One thing I love about being a woman in her fifties is being a woman in her fifties.
We have had careers, children, mortgages, have kept our cars running and our property intact, largely without a full-time man around. Now is harvest time, and we have assets, experience, and freedom. The poetry of Helen Brandenburg has assets, experience, and freedom, plus a relationship with literary texts that is decades-long and solitude-deep.
I was enthralled with the masterful poetic witchery of this dancer-turned-teacher, her exquisite fantasies of sleeping with Dante, with Thoreau, spells she weaves to make her intellectually impoverished students richer, and her absolute fearlessness of the weird (as in, imagining a cow pining for Jack at the foot of his beanstalk). Her incantatory recital is authoritative, as if she has whispered the poems countless times from memory under her breath--- all the more magical considering this was her debut reading. This audience, not prone to applause, burst after nearly every poem.
The opening act was performed by her heteronym, Ana Olivier, a diminutive European poetess who writes the briefest of pieces which Helen meticulously translates. One has been published on a matchbook which Helen featured in the show-and-tell portion of her performance. Not having a book to purvey, Helen prepared tiny broadsides of another work, decorated with a motif of babushka nesting dolls, which she gave away at the end of her reading, along with a few postcards of her work: Mrs. Velociraptor sneaks up on a drowsing student who 'won't hear click beak, hiss tongue / not before hind-leg sickle-toe's done / natural selection'.
Part classroom, part fairy-tale, part communion with the literary Saints, Helen's reading left me proud to be of the gender of witch, schoolmarm, heroine, priestess of lost cultures of Amazon and trobairitz, legions of women proud to be fifty and to do what we do.