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In Memory of a Banyan Tree: Poems of the Outside World: 1985 to 2022
Three Wooden Trunks
The Country Where Everyone’s Name Is Fear: Selected Poems
As Is  
  Sheryl Noethe

ISBN 978-0-9800289-3-5     $16.95  /  $18.95 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

80 pp      
PUB DATE: Spring 2009       Poetry


This is As Is, like it or not, the way life handed certain energy pathways and possibilities to you, the way you gripped and held on to a patch of silk or the word blue, remembering the fire that tore through the corridors of your childhood, the pasty uncles, the plastic corset, cruelty at the hands of an unhappy mom. Not confession, not confusion, but the ricocheting of energy particles in and around your wracked body, your beautiful mind, excursions through quantum mechanical dreams, to fractals and fractured addresses. The way you channel events and dark matter, luminous waves of light at the side of the road. Letting go of God, but giving him seven dollars just in case it will save his life. Calling from a phone booth, or from the bath. You read the lifelines of school kids, and give them their futures, even those who cannot make out a word they hear. You sign furiously, gently, as you trace their palms. This is a book filled with suggestive signs, insistent vocalizations: signs of the times—end times and lucent beginnings. Archeological mining of what is, as is. Forget the “it.”

—Ellen Kennedy Michel


Sheryl Noethe’s poems make me laugh because I am angry and cry because I am happy. They lie to tell the truth and entertain in the cause of utmost moral seriousness. They are as colorful and uplifting as a hot air balloon—and as terrifying but ultimately exhilarating as the view down from that balloon over the Swiss Alps. Buy this book and turn to the true story on page two: “How many butterflies can you breathe for one minute and stay alive? / How many butterflies in two minutes? / In three?” Turn to page sixty, another true story: Ulysses S. Grant, suffering “severely,” bathes in hot water and mustard. Turn to page 29 for this conversation: “I asked God, ‘How long have you been on the road’ / God replied, “Since my mother died and her husband kicked me out.'” Understand that you are hurt and Sheryl Noethe will heal you. Understand that you are ignorant and she will teach. Understand that you are lonely and she will love. Buy this book.

—Jeremy Smith


About the Author

Sheryl Noethe

Sheryl Noethe was born and raised in Minnesota where she attended a highschool alternative program, Urban Arts, which allowed her to learn to write poetry. After winning the The American Academy of Poets Award and a McKnight Fellowship for Literature, she published her first collection of poetry, The Descent of Heaven Over the Lake (New Rivers Press). Her work was also included in the anthology, 25 Minnesota Poets. She moved to NYC and worked with the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, bringing poetry into the classrooms of the South Bronx, Harlem, and East New York.

Noethe was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship as well as the Hugo Prize from the University of Montana, and a fellowship with the Montana State Arts Council. She co-authored Poetry Everywhere, a teaching text that won praise from the National Council of Teachers of English. In 1994 Noethe founded the Missoula Writing Collaborative, a program that places writers in public schools, libraries, on the Flathead Reservation, in detention homes with at-risk youth, in Hawai’ian Charter Schools and in an Alaskan village. She was awarded a Cultural Achievement Award from the Missoula Cultural Council in 2004.

In 2000 Grace Court Press published her collection, The Ghost Openings, which was awarded the Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Award and the William Stafford Poetry Prize.

Noethe resides in Missoula, Montana at the foot of Mt. Jumbo with her fearless husband, a firefighter, where they keep a household of rescue animals, including a one-eyed feral cat named Mike Tyson. She is filled with gratitude.



As Is Unlike All: Read it and Weep

Sheryl Noethe, poet extraordinaire, has achieved with her recent collection As Is a triumph of the Unconscious made Conscious in a language unlike all contemporary poets with similar aspirations. For reasons we cannot pretend to understand, Noethe has tapped into the collective Wounded Unconscious of our time—its failures and most telling traits—into our frightened, battered, spoiled, dishonest, pretentious, corrupt, terrorized and disillusioned claims to know what is real and immediate, intimate and necessary, false and true.

We are wrong and unable to confess our sins. We have lost the language of Confession. Noethe exposes the malignant narcissism that was wiped out the Lost Language of mercy.

It takes a courageous artist like Noethe to do what we cannot do, as individuals and as a society on the brink of . . . On the brink.

Every generation has its pretenders and unintended spokespersons about all we hold to be true, false, real or not real. With this epiphanic collection of memory and desire, As Is, Noethe blows a hole through the illusions that hold our fragile medicine show together. With fearless, fierce, aimed intention, her poignant words and feelings blow a hole big enough for us to walk through into an unknown world, a way of being and speaking that scares us because it requires a painful look in the mirror without the aid of our many anesthetic escape routes. Noethe makes us listen to the unspeakable. She renders the unspeakable beautiful.

Carl Jung said in our time the Gods have become neuroses; Noethe reestablishes "neurosis" to its divine origin by painting the Unconscious recognition of the black-and-blue line between profane and sacred that precarious line we encounter every day with every person we meet or avoid, and with every memory we embrace and repress. Noethe's work tells us, God forbid, we must connect with the archetypes of human suffering and redemption without forgetting who we are; without inhabiting them as a lifestyle. Worst of all, we must accept our bruised and battered selves and forgive us for what we did not know or for what we knew all along, the forbidden knowledge, the tasty bite of the apple we were told to avoid. The expulsion from the garden was necessary. Noethe reminds us we did it on purpose because we had to. And it's worth all the human sacrifices.

