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When Belle Waring reads her poetry, the jazz-inflected words escape her mouth like a Lester Young solo: quietly, melodically, forcefully. On paper, it’s easy to breeze through a poem like “Use the Following Construction in a Sentence” from the D.C. writer’s second collection, Dark Blonde:
Tu/me/manques/No/Nobody misses you—Me/I’m like the French the wary French/They say instead of “I miss you”/Tu me manques/You me lack…
But when Waring delivers the poem, she provides weight to each short line, drawing out her words like sensuous kisses. Her work is also punctuated with politics and humor:
…Tu me manques/You/lack me/I went to a reception/It was a mistake/The councilman tried to corner me by the artist’s print of the/Kurdish dead/and there was no you/to shoot a look to/telegraph for help/so I said, Roll call! Excusez-moi!/Dumped my cranberry punch on his ego-shined shoes/You shoulda seen me cuttin’ that move
…You lack me/You’re like trying to divide by zero/after everybody says/You can’t/I’m like the French/the luscious French/playing those cornball accordions in the street/so they don’t have to say/Come back
Dark Blonde comes seven years after her first book, Refuge, but Waring isn’t a typical poet, tethered by tenure to a university system. “I’m not looking for an academic teaching job,” she says. “I have a really nice job at Children’s Hospital that I love. I’d just as soon stay there.”
Waring works with children as writer-in-residence at the hospital, helping kids who have experienced massive trauma or who are suffering from terminal illnesses express themselves on her laptop computer. And before that she worked for years as a nurse.
But she says the poems in Dark Blonde don’t have anything to do with her current employment, despite the fact that many of them address the dramas health care workers face every day. “The poems in there that are about nursing—those things occurred years and years ago. It’s just that I didn’t write about them until recently.”
Social service and literature are in Waring’s genes. Her grandfather, who was a doctor, quoted poetry to her, and Dark Blonde’s “Before Penicillin” is dedicated to his memory. “An old country doctor,” she clarifies. “It’s not like it is now. He was out there in the cold and the rain making house calls and half the time not getting paid.”