Photo by Gregory Coleman
Stumbling into the Light is Edwina Trentham’s first collection of poetry. The book has received high praise from poets and non-poets alike. Poet and professor Robert Cording has said, “Edwina Trentham’s autobiographical sequence of poems is as painful, loving, and surprising as family life itself. Acutely observant, generous and rich in their details, these mature, accomplished poems ‘sift the clutter’ of memory to recall the often concealed and contradictory truths that lie at the heart of her upbringing in Bermuda. Trentham tells an archetypal story: the fall into the complexity of adult life. An intimate participant in this emotional journey, the reader follows a child who learns to make her way ‘alone in paradise’ into adulthood where she finally ‘adds up’ the past, calling it back with the utmost honesty and compassion, so it will ‘let [ her] go.’ Yet, while the subject matter is personal, Stumbling into the Light is never confessional; these are poems of great restraint and formal range. Trentham is a scrupulous poet of subtle effects whose ability with forms, particularly the sestina form, and with rhyme and stanzaic structures is evident throughout. This is a book that finds its home again and again in the ‘life of the mind,’ — ‘exuberant,/ contained, still blossoming’ on page after page.”

Others have written as follows: “ ‘The secret/ she teaches me over and over/ is brutality,’ Edwina Trentham says in one of several poems about gardening and her mother, from whom she learns the importance of ‘pinching back now/ if you want opulence later.’ Drawing her inspiration from a childhood in Bermuda that was indeed pinched—by a beautiful young mother’s icy reserve and a much older father’s elusive attentions—Trentham cultivates the past to produce the opulent display of poems in this volume. While the scenes she portrays are often dark and spare, her language spills over with color and light.” —Sue Ellen Thompson

Stumling Into The Light“The gentle candor and vulnerability of these poems, matched with their hard-won truths, are possible only because their speaker has lived the ‘myth’ of paradise and family so deeply that myth has become an eloquently distilled memoir. Nearly every poem is an encounter with the human heart, acknowledging betrayal, anger, loneliness, longing, grief—gratitude also. These poems are grounded in a compassion that is never shallowly rooted.” —Margaret Gibson

Edwina Trentham was born in Bermuda, where she spent the first four years of her life, then moved to Washington DC, where her father was Treasurer of the British Embassy. When she was nine, her father retired and the family returned to Bermuda, where she spent the rest of her childhood. She moved to Connecticut in 1962. She has been a fellow at Yaddo and has published her work in a number of magazines, including The American Scholar, The American Voice, The Connecticut Review (forthcoming), The Massachusetts Review, The New Virginia Review, Prairie Schooner, The Sun, and Yankee. Her work is included in four anthologies—the 1997 Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry; At Our Core: Women Writing About Power; Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age; and By the Long Tidal River: An Anthology of Connecticut Writing (Curbstone Press, forthcoming). She won honorable mention in the 2004 Sunken Garden Poetry Festival National Competition and has given many readings in New England and New York. Edwina Trentham was a Professor of English at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, CT for twenty-seven years, where she founded and edited the poetry magazine Freshwater; and she was also a Visiting Instructor in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan University from 1998 through 2005. She has one son, Ben, and lives in Moodus with her husband, Greg Coleman, a labyrinth designer, poet, and Tai Chi instructor. Both are members of the Guilford Peace Alliance.

Click here to read some sample poems.

The Antrim House seminar room offers notes, issues for discussion, and writing assignments. Click here to attend the seminar on Stumbling into the Light.

BOOK STATISTICS

ISBN: 0-9662783-8-0
Length: 74 pages
Binding: 5.5" x 8.5" perfect bound

 

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CAST OUT 

Two days, my mother tells me, and we’ll be
gone
.  She doesn’t tell me where.  Behind me
on the shadowed porch, the grownups
clink glasses.  Beyond flat
gravel paths, below the long
green lawn, the sun beats silver
into the sea.  The tricycle seat
burns my bare thighs, burns through
my thin cotton underpants,
my palms are sticky on black
rubber.  I grip hard, lean forward, to push
one pedal—brake—lean back.  Back and forth,
back and forth, elastic pinching the soft
flesh under my arms.  All their backs
are turned.  Now. 

I am thumping,
clattering,
spilling down the wide
steps, for an instant
flying free,
then smashing
my brow into blood
and stones, sprawling,
becoming one
with the bright indifference
of the insects’ song.

.

