Vidya’s Tree by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan

(1 customer review)

by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
with an afterword by Rita Dove

33 pages, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-4951-7883-2
release date: March 25, 2019

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This posthumous collection brings together the final poems of Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan.  Featuring forewords from Jon Loomis and Adrienne Su.

“Difficult as it is to accept that these are Claire’s last words to her readers, they give to us, again, her unique voice and poetic vision. The thread of family binds these poems, as she writes about her daughter, ‘It’s then I see my father in her face, her TaTa—grandfather in her feet, just as I’d seen my mother in my niece.’ Through a range of cultures and traditions ancestors come back to assert themselves—taxonomies of color in a series written in the voice of Frida Kahlo, the trickster figure Vishnu hiding behind a Lotus leaf, and the lyrics of Gulzar, an Urdu poet.

There are heartbreaking poems of elegy written for the children in ‘After the Earthquake and Tsunami, 2011’ and loss is leavened by the idea of return. She soothes her daughter, Vidya, ‘miracle of my life’ as she explains her grandfather has ‘returned to Kerala where two river banks meet’ and offers the couplet ‘O my Daughter, you remind me our parents are still with us —’

As always, within Claire’s work, there is the presence of a cat, Happy Joe, peering out from a window ledge, and communion with the natural world. There is the Satsuma orange tree in Tucson her parents won’t see, yet a recognition that their souls or spirits might say, ‘We’re in Heaven — it’s this beautiful garden.’ ‘When we are gone, don’t cry,’ she tells her daughter, ‘Like Vishnu, we are always with you.’ These beautiful, intense poems return Claire to her readers, still grateful to hear her voice.”   —Elline Lipkin

From the afterword written by Rita Dove:

“And her passion was poetry—she was determined to hone her craft, to stretch her voice, to learn how to contain multitudes using the sparest, simplest language possible. She was fearless, both in and out of the classroom, on and off the page—”

Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan was born in Santa Monica, California, and raised in Los Angeles. Claire was an accomplished poet, scholar, teacher, and animal-lover. She received her B.A. in English from Loyola Marymount University in L.A. She went on to earn an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Poetry) from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow (under the mentorship of Rita Dove); an M.A. in Literature from the University of California, Berkeley; and a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston, where she was a Cambor Fellow. She published two acclaimed books of poetry: Shadow Mountain (Four Way Books, 2008) and Bear, Diamonds and Crane (Four Way Books, 2011). Shadow Mountain was the 2006 winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry.

Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan passed away in 2016 and is survived by her husband, Raj, and their daughter, Vidya.

Additional information

Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 5.375 × 7.5 × .2 in

1 review for Vidya’s Tree by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan

  1. Mary Jane White (verified owner)

    This is the lovely little book by which I came to know something of Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan as the mother of the liveliest small child I have ever seen, a small girl threading her way among the knees of adults at AWP last year. Who is that child, I wondered? To whom does she belong, this sparkling treasure?

    From a Facebook post about this book, I learned it was Vidya–who has a tree, and a painted tree, and who paints and sings. Vidya appears here as the image of Claire, her mother, who describes her own childhood self with her grandfather in one of the first poems of the book, “Deep Sea Magic” in West Los Angeles where “The deep-sea, our swimming/ pool, snagged our carved line/ of detergent bottle tunas.” These lines exemplify Claire as a poet, as a mother, as a person with an ability to see the larger aspect of the intimate, and to speak of both largeness and smallness in a voice that ranges fully from high to low, as one of my other favorite poets, Marina Tsvetaeva boasts.

    I know, Venus — is a form of handiwork,
    And I am a craftsman — and I know my craft.

    Know my range — from High-Church silences
    To the baser trampling of the soul:
    The whole length of the sublime ladder — from:
    My breath — to: don’t dare breathe!

    In Claire’s poems–especially the ones closely focused on her own family life, “When My Daughter Wakes, I Tell Her,” “My Husband Returns to America,” the wonderfully structured and finely-observant “The Backyard Garden in Houston,” “The Distraction,” the title poem, “Vidya’s Tree,” and “For My Daughter”–I find much to admire in their intimacy, restraint and in her gestures toward the re-directions in family life that include and address its every member.

    The prefaces and afterwards by other writers and poets, Elline Lipkin, Adrienne Su, Jon Loomis and Rita Dove set
    Claire’s poems and life in context.

    Claire’s earlier books, published by Four Way Books happened to surface during the fifteen years I was deeply submerged in family life, raising my son with autism, not writing and not even reading–with my poetry library of slim volumes and manuscripts taped shut in many, many boxes deep in the basement—to avoid distraction. Coming up now for air, as I pester other readers, “What do you recommend that was written during those fifteen years?,” this little posthumous chapbook of Claire’s poems, gathered by those who loved her, offers a fine temptation to go back to explore her earlier work as well.

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