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About this poet

Betsy Sholl was born in Ohio in 1945 and grew up in New Jersey. She received a BA in English from Bucknell University. She was largely self-taught as a writer until she enrolled in the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College later in her career.

After college, Scholl moved to Boston, and  in 1973, she cofounded Alice James Books, a nonprofit poetry press meant to provide women with greater access to publishing. Alice James Books published Sholl’s first three poetry collections, Changing Faces (1974), Appalachian Winter (1978), and Rooms Overhead (1896).

Scholl’s most recent book of poetry, Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), was awarded the 2014 Four Lakes Poetry Prize. In an interview with Image Journal about the transformations she’s seen in her own work, Scholl says, “I try to look outward more, to be an ‘eye’ some of the time, rather than an ‘I.’” Her poetry is influenced by her Catholic faith and by her social activism, which she came to through her husband, Doug Sholl, who is a social worker.

She is the recipient of an AWP Prize for Poetry, a Felix Pollak Award, the Maine Arts Commission Chapbook Competition, two Maine Artists Fellowships, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2006, she was chosen to be the Poet Laureate of Maine, a position she held until 2011. She teaches at the University of Southern Maine and at Vermont College, and she lives in Portland, Maine.


Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014)
Rough Cradle (Alice James Books, 2009)
Late Psalm (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)
Don’t Explain (University of Wisconsin Press, 1997)
The Red Line (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992)
Rooms Overhead (Alice James Books, 1986)
Appalachian Winter (Alice James Books, 1978)
Changing Faces (Alice James Books, 1974)

Lullaby in Blue

   The child takes her first journey
through the inner blue world of her mother's body,
   blue veins, blue eyes, frail petal lids.

   Beyond that unborn brackish world so deep
it will be felt forever as longing, a dream
   of blue notes plucked from memory's guitar,

   the wind blows indigo shadows under streetlights,
clouds crowd the moon and bear down on the limbs
   of a blue spruce. The child's head appears—

   midnight pond, weedy and glistening—
draws back, reluctant to leave that first home.  
   Blue catch in the mother's throat,

   ferocious bruise of a growl, and out slides
the iridescent body—fish-slippery
   in her father's hands, plucked from water

   into such thin densities of air,
her arms and tiny hands stutter and flail,
   till he places her on her mother's body,

   then cuts the smoky cord, releasing her
into this world, its cold harbor below
   where a blue caul of shrink-wrap covers

   each boat gestating on the winter shore.
Child, the world comes in twos, above and below,
   visible and unseen. Inside your mother's croon

   there's the hum of an old man tapping his foot
on a porch floor, his instrument made from one
   string nailed to a wall, as if anything

   can be turned into song, always what is
and what is longed for. Against the window
   the electric blue of cop lights signals

   somebody's bad news, and a lone man walks
through the street, his guitar sealed in dark plush.
   Child, from this world now you will draw your breath

   and let out your moth flutter of blue sighs.
Now your mother will listen for each one,
   alert enough to hear snow starting to flake

   from the sky, bay water beginning to freeze.
Sleep now, little shadow, as your first world
   still flickers across your face, that other side

   where all was given and nothing desired.
Soon enough you'll want milk, want faces, hands,
   heartbeats and voices singing in your ear.

   Soon the world will amaze you, and you
will give back its bird-warble, its dove call,
   singing that blue note which deepens the song,

   that longing for what no one can recall,
your small night cry roused from the wholeness
   you carry into this broken world.

From Rough Cradle by Betsy Sholl. Copyright © 2009 by Betsy Sholl. Used by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.

From Rough Cradle by Betsy Sholl. Copyright © 2009 by Betsy Sholl. Used by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl is the author of Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press, 201), winner of the 2014 Four Lakes Poetry Prize. She lives in Portland, Maine.

by this poet

You think you can handle these things:
sunlight glinting off a red Jaguar
honking at the old woman who has snagged

her shopping cart on a snow rut,
or the swaggering three-piece suit who steps
outside the bank, earless to the mossy voice

at his feet asking for spare change,
but then the crunch of something,