This forbidding, forbidden collection of confessional archetypal poems—As Is—keeps close with the best and worst traditions. With Sylvia Plath overing in offstage, reluctant martyr of St. Augustine's "confessional poetry," poet Noethe falls willingly, reluctantly, prophetically and inexorably under the spell of Augustine and Plath, emerging as the new pioneer of our Post-Nihilistic era, with a wry sense of what Heidegger poignantly captured as: "The Terrible has already happened."

Only Noethe really understands what that means. What Heidegger was unable to explain, Noethe has eloquently painted—our painfully post-apocalyptic laboratory of shame and redemption. In terms we cannot fail to understand (much as we resist, squirming, squeamish), Noethe speaks as our Queen of Broken Dreams; our Queen of the Failed Resistance.

Only in failure do we find redemption.

Most important, perhaps—in literary and human terms—Noethe gives a bold voice to the censored, strangled, bruised and wounded psyche we've conveniently shoved behind bars (jails and taverns) out of sigh out of mind. Noethe rescues the silenced voice from other more sentimental, politically correct attempts to exploit or sell that voice to the tabloids (the fate lived by all victims of sensational violence). As Is rescues us from the degenerative forces that have captured us, hypnotized us, all our lives. With Noethe's courage, we are now captured between the lines of exquisite irony and delicate vengeance.

–Joy DeStefano, M.A., Missoula, MT
February 23, 2009


Sheryl Noethe’s fourth book of poetry, As Is, is a triumph of skill and careful fury, clearly articulating the rage and sorrow inherent in the human condition with poems that unravel like the lives of those she speaks for. Through the themes of miscommunication and misinterpretation, a deeper, more visceral message arises like a punch to the gut. The characters in these poems might not understand their place in the universal scheme of things, but Noethe does, and she tells their stories with acute perspicuity and great compassion.

Narrative poems such as, “Thirst” and “The Dangers of Nonfiction” engage the reader in the worlds of other people first, then narrow the focus on a gem of meaning that captures the essence of their stories. For example, “Thirst” begins: “The family broke down on the Sahara Desert,” and details their struggle to survive. Then, the last four lines, “. . . all things pass / between what is and what could be / in a perpetual stutter; / all things pass,” give the story a much wider scope.

Similarly, in “The Dangers of Nonfiction,” a tale told by a homeless man exposes the problem of memory and fabrication, his desire for respect and sympathy. Instead of focussing on this character’s untruths, Noethe tells his story with much compassion: “I wanted to shelter him like a brother, I wanted / to bring him into my world.” And again, the scope widens: “All I have left is his story, / all I have left is what I thought I’d known.”

Noethe also makes extensive use of the dream narrative. Poems such as “The Long Dreams” and “Infinite World” go beyond the realm of personal idiosyncrasy and private meaning in a way that involves a much larger audience. The poems entangle nightmares with the stark daylight of consensus reality and serve to bridge the gap between the two. Always, the scent of a dream inhabits everyday life, Noethe shows us, until the two are nearly indistinguishable. As she says at the end of “Infinite World,” “I still recognize beauty, but when awake all context is lost.”

Noethe’s sly and rebellious sense of humor surfaces in several poems (“At the Party with Writers” and “Special Eds at Deaf School”) when she exposes the absurdity of those in authoritative positions, poking fun at their self-importance and pomposity, the consequences of success and excess. Teachers in these poems are depicted as foolish and out-of-touch, and the students are the true guides.

“The Circus Disaster March” blends history with speculation in a haunting way that surfaces in other poems as well. Here, Noethe’s use of lists propels the reader along as the fire spreads, the absurdity of the details rushing and jostling like the confused crowd.

Lists appear in many of the poems and serve to evoke flashing images, like a rearview mirror of a car hurtling down dark streets. In this manner, each line almost seems like an entire poem in itself, forming a sum of experience that is as beautiful as it is frightening and sad. Every sense is engaged; every nerve is tuned to the dark music Noethe creates.

In the final poem, “Water, Outlaws, A Haunting,” this sensitivity to evocative detail reaches a crescendo. Noethe confronts herself and her nightmarish past with unflinching honesty, “inventing the concept of zero” as rock-bottom, a place where choices narrow and disappear. The dark mayhem of the lines expands beyond personal experience to include the collective of human suffering and striving, desire and destitution.

But in the end, it is the poetry that saves her, and it is the poetry that saves us, as well.

—Zan Bockes

One mark of an effective ritual has to do with the priestess blending seamlessly into the background experience. In order to facilitate Sheryl Noethe's fade to transparent, let's get some stuff out in the open. Noethe directs the Missoula Writing Collaborative, which focuses on placing writers in classrooms to act as midwives as young people work to bring forth, clarify, and amplify their voices. The native Minnesotan came to Missoula by way of New York City, and if she had to carry an Oscar-like trophy for each award she's claimed, she'd have to hitch a trailer to her considerable animal herd. But enough about Noethe. She's going to vanish, remember?

Her newest book of poetry, As Is, should make a disappearing act fairly easy. The collection is riveting for the poet's caustic honesty, as well as her ability to zero in on topics that cause a stir. From recalling the beatings she suffered as a child, to fire as a thematic ribbon throughout—"The sacred and the bad of fire is only part of the story/ Just because fire is common doesn't mean we have tamed it./ Lightning continues its restless foraging nightly/ Fire is nature in delirium tremens".

Noethe held this reader tight in her grip and seemed almost like a watchful shadow in the corner of my room. And my guess is you can expect nothing less on Monday when she reads at Shakespeare & Company.

—Jonas Ehudin, The Missoula Independent