A few notes on Belle Turnbull

On Mt. Helen

When I hiked Mount Helen (sometimes called Helen and Belle Peak) in Breckenridge on June 27, I didn't know I was about to discover one of Colorado's best poets, Belle Turnbull.  Why have we forgotten her?  The excellent Belle Turnbull:  On the Life and Work of an American Master, edited by David J. Rothman and Jeffrey R. Villines, has been my writing material in the past week, and I'm in love with Belle.  I appreciate her poetry about early 20th century mining life in the Breckenridge area -- she works to capture dialect like Mark Twain did, and the concerns and descriptions are evocative.  But I love her poetry about the landscape, and about the ways the rough landscape of the Colorado Rockies demands we reflect on our relationships with others and with ourselves.

I love the unbridled and perilous passion of "Chant" (listed in Turnbull's papers under the heading "Not to be Published [During My Lifetime]"):


Now at last I have eaten
that dark and pungent honey
which is distilled
out of blue-black monkshood,
marsh-child of forbidden beauty
together with sky-bright mertensia
dwarf-born on the high mountains
and too sweet -- 
Now at last have I eaten 
and am consumed. 

                (Rothman and Villines 123)

I love the meditative aspect of "What is your religion?":

What is your religion?

To tend my house, my body, and my spirit:
this is beauty.
To live as best I may with those whom my life
touches; to nourish them and to be nourished by them:
this is love
to contemplate, to search, compare, to winnow:
this is wisdom.

              (Rothman and Villines 122)

And I love imagining the cozy (but always vulnerable) vision of home with Helen Rich that she presents in "Dialog":


Let's step outside in the mountain night, renew
Whole vision of this integer of cells:
This house, in separate amber shining so,
Uniquely seen, as though another self:
Unit in space, now for a time clearly
Walled, roofed, warmed:  now for a time. . .
How little, how long?  Whisper it flawless, dare we?
Shout it, and count the neighbor rays that shine,
Digits of oneness, careless into space. . .
Yet if tomorrow, yet if tomorrow shaken,
Lightless, forlorn?
                                Therefore.  Look, while the eyes
Know this for ours, and the amber word still spoken.
Though wood shall rot and light shatter, though
Self dissolve on a breath, this house is now.

                                   (Rothman and Villines 86)

Thank you, Mount Helen, for leading me to Belle Turnbull's poetry.

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