|BROADSTONE BOOKS announces
|Publication Date: May 1, 2021
Paperback, 72 pages
Booksellers: Available from
Small Press Distribution
$21.50 retail, or
when you order directly from
Broadstone Books, below
Charlotte Muse received both
her M.A. and her MFA in Creative
Writing from San Francisco State
University, where she has taught
Creative Writing and Poetry Writing.
She also taught for some years as
Instructor in Poetry for UC Berkeley
Extension, for the Life-lines Project
for cancer patients and their
caregivers, the Foothill Summer
Youth College, the Stanford Upward
Bound Program, and for many other
Among her awards are: the Allen
Ginsberg Award, the Elinor Benedict
Poetry Prize, the Yeats Society of
New York's Poetry Award, two
Many of the poems in this collection are inspired by stories told by Ascension
Solorsano de Cervantes, a descendant of indigenous people in what became
California, and the last fluent native speaker of the Mutsun language. This sets the
tone for Charlotte Muse’s poetry, taking the form of a literary expedition, at times
anthropological, at others anthropomorphic, through many lives, many times,
historical past and personal past, bodies human and animal, flesh and spirit – so much
layered in these pages.
Her opening poem, “Why You’re Afraid of the Road,” answers that it might be the
impulse to leave the world – “what if you just drove off the edge / because you were
tired of all / curves and wanted to lie on air?” This thought is echoed in the title poem,
forgiving the river even as it carries her away, “giving up my own motion… / Already
I’m dissolving in the world.” Writing of “Last Days,” she imagines the earth opening
to disgorge the souls of the dead, so many that one walks through them like a
projection: “there’s no sensation, but there’s a shadow on you, / and for a moment, a
face replaces / your face.” If this sounds morbid, it’s not – merely another way of
seeing the world, or of seeing between worlds.
And yet another way is through animals, beginning with the image of an owl painted
on a cave wall thirty thousand years ago, left in darkness, perspective frozen in stone:
“Doesn’t everything want to take in more of the world?”, she asks, for the owl and
for us. Later, writing of a living owl flying over a mountain lake, she longs to see
with the bird’s eyes: “I’ll watch until mine, too, see wide / all the way to the other
side.” The other side of life, that is. She finds this gift in animals, many of which
appear here, snakes and rats and pigs and bees. “Whatever a fish wants to do / takes
the whole fish” she observes – such concise advice for living. Mourning the dead
bodies of frogs dissected in biology classrooms occasions a plea for forgiveness from
all the world:
Please. Don’t go.
We want you back.
We see now what we’ve broken.
We didn’t mean to break it
break it break it. We didn’t
mean to break it.
Still, she writes of hope that we can learn from such experiences:
This poem says Don’t worry.
You’re the one whose heart was broken or awakened.
Who knows the story better than you?
The closing poem describes a photograph of a lost world, of Europe in 1909, a watch
“always ticking closer to Sarajevo and the great war and the war after that and / the
ends of so many worlds.” Like Solorsano, Muse writes of, and from, the ends of
worlds – but perhaps, also, the possibilities of new ones.
Praise for Charlotte Muse & In Which I Forgive the River:
These are wonderful poems. They are about everything the in world, as seen by a poet
who loves the world, its beauties and its horrors as well—the whole world, as it is now
and as it has been at other times. The words are exact and unexpected, never careless,
always particular: frog and owl, stone and moon, boy at the bottom of a hole, violin,
rattlesnake. You will feel more intensely the world you live in, reading these poems.
You will feel more alive.
—Jeanne Du Prau, author of the City of Ember series
Charlotte Muse’s poetry presents a unique and brilliant sense of the natural world,
which places human experience shared with a multitude of creatures. This world is
real as rock and stone or a leaf drifting down river or a dead rat and yet magical as
moonlight on an owl’s wing or the sound of medieval music made from wood and gut.
Hovering in the background is the rush of time. Here the spirit blends softly with
mortal life and carries the reader into a world of sublime mystery.
—Peter N. Carroll, author of Something Is Bound to Break
Charlotte Muse’s poetry is remarkable because Charlotte Muse is a remarkable
person. She chisels and cherishes her language—its tenses studied and taut. Above all
a thinker, she is wise, modest, sometimes slyly funny. She observes the earth, down to
quotidian pebbles on her path, & upward to dried leaves on knurled dying trees as
dusted air descends. Humanity’s behavior does not escape her maternal tough love,
even despairing outcry. I tell you, she sang her children to sleep when they were little,
& this music enters her lines. Here is a voice to listen to. Muse is her true name.
—Muriel Karr, author of Toward Dawn & Shape of a Pear
In the miraculous poem “The Watcher at Chauvet Cave,” the cave-art owl, after eons
of darkness and isolation, becomes free of his stone matrix, turns his head toward the
wall, and gazes “into what he’s made of.” So too this masterful collection. Through
creation stories and deftly invented myths, the poet offers us the chance to look into
what we are made of. The syntax is deceptively straightforward, the voice quiet in its
assertions, the metaphors subtle and swift. The poems do in fact look straight into our
darkness but not without the steady light of their love of the natural and animist
world. Near the end of the collection, the poem “Small Ode to Joy” closes with these
We don’t owe everything to madmen who think
we’re only empty shoes in their jig of death.
We don’t owe everything to sorrow.
Indeed, we don’t. There are many imaginative poems here that reward reading again
—J. David Cummings, author of Tancho
In Which I Forgive the River gives us Charlotte Muse’s exquisitely compassionate
poems for the oppressed, the people and animals of many cultures as they confront
life, aging, and death. Like the refugee girl who won’t lend her father to the river, and
the river that takes them both on its long, glistening tongue. Or the woman in Pakistan
confronted by a drone explosion seeing even the golden dust motes of her bombed-
out house disappear. And even the title river, untrustworthy,dangerous, gets forgiven,
because life offers beauty in spite of its pain. Compelling narratives beautifully
—Phyllis Klein, author of The Full Moon Herald
|Cover photograph by Alice Cummings, used by permission
|Atlanta Review International Publication Awards, and awards in the Joy Harjo Poetry
competition, the Foley Prize, and Ireland’s Feile Filiochta, as well as the short list for
England’s 2013 Bridport Prize. Her work has been published in magazines and
anthologies. Her website (designed by her grandson, Andre) is at charlottemuse.com.
She lives, writes, and teaches private workshops in Menlo Park, CA, where she likes
to sit at the bottom of a nearby dry creek and stare off into space.