September 2021
Dee Cohen on Poetry
Dee Cohen

Remembering Mary Carvell Bragg

I suppose I should be grieving —

perhaps I am. 

Mary Carvell Bragg

Recently friends and family of Prescott Valley poet Mary Carvell Bragg, who passed away on July 27 at the age of 90, gathered at the Highlands Center for Natural History to pay tribute to her long and generous life. Mary was a fixture in the local poetry community,  co-founder of the Poets Open Circle and a founding member of the MAD(McCormick Arts District) Women Poets in 2003, which is dedicated to preserving the oral tradition in poetry. The group has performed for many audiences over the years. Mary’s influence and inspiration as a writer, critic and friend is captured in the words of her friends and fellow poets.

Cynthia Loucks: “I first met Mary in a workshop, where I was immediately impressed with the elegant and grounded quality of her poetry. Her style is clear and not ornate, and at first glance her poems seem simple, but it turns out, deceptively so. Mary mastered the art of spare — not a word or phrase that wasn't needed. This style adds to the power of her poems, which relay poignant narratives from her life experience. When not telling a story, Mary's poems tend toward the lyrical and spiritual, where not unlike a poet she much admired, Rumi, she expresses a powerful message with few words. More than once I heard Mary say, ‘poetry is my life, ’and she made good on that, not only in her own substantial body of work, but in her tireless shepherding of other poets. Through the Poets Co-op she brought guidance to many poets over the years, myself included. From Mary I learned to cultivate the art of critiquing a poem in a gentle manner that never usurped the poet's ownership of her poem while offering invaluable insight about how it was written. I know I am among many when I say that Mary Bragg made me a better poet.”

Connie Johnson: “When I joined the Poets Co-op, I quickly understood Mary’s depth of poetic knowledge. Mary could point out a misplaced word, a line too long or a verb tense that weakened the work. She believed in word conservation and taught me to cull the fluff while inspecting the purpose and strength of each stanza. Mary was a master of prose, interspersing characters whom you felt you had known for years. Mary was an accomplished poet and sensitive friend.”

Sharon Seymour: “Am I ready to write about Mary? Eyes fill as the pen journeys across this page. Scenes unfold. Sitting at her dining table over cold cups of tea, two hours into another exploration on inner life. What a gift to this lonely wanderer. To be met with open arms, to be held unconditionally in that fierce, kind gaze. Another gift.”

Marilyn Bowden: “When I first came across Mary Bragg during a poetry reading at the library, I knew nothing about her or the MAD Women Poets. I tend to be a loner, not a joiner, but hearing these women read, I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of. I didn’t know Mary for long. Her health was already declining when I met her. But the few workshops I did spend under her tutelage were exhilarating as well as instructive. Mary wrote poems that sang with the joy of being alive. Her voice was no longer strong but it imbued her poems with a quiet authority. I remember the focus she brought to each poem presented, and how insightful her comments were. I miss her.”

Donna Meyer: “Like Mary’s poem ‘Ships Passing in the Night,’ from the moment I met her, she wasn’t a stranger. Her interactions genuinely made me feel as if my poetry were the most important thing to her at that moment.

In a soft and gentle tone, she would suggest trying the poem in present tense or perhaps more active verbs would do instead of so many gerunds. Her suggestions opened my eyes, and her poems opened my heart. The wisdom of her poetry rang through phrases that used few words, but said much.”

I Should Be Grieving

by Mary Bragg

I should be grieving

but when I looked out this morning

the trees were doing their wind-dance

and when I drove to McDonald’s

for a sausage egg mcmuffin

the ravens gathered in their brilliant blackness

looking for handouts as usual

but their cry had lost its knife-edged urgency

the scraggly flowers below the call box

flashed neon magenta and purple

and in a split second between smiles

the woman at the window

laid bare the harshness of her life

I remember reading in Castaneda

when Don Juan took an incorrigible boy

to view a child’s body at the morgue

the boy straightened right up

Maybe that’s what happened to me

when I saw death up close

Now I can’t suppress the joy

of being alive on this planet

a part of the tree-dance

the loveliness and suffering

the passion and loss

I suppose I should be grieving —

perhaps I am.

Dee Cohen is a Prescott poet and photographer.