Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle

by Gay Guard-Chamberlin

Book Cover: Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle

Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle is a collection of 36 evocative poems, melancholic and whimsical, that explores the natural world and the collapse of ecosystems, mothers and daughters, aging, the inner life of words, and the secret lives of ordinary objects. Read what crows have to say, how the park closes at night; hear the voice of a broom; remember girlhood; and try to banish those "Regulars," regret and dread, when they insist on showing up. Three of these poems won prizes in the 2019 Poets & Patrons Contest.




Book Club

My mother & I have a book club.

It meets on one side of death,

then the other.

When we meet at my place,

I give her bagels & lox,

peppery iced black coffee.

She says, Not like New York,

but it'll do.

When I go to her house, she serves me

from the big white cracked family platter.

Nothing on it but raw onion, cut so fiercely

my tears cry themselves.

Reviews:Ronne Hartfield wrote:

I love these poems. Love is the word, not “like,” a term much too pallid to convey the luminous quality of the imagery, the straight-at-you honesty and candor of the subjects, the precise, often rapier-sharp quality of the language. These are not poems for the timid, capturing as they do the paradoxical intertwining of domestic and mythic, intimate and philosophical, keenly observant and musingly imaginative. These are poems for the times-in-between, when the way home winds a bit too crookedly, or when the fog rolls in too thick and fast. Gay’s poems are gifts for all of us in need of a phrase like “Don’t you see the whole world shining?” Exactly that.

Jenene Ravesloot on Jenene Ravesloot's Poetry Reviews wrote:

Gay Guard-Chamberlin’s fine debut collection of thirty-six poems introduces us to a world that is specific and personal, but one that also touches on universal themes. The voice of a true poet is evident throughout, as is the studied gaze of an artist. Her language sings; her images stun...One can only step back and admire, again, the imagery throughout, the use of nuanced language that moves the poem forward with great verve, and the resulting emotional impact that lingers long after the page has been turned....There is an abundance of riches in “RED THREAD THROUGH A RUSTY NEEDLE”: family stories, homages, the joy of “ordinary things” such as “zipper teeth that meet and match,” post-election politics, and climate forecasts to keep you, the reader, turning and returning again and again to the pages of this outstanding book of poetry.

Lennart Lundh on Highland Park Poetry wrote:

The thirty-six poems of Gay Guard-Chamberlin’s collection, Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle, are wide-ranging, touching on a buffet of subjects, including horses, dogs, and crows; parents and other relations; neighbors and emotions-as-humans; Easter eggs and politics (both electoral and inter-personal). They are highly personal and revelatory, but also imbued with a strong sense of universality.

Better still, they are also well-written, reflecting the author’s mastery of the poet’s craft. Form generally follows function, amplifying carefully chosen words instead of burying them. There’s nothing obscure in the imagery, and the text is free of the typos that seem to plague current small press productions.

The lengthy prose poem “Stella Maris” acquaints us with the wonderful character of Guard-Chamberlin’s grandmother, who “dated Johnny Weissmuller before he went to Hollywood and became Tarzan.” We’re told of a book Stella Maris’ father gifted her in a dream: “She swallowed the book and the little black seeds of letters sprouted inside her. When she opened her mouth, invisible words tumbled out. My grandmother fed me with sweet invisible words she grew inside her.” Such a way to be remembered and immortalized.

“Corporal” presents its subject in much less detail, but this simply allows the reader to complete the sketch by drawing on every veteran they’ve either known or seen in a film. The closing is beautifully vague:

Home the hero
tosses the papers
into a rusty tin tub
splashes in a dash
of high-flash kerosene
and a goddamned handy

strike-anywhere match.

Using thirty-seven precise words, “The Inner Life of Words” exposes heart, leaving us “listening // from the heart / of the heart.”

The narrator of “After Hearing of Your Suicide” examines both the resulting grief and their sense of culpability:
Did I notice? Did I listen?
or did I lean my head
at the right angle to convey attention,
then place a bookmark between your words
so my mind could wander off in the woods instead?

For readers who have lived in rural or smaller urban towns, “Shift Change” (p. 21) holds a most relatable, and carefully alliterative, verse: “Street lamps would flit on and off, fitful, / forgetful, an erratic glimmer along darkened / streets neon-lit by a few small shops.”

Out of fairness to the reader, enough; there’s not a single piece here unworthy of being pointed out. In the end, despite deeply plumbed wells, these are surprisingly gentle poems. There are no eruptions of anger at others or the narrator’s memories. Instead, there is honesty in these poems that is careful and caring. Out of fairness to yourself and the poet, add a copy to your library.

Sheila E wrote:

Gay Guard-Chamberlin is a welcomed voice to contemporary poetry, and her most recent collection, Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle, suggests that she has a long-standing affinity to traditional poetic forms, someone used to pushing her imagination to that point of fresh insight we expect from poetry. From the charming simplicity of "A Garment Worker's Song", the amusing self-reflection of "Lament" to her meticulous adherence to traditional structure in "Your Contract" and "My Mother's Keepsake," this book is a wonderful collection from a poet who deserves to be read more.

About the Author

Gay Guard Chamberlin is a writer, performance artist and multi-media visual artist.  An award-winning poet, she is a graduate of Columbia College, Chicago, with a Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts, Gay is a member of Poets & Patrons, Illinois State Poets Society, TallGrass Writers Guild, Budlong Writers Group, North Center Seniors Poetry Group sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, and Women on the Verge in Kalamazoo, MI. Among her poetry awards: Illinois State Poetry Society 2022 and Poets & Patrons 2023.

She has taught skills as diverse as self-defense/martial arts and paper-making to children and adults, and is a certified Interplay instructor. Gay has also worked as an office manager for an arts-in-schools organization, a waitress, childcare provider, and caregiver for people with dementia.

She lives on the North side of Chicago with her husband, musician-artist Doug Chamberlin.  Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle is her first book. She and her sister, Anara Guard, perform poetry together as Sibling Revelry. Watch videos of Sibling Revelry here and here
View Doug Chamberlin's video of Gay's poem "My Mother's Keepsakes".

Read a recent interview with Gay as featured member of Poets & Patrons here.

Quotes from various Sibling Revelry audiences:

Loved your program! The introductions/backgrounds/history for the poems were perfect as well as breaking up the poetry by themes. The interplay between you also worked really well. – Joanne K.

Your reading was a delight!  So much fun to see the similarities and difference between the two of you and your work. You read (and write, of course) so expressively. —Michelle K.

It was such a delight for me.  It was such a treat to hear their work and see how they play off one another with their different personalities and styles of writing.  It was also fun to hear them read each other’s poems.—Ruth K.

I was very grateful for the brief respite your event provided. I ordered your book, so I am anxious for it to arrive. I think my favorite poem may have been the one about “What is Greater than 45” probably because of our current situation. I also loved the poem about her breasts; something I can relate to these days!—Shelli S.

I really loved hearing both of you together and the way your poetry intersects and yet is so different. I think your "concept" in these readings is just so lovely for this strange time. I can imagine writing a dissertation on both of your work and its--maybe "interplay" is the right word? I was definitely seeing your performance art side in the reading. —Abby B.

So lovely to see the two of you together with all your devotees! It was a delightful hour, so thank you. The poems really do come to life and I think you should think about reading each other’s poems more. It adds a certain freedom to the reading, I think. Nina G.

That was a lot of fun. The poem about the mason jar actually got me a little misty ("the grandmother's home we long to return to") so I covered my cam for a second to blink back the tears. The ending about the lip meeting our lips is wonderful, too. And I loved the poem about the crow and its knick-knack shelf.—Erika M.