Mary Winfrey Trautmann
Far away from the hustlers and the avid self-promoters of the Southern California spoken-word scene, far away from the competitions and the prizes and the ivied walls of academe, and far, too, from the ubiquitous lights of Hollywood, Facebook and smartphones, Mary Winfrey Trautmann has been quietly writing for most of a century. She’s been writing poetry, but also some short stories and a touching memoir of her teenage daughter’s illness and death entitled The Absence of the Dead Is Their Way of Appearing.
    Mary Trautmann was born in Iowa and came to Los Angeles as a young wife and mother in the ‘50s.  She lost her husband in 1979, in this country’s worst airline disaster, and has dealt with the mental illness of close family members. She began as a formalist enamored of the style of Edna St. Vincent Millay but by the ‘70s embraced both feminism and free verse. Mary has always focused more on the process of writing than on the finished product; she believes in getting a poem right after countless revisions and suggestions from a few trusted friends—and then putting the piece aside, filing it away, allowing it to gather dust while she moves on to a fresh project. This is how she has worked for decades, composing both in longhand and on a brittle manual typewriter, in the sanctuary of her Whittier house.
    Although in midlife she definitively rejected rhyme and meter—to the point that she found the sounds of formal verse annoying—her earliest surviving efforts show impressive skill and promise. One wonders how she might have developed if she’d kept up her sonnet-writing. While she was busy raising three daughters, very little seems to have happened artistically for Mary in the ‘60s; but after that decade ended, she more than made up for lost time. Poems like “meeting” and “the courtyard” and “my rape”—blunt and quietly militant—startle the reader after the metrical musicality of the early poems. The work never quite becomes “confessional,” though. Mary is aware of her place in the wider world, engaged with and curious about others. She also has a passion for history: a doomed Roman empress in “Fausta” and a pioneering athlete in “Gertrude Ederle swims the Channel” capture her imagination. Nature poems abound in her later years, and the sea beckons. “South Atlantic voyage” is perhaps her most polished creation, though at those moments when she emerges uncensored—as in “LA requiem” and “to a husband” and the Carol poems—an earthy and gritty side of her comes out that can be just as appealing. These are matters of taste best left up to the reader.  Above and beyond the individual poems, the sheer heft and range of almost a century of work is obvious, and rewarding to contemplate. With the publication of this book we are finally able to access something approximating a panoramic view of Mary Trautmann’s achievement.


To One Now Blind

What you have lost is not so great a losing
As many think, or say in smothered phrase:
The green and yellow-throated hills, refusing
Winter’s black stare; the violence of day’s
Familiar whiteness; count of birds combining
Their narrow wings in patterns on the wall;
The curving cone; the languor of declining
Wet birches; rainbows; fire—are all, are all
Which, by this subtle cheating, have been hid.
How shall you lack the pageantry of these?
Color and shape and thought still pyramid
From undiscovered sources; still they please
And, one world gone, the galaxies arise
To spires of light behind your darkened eyes.


my rape

what would you do if the brute walked in tonight
saddled you with his thighs
wiped his blank eyes across your flesh   your hairs
sucked them into his mouth   said spread
and you spread   not knowing what else to do
a jelly of fear   exactly what he wants
to push his
clumsy finger into
what would you do?
summon the priests?  pray to the angels?
call on your floating psyche
that tells you this is not really happening
never happens to you   couldn’t
would you stay out of reach
immersed with Plato in a world of love and fog?
would you ask for your favorite record to be played
Tristan und Isolde?


 2014 Mary Winfrey Trautmann
Mary Winfrey Trautmann was a Featured Poet who read her poetry at the January 2014 Second Sunday Poetry Series