undoing
“Dodge and Scramble is an evocative love song that weaves together place, time, memory in seasonal and human rhythms. Morgan Grayce Willow writes into the mystery of home, balancing how where we come from names us, with gentle precision and wide perspective. Her poems lead us to the origins of life visible in the details, such as in her poem ‘Root Sutra,’ in which she writes, ‘O Root, perfect beauty,/ wither us backward in time,/ down and into the indivisible/ tapestry of seasons./ Road out of history./ Tunnel to the afterlife.’ She ends this lyrical collection with a poem aptly titled ‘Blessing,’ reminding us of “the one moment/ that is enough,’ after a marvelous poetic journey exploring how life composes such moments and composes us within and beyond such moments.” — Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, 2011-2013 Poet Laureate of Kansas, author, The Divorce Girl: A Novel of Art and Soul
“With the true poet’s eye for specifics and detail—red fox, pink granite, the ‘shining curve’ of a ploughshare and ‘toast buttered out to the very crust’—Morgan Grayce Willow names this mid-western landscape and its homesteaders—her ancestors—into existence and creates a sustained mediation on our human relationship to the land and its history. The landscape itself is a central figure here, but this is not a romanticised world: there is blood, and ruin, and the anguish of people caught between a longing for the countries they left behind and the hope embodied in the new land they have settled; a people who can never be ‘indigenous’ in a land that is ‘the never-ours land/that we claimed our own.’ And this is the legacy Willow has inherited and from which she writes: ‘A disheveled history,’ she claims, ‘condenses here.’ And it does, beautifully, by celebrating a culturally complex way of life and bearing witness to its erasure. Often elegiac in tone and always historically astute, Dodge and Scramble is a wonderful collection—a powerful mix of invocation and yearning.”
— Jude Nutter, author, I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours Walt Whitman
Morgan Grayce Willow grew up on a family farm in Mitchell County, Iowa, originally settled by her great grandfather in the 1890s. Her poetry collections include Between and Silk: Meditations on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan, as well as the chapbooks The Maps are Words and Arpeggio of Appetite.
Her writing, in prose as well as poetry, has garnered awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. Morgan’s memoir essay “Riding Shotgun for Stanley Home Products” became the title piece in Riding Shotgun: Women Write about Their Mothers (Borealis Books). Other essays have appeared in Water~Stone Review and Imagination & Place: Cartography.
A former sign language interpreter, Morgan published Crossing that Bridge, a guide for making literary events accessible to deaf audiences. She lives in Minneapolis and teaches at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, as well as The Loft Literary Center.
Air above the corn field
is still, hangs heavy
with summer moisture,
rests against tassels
and in cottonwoods bordering the field
to the west and south.
Long twilight is earth’s
one content moment in the day.
The sun’s rays, interrupted
by a frame the leaves make,
edge time for us.
We could almost believe
it will do as we ask,
stand still for us. But just then
one, and another, then several, soon
an extravagance of fireflies blink,
each one lasting just long enough
for the eye to find
where it no longer is,
long enough to flavor the night
Morgan Grayce Willow
from Dodge & Scramble
© Morgan Grayce Willow 2009-2013. All rights reserved.