During my twenty years as editor and publisher of Ancient Paths literary magazine, several thousand poems have come across my desk for consideration. It was in this manner that I discovered a delightful, but surprisingly little-known, modern poet: Ida Fasel. Ida died in 2012, at the age of 102, after publishing her sixteenth book, a collection of poems and essays inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The daughter of Russian immigrants, Ida started writing as a young child. She spent thirty years as an instructor at the Colorado Women’s College and the University of Colorado, but she eventually retired to write poetry.
In her lifetime, Ida sent me autographed copies of several of her books, and I published six of her poems in Ancient Paths. In today's world of workshop clones, Ida’s poetry is unique and honestly profound. While intelligent, her verse is unencumbered by the pretentious techniques that too often define poetry in this (to use the poet’s own words) "over-refined age." Her poems are bitter-sweet, nostalgic, and full of quiet imagery. Ida employed words sparingly, but she communicated a great deal. Her rhythms are frequently soft and smooth, and the reader is carried along by poetic repetition and other devices. Abbreviated lines, when used, most often serve as a means of transition and do not jar the reader from the easy flow of the text.
Though Ida explored many themes through her poetry, it was her gentle sense of hope that stood out above all else. In “At the Millennium” (from Air, Angels, & Us) she “finds people nicer than / the 10 o’clock news reports.” Her collection Amphora Full of Light is a three-part reflection on the believer who can manage to hope amid a fallen and suffering world. Walking to Light: Poems of a Prairie Year kicks off, in a voice of innocence, “Will I touch the sky? Will you?” In the wake of a world that has for years emphasized the horrors of life and the indifference of nature and nature’s God, Ida’s poems come as a refreshing breeze. They are not shallow, upbeat clichés, or poems unrealistically isolated from genuine pain, but they do thrive with a gentle, unyielding hope.
Even when she wrote on subjects as painful as the September 11 attacks, Ida’s quiet optimism shone through. The poems in her collection We Were Not Falling but Rising were originally penned as private reflections on the events of September 11th and the political aftermath that ensued. However, the poet's publisher encouraged her to bring the poems to the public, and I for one am glad to have this volume, which calls into question the shrill finger pointing that followed the attacks. "If I were an activist," writes the poet, "I would do away with hyphens / as weapons of assault." The poems in this collection radiate with a strong, if occasionally sorrowful, love of country. The imagery is often original and deeply moving.
I would like to close this reflection with a selection of two poems. The first, "As Days Go By," comes from We Were Not Falling but Rising, and was published in Issue 14 (2007) of Ancient Paths. I also nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. The second, "Choices," was published in Issue 5 (Fall 2000) of Ancient Paths.
As Days Go By
by Ida Fasel
The leaves fell early, and I cannot write
Of those who danced at death with such delight
In their descent. I have the shock and horror
Of Milton at the Piedmont massacre.
He made of his stunned silence holy sound
As martyred blood and ash fell to the ground.
I cannot write and yet I have the grief,
The long sob, the Einfühlung without relief.
I cannot write by day so words slip through
At night. I turn by day from vivid view
Of slaughter. I cannot write, I cannot write
Of those who danced at death with such delight.
I cannot write; I stay and yet I leave:
After the cries, the whispers of the grave.
Choices by Ida Fasel
What if you didn’t know even snails could hurry up when Noah said IT’S TIME?
What if you didn’t know one and one makes one?
What if you didn’t know even firefly light over the music stand could bring the score to such a pitch the diapason closes full in you?
What if you didn’t know Dame Julian of Norwich said But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well?
What if you didn’t know the language of God is the same as that of the violet: I return your love?
What if you chose to remain ignorant all your life?