SUNDAY NIGHT

The upstairs bathroom is cold, but I can lie
stretched out, full length, at fourteen, still shy
three inches of the tub’s six feet, square bones
of my knees poking just above the water, drops
spangling my flat belly.  I hear my sister thudding
up the stairs, the crash of her slamming bedroom
door, my father’s deep voice a floor below,
distant as summer rain on the limestone roof.

Against my closed eyelids my sister hunches,
smoking, sobbing, staring out at the sweep
of dark sea, cursing my father for not loving her,
my mother for not loving anyone.  I sniff hard
to catch one more whiff of that Easter Lily
perfume I scattered across the water’s clear
surface, then reach with my right foot to grip
the tap with my toes, flip the hot water

into a thin steady stream.  Steam rises, floats,
fogs the room, coats the mirror.  Tomorrow
in school, my skin will smell like flowers.

FLESH

Good night my darling little baby,
she croons, just before
hanging up the phone.
I stare into the three thousand miles
between this room
and the nursing home bed
where she lies trapped,
her once perfect legs a mass of red
and black bruises, strapped
tight with sticky tape
that will tear her paper
skin off in bloody strips if she lets
herself live long enough
for a change of dressing.

I have long known her fierce need
to be the only beloved,
but just for a moment
I let myself believe
in that murmur, 
let myself return
to the sweet, milky darkness
of flesh on flesh,
before she marked me
other, before she saw me
as threat.

.

MY FATHER’S HEART

I was seven, I think, when the carving knife’s thin
blade sliced my finger through the dishtowel, sliced right
to the bone it seemed, as I watched the white cloth turn
crimson, tasted a rush of bile, choked on my breath
at the sweet, sticky smell of blood, then whimpered once,
like a scampering puppy who skids and catches

its foot in a slammed door.  I raised my hand to catch
my mother’s eye, but I was not surprised the thin
knife had found my finger.  I knew better, or once
I saw that eager blade I did, so she was right
to be furious, to glare and suck in her breath,
to twist the towel tight to staunch the blood, then turn

me roughly, hustle me, with one impatient turn
back to snap the light off, rush me outside to catch
a cab, whistle it down, stare ahead, me breathing
hard against tears, she smoking, lecturing, voice thin
with anger.  But all that vanished the next day, right
after breakfast, when my father, home just this once

because of a snowstorm, took me sledding—the one
and only time he did—and when I tried to turn
the sled, held the rope too hard, cried out, he was right
there, saw my blue mitten leaking red, and caught
me in his arms, to run me home.  Oh, his long, thin
legs plowing us through the heavy snow, his quick breath

coming in smoky puffs in the clear air, his breath
echoing the sound of his strong heart thumping, once
he hit his stride, and oh my head against his thin
chest, bumping in time to his footsteps.  When I turn
to this memory, that’s where I choose to stay, caught
up in those few moments, the way my ear was right

against his beating heart, how he carried me right
home through the snow, in his arms.  I catch my breath
at this point.  The truth is, details have never caught
up with longing in this story.  I thought, just once 
I’d like to see what happened next, see how it turned
out, but I won’t shape memory to fit some thin

version of truth, wrest one right story from scatters
of desire—thin stuff when I can just turn back,
find myself caught up, held still in love’s sweet breath.

THE HARBOR

The two sisters are lying belly down
on inflatable mattresses, the tips
of their noses just touching the water’s
clear surface.  They are counting angel fish,
yellow grunts, cowpollies—shimmers of blue
and gold scattered with the minnows’ silver
arrows that come and go beneath their drifting
shadows.  In early morning, the harbor
is an emerald shot through with light, broken
by rocky islands and jutted with small
stone docks, the sky that impossibly pure
blue of the tropics, scattered with thin clouds,
seabirds soaring to catch the wind, hanging
an instant, then floating to bright water.

The sisters lie here for hours each day,
contemplating their luck, their parents’ luck
in having rich friends who let them summer
in this huge house, where there’s room to sidestep
their unpredictable mother, the blaze
of her laughter and its chilly shadow,
to avoid the soft chink of glass on glass,
as their father waters the gin. They’ve learned
to make their way alone in paradise,
and so, the morning they hear of the shark
in the harbor, are told by someone Stay
out of the water for now, they simply
haul themselves onto the stone dock, scraping
their sunburned knees, pull the wet mattresses

after them, then sit quietly, thin arms
wrapped tightly around their chests, shivering