Thursday, August 20, 2009

Recovering Journalist is Accomplished Poet

“Musings” for August 13, 2009

Recovering Journalist is Accomplished Poet

I was first introduced to Pat Riviere-Seel’s poetry almost exactly a year ago when we read our work together at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville. Afterwards, she invited me along with her friends back to her house for dinner. I went, and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, but enjoyed even more her stories of the wildlife, including more than one black bear, who routinely visit her mountain home.
Those stories and her beautiful home stayed with me, but not as much as her fascinating poetry. Most of the poems she read that day were from a manuscript called The Serial Killer’s Daughter, which has since been published as her second collection of poetry by Main Street Rag. That title alone was enough to catch my interest, but when she explained the poems were written from the perspective of the daughter of Velma Barfield, the NC native who made news in 1984 when she was executed for the confessed murders of her own mother and lover, among others, I was really hooked.
What Riviere-Seel creates, however, is even more fascinating than that might suggest. Yes, she tells the imaginative story of a woman who discovers what for most of us would be beyond the realm of imagination, that one’s own mother is a murderer, and in fact is responsible for the death of one’s grandmother, and in all likelihood, one’s father as well. However, Riviere-Seel’s collection is not a sensationalistic, tabloid-style rendering of gory details and pop psychology, but rather a sensitive and always poetic treatment of the humanity that exists preceding, during, and following such extraordinary events. In The Serial Killer’s Daughter Riviere-Seel creates beauty out of horror revealing in the process the humanity in a story whose inhumanity otherwise precludes understanding.
Riviere-Seel, a self-described recovering journalist, is associate editor of The Asheville Poetry Review and former president of the NC Poetry Society. Her poetry has been widely published and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She will read from her work at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory on Tuesday, September 8, starting at 6:30 PM as part of the Poetry Hickory reading series. The poem reprinted below is from The Serial Killer’s Daughter.

After My Mother Is Arrested and Charged with Murder

It’s not as easy as you might think,
up every morning, dressed and out
to the only job I’ve ever had--
the promised promotions gone
even though I’m the best at what I do,
sorting coats, sweaters by size.

I know the inventory, where to find
hairpins, which aisle holds light bulbs.
I keep up with the sales and never let
anyone use my discount. Ten years
I’ve never missed a day or clocked in late.

Yesterday my boss laid his hand
on my shoulder, said, “I’m sorry,” and
disappeared before I turned around.
I feel customers stare and sometimes
think I hear a whispered, “monster.”
Or was it “mother” that I heard?

Everyone wants to know
what’s going to happen next.
I’ll tell you: at the end of the day
four small arms will circle my neck,
I’ll fry chicken, bake rolls, and pray
to any god that will listen.


  1. i can't wait for this reading! pat is just fantastic :) and she already knows about the video'ing I will be doing!

  2. Pat's poetry is always so crisp, yet has so much emotional impact in it. I love her style.