In her fourth book of poems, Kay Mullen explores the meaning of home from the viewpoint of a challenging childhood and youth, then as an adult and beyond. She finds a home in genuine relationships, in the woods and the world of nature. The author discovers a sense of home through travel where differences in people and customs create bonds of belonging.
What reviewers are saying about Homecoming
Just as the figure in “Up Close” exhibits an “essence of honesty / in simple and complex ways of seeing” so that “everything / observed enlarges perception,” Kay Mullen produces impressive poetry in Homecoming that expands readers’ appreciation of the world around them. She displays the precise eye for specifics a naturalist might envy, and her painterly descriptive power rivals that of the “Sidewalk Artist” who engages observers with “the pleasure of swirls and shades, shadows / and hues, stroke on stroke to completion.” Indeed, like the “Ahimsa Women” whose message about “hope / for the future” she admires, Mullen’s poems filled with such exquisite lyrical language will encourage all to “honor their words.”
Homecoming is a moving, sometimes heartbreaking search for home and belonging. Kay Mullen’s poems act as prisms—they take the white light of yearning and bend it into a rainbow of bell-struck moments. Seen from a doorway into an austere childhood, “what passes through may not/ be light. Silence/ may cloak a room.” From a pond’s edge late in life, “The sun slowly spreads day over the surface,/ a seam sewn between opposites, dark underworld,/ light separations.” There is so much care taken in these beautiful poems, they ask the reader to take care too, and then: “In a breath, the whole appears/ out of nowhere.”
These are hushed yet galvanized poems, adding to the irony of words explaining silence, for who can translate woodsmoke or read in a root cellar? Soon words fill a room with a frightening dark. Dictating the singular language of the natural world, Kay Mullen prefers the outside, where “even pebbles have something to say in silence.”
Homecoming book review by Janet McCann, Professor Emerita of the English Department at Texas A & M University
Homecoming is an emotionally powerful collection of poems that explore the most difficult and most joyous experiences of ordinary life—dark places that are illuminated; bright places that are shadowed. The poet goes all over the globe, observing, understanding, participating. Throughout the book runs a fine hum of yearning for home—the abstract, the particular, the immediate, the ultimate. Joy and grief turn out to be stands of the same cord pulling us homeward.
Kay Mullen has received recognitions, including the Washington State William Stafford Award and many Pushcart Prize nominations; she is the author of Let Morning Begin, A Long Remembering: Return to Vietnam, and Even the Stones. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She makes her home in Tacoma, Washington.
It is hard to find poems in which the people and events are not sentimentalized and yet the work remains somehow positive because the frame, the scheme that encloses us, is not meaningless. These poems have an untethered spirituality that glistens through them. I say “untethered” because although the wellsprings of the vision presented here are clearly Catholic and Christian, the poems are not locked to any dogma and they never preach. They simply share, and in doing so, add a wash of color to the reader’s vision.
Each of the four sections begins with an evocative epigraph about home. My own favorite is the Basho quotation at the beginning of the last section, “The Country of Home.” Matsuo Basho said, “Everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home.” This statement seems to carry the theme of the poems. Through all journeyings, all wistful yearnings and memories, the life traveler is at home—that is, at least as much at home as it is possible to be in this world. There is always a larger perspective implied, in which all homes are only way stations. Thus the poems radiate peace, even when their content is anything but peaceful.
Their medium is often nature. Highly specific and sensuous natural images that carry immediate and remote images dominate many of the poems, which describe learning and seeing experiences all over the world. The imagery is reminiscent of Mary Oliver’s, and so is the almost emblematic use of some of the surface pictures. Mullen’s knowledge of nature is both encyclopedic and intimate. You walk with her in poems such as “A Wild Order”:
Dark holes, those empty spaces no eye
can see into, the kind a fallen cedar makes,
or a nurse log, its branches bent under ferns
and mouse-ear chickweed as if leisurely walking
a treadmill of wind…
More imagery quietly introduces a figure, “the woman/ who peers between yellow curtains…”
The poem concludes with a sense of the meaningfulness of life’s miscellany:
For a moment the sun seems hooked
on a cedar as it stitches its way into morning.
