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.  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.

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 the video here.

View Doug Chamberlin's video of Gay's poem "My Mother's Keepsakes".

Send Gay a message below:

by Anara Guard

Book Cover: Hand on My Heart

Thirty-five poignant and powerful poems, in which the poet performs word ballet, pirouetting her way through regrets, childbirth and parenting, floods and heat waves, and love, both certain and uncertain. Deeply personal and sensual, Hand on My Heart sympathetically plumbs the depths of memory and imagination. Here you will find poems inspired by the Wizard of Oz, fallen giraffes, and Mason jars; laments and praise; what may be love, and what is most certainly love. The poem ">45" won a Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize.



None for Me


After the crash, you must have scattered

Over yards, acres, into the next county or

Even somehow across state lines

Because there is your ponytail

Tumbling down the back of a stranger,

Your eyebrow cocks on an unfamiliar face,

And the shape of your shoulders is silhouetted

In that lit window I pass by at night.

How did all those people end up with a piece of you

And me, left with none?

Reviews:Jan Haag wrote:

Hand on My Heart dives into one’s “own mysterious depths/the volcanic source revealed,” as Anara Guard writes in the poem, “Self-Examination.” With great range, Guard explores in lovely language the “Weekly Communion” of trash day, of owls, of the gift of a Mason jar that gets reused again and again. Dip in and savor these poems, one at a time, then return for more sips of poetic nectar.

Lennart Lundh on Amazon wrote:

In its thirty-six free-verse poems, Anara Guard’s collection, Hand on my Heart, unflinchingly approaches the narrator’s personal and public lives, complete with joys and tragedies both mundane and spiritual. Serious and direct, Guard consistently fills her ruminations with wonderful images. The language is clear and carefully chosen, the subjects and references cross-generational.... Miscarriages and drownings. Recycling. Love, with its resilience or departure. The inevitable growth of a child and the lessons contained therein. Hand on My Heart is a marvelous gathering of Life’s examples to us, deserving from start to finish of your time.

Judith Logan on Amazon wrote:

I love this book! Anara nails it with her range of expressed emotions! I especially love An Education. And Owls. She definitely shows us her gift for language!!

Jenene Ravesloot on Jenene Ravesloot's Poetry Reviews wrote:

Anara Guard, a Midwesterner now living in California, presents us with a sophisticated debut collection of poetry… There are many memorable poems in this collection; fierce poems that surprise; poems that delight; poems of unstinting honesty and beauty… Hand on My Heart is as structurally powerful as it is poetic. It is divided into 4 parts, much like the chambers of the heart. The 1st section, “Answers and Questions,” with its 1st poem titled “All My Pretty Horses,” introduces the poet of this collection who needs “to ride at full gallop, headlong, headstrong, forlorn, thundering to the childless horizon.” These are brave words, bravely and beautifully said. We cannot help but want to ride along with her “into the dark, like all night mares, screaming into the wind.”

The 2nd section, aptly called “Laments,” explores such topics as “Insomnia, Revealed,” “None for Me,” and “Auntie Em’s Lament” which is a splendid spoof on Dorothy in Kansas after her return from the Land of Oz. The 3rd section, “Praise And Petitions,” winks at all forms of communion from the ritual of recycling “At the altar of the curb” to eye-wandering in church…the 4th section explores “Love, Maybe—and Love, Certainly.” We traverse a variety of love landscapes with the poet: old love; prophetic love; reconciled love; distant love; and always, in every poem, the love of language and imagery shines through as in “Robert Bly Reads His Poetry” when “as he speaks, a feather drifts into the spotlight, floating slowly above his head.” What a gorgeous image; one of many in this debut collection.

Read the full review at Jenene Ravesloot's Poetry Reviews Facebook page.

Lennart Lundh on Highland Park Poetry wrote:

In its thirty-six free-verse poems, Anara Guard’s collection, Hand on my Heart, unflinchingly approaches the narrator’s personal and public lives, complete with joys and tragedies both mundane and spiritual. Serious and direct, Guard consistently fills her ruminations with wonderful images. The language is clear and carefully chosen, the subjects and references cross-generational.

“Yes, She Knew” speaks to Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan,” answering what the poet sees as its central question quickly and directly, following with vivid imagery as proof:

They flew above the forests
heaving with rain,
and she watched the flamingos dance
their pink seduction.
She saw the deserts,
scraped clean to the bone.

In contrast, “>45” answers its question, “What is greater than forty-five?” by way of a clever, and clearly political, list poem that always and never names its subject:

Bottles of beer on the wall
Cards in a deck, even after we remove all the jokers

Colors in the big box of crayons
Native American nations

before concluding, “what is greater than 45? // We are.”

After “Hole in My Head” reminds us of the fragility of memories (“Where is that word? / I need it to fill a hole / in my heart.”), “Regret” warns, through their similarity to a garden, against failing to deal with them in time:

I have waited too long to prune
and my roses have grown tangled
and straggly. They resist
all efforts to tame them now.

Miscarriages and drownings. Recycling. Love, with its resilience or departure. The inevitable growth of a child and the lessons contained therein. Hand on My Heart is a marvelous gathering of Life’s examples to us, deserving from start to finish of your time.

About the Author

Anara studied writing at the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop of Chicago with Kathleen Agena, the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts with Norman Corwin, Columbia College Story Workshop, St. Joseph’s College with Stu Dybek, Bread Loaf Writers Conference with Robert Cohen and Alix Ohlin, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. In 2010, Back Pages Publishing issued her first collection of short stories, The Sound of One Body. Her second story collection, Remedies for Hunger (2014) was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by Chicago Book Review.

She is also a poet and memoirist. Her poems have improbably won both a John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize and a Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize. Her work has recently appeared in The Ear, Gold Man Review, Voices 2020, Under the Gum Tree and elsewhere.  She and her sister, Gay Guard-Chamberlin, perform their poetry together as "Sibling Revelry". Watch a video of "Sibling Revelry" here.

Check out Anara’s Facebook page, website, or send her a message below:

Other Books By Anara Guard