The spruce blues its smallest branches
Homecoming book review by A. Regina Schulte, MA, PH.D., CORPUS REPORTS, Autumn, 2019
The concept of “home” can be at once geographical, biological, and historical. Over time, it may even evolve into a mythical place that, for many persons, offers comfort, welcome, and a sense of belonging. In this collection of poems, author Kay Mullen not only deftly weaves these strands together, but she embroiders them with her fine descriptions of flora and fauna. Lest readers expect otherwise, it should be stated that her memories are low on nostalgia; they are revealed in clear, matter-of-fact language. Mullen’s appreciation of the natural world is akin to that of Mary Oliver (whom she mentions). Even though there is an aura of Mary Oliver’s writings wafting throughout many of these poems, Mullen clearly owns her own material and writing style. From her creative imagination readers are treated to small metaphorical delights that are “spot on;” e.g., dandelion seeds become bee parasols; crows and black grackles perched on telephone wires become notes on a musical staff. Many, if not most, CORPUS members will resonate with Mullens’ memories of her younger life, e.g., the pedal-powered Singer sewing machine; washday with its galvanized tubs and wooden clothespins in a cloth bag; potatoes baked in the embers of burning autumn leaves. One can open this book at random and find keen insights offered in a comfortable, poetic cadence on any page. To this reviewer, it would seem mildly akin to sacrilege, to breeze through the book and then shelve it as “finished.” The poems deserve thoughtful reading and rereading—even study, in a few places —to wring out the sentiments and emotions they carry!
Excerpts from Homecoming
From Summer Storm.
..."Rain sheets the window. I close the drapes as if I could
blanket the noise, as if shards of lightning would cease to brighten
the walls and bounce from the mirror."
From As if We'd Walked Through Fire Together.
..."My sister's features brighten in the sun's slant as if wanting to
know what she didn't when she was alive as if wanting to share,
eager to listen now that secrets no longer exist."
from Wood Path
..."Two bucks....follow the doe to low hanging leaves of honey locust.
They work their way along the salal shrubs, leave oleander
and lamb's ear untouched."
from An Dinh Palace
..."Hundreds of years have passed since the halls were filled
with monarchs and nobles while peasants dined from bamboo
plates, cups of tin and spoons."
Kay Mullen spent the majority of her adult life teaching grade school
children. After receiving a Master of Education from Seattle University,
she became an elementary school counselor where she worked with
children, parents and school personnel to set the stage for success not
only in grade school but also in later school and adult life. After her work
in the schools, she became a certified mental health counselor.
Kay later earned a Master of Fine Arts from Pacific Lutheran University
with a focus on poetry. She received a First Place in the Washington State
William Stafford Award and was a Best of the Net nominee as well as
a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee.
Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including Shark Reef, Crab Creek Review, Raven Chronicles as well as American Life in Poetry. Anthologies include Beginnings: What Makes a Woman, edited by Jill McCabe Johnson, and Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease, edited by Holly Hughes.
Her more current work includes teaching poetry skills at Catherine Place,
a center for women in Tacoma, Washington that fosters lifelong learning
and leadership skills. In 2016, Kay edited an anthology of poems by
Catherine Place poets: Women Writing: On the Edge of Dark and Light.
Over the years, she has offered poetry workshops to various groups including
both men and women in prison and those in transition.
Looking back on her writing she states: “I realize I intuitively strove to follow
my birth mother’s music and artistic gifts somehow weaving them into my
poems. My mother left me a legacy I discovered long after her death. She
has become alive again in my poetry.”
by Kay Mullen
is now available for purchase.
Homecoming can be purchased from your independent bookseller for $15 Signed copies can be bought directly from Kay at her readings or sent to you by mail for the cost of the book. It is also available on Amazon.
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