Collected Poems, by James Wright

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If memory serves, before now I had only read one poem by James Wright, his most famous one: “The Blessing”. I was drawn in and held by the gentle images, too specific to be sentimental, until the final image hit me like a fierce wind, lifting me out of this life.

The poem is a perfect example of Robert Bly’s concept of “leaping poetry” which I discussed a few weeks ago. That is no accident. I’ve come to find out that Bly was not only a friend to Wright but also a mentor.

If I liked the poem so much, why didn’t I read more of his work? All I can say is that I meant to. This 1971 collection of his poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is a good way to do that. It contains a good selection from his earlier books along with a section of new poems and one of translations from writers such as Neruda, Vallejo and Trakl.

As I read the selections from his first book, The Green Wall, I wondered if this could be the same poet. They seemed complex and overly elaborate, like something from an earlier age. However, I did appreciate his themes of estrangement from nature (symbolised in the green wall), the horrors of the modern world, and mourning.

The poems from his next book, St. Judas, went further into the hearts and minds of the poor, the criminal, the disenfranchised. Growing up in Martins Ferry, Ohio, during the Depression, he witnessed poverty and suffering first-hand; the only thing worse than a soulless factory job was having no job at all.

A bad review from the poet James Dickey led to an angry exchange of letters. However, upon reflection, Wright allowed that Dickey’s criticisms had merit. He let go of 19th century poetic traditions and, working with Bly and others, found a new, more direct style. By concentrating on images instead of stylised meter and rhyme, by using plainer language instead of rhetorical flourishes, he began writing the kind of amazing and transcendent poems that I originally fell in love with.

Wright’s next collection, The Branch Shall Not Break, was widely praised and influenced poets such as W. S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath and Galway Kinnell. I loved the poems here and in the remainder of the book. Of course, some are more successful than others and perhaps he overuses the technique of the leaping last line, but there are real gems here.

Wright dedicated one of the poems in Branch to Dickey, who became such a fan that he wrote a glowing blurb for the Collected Poems, saying:

James Wright is one of the few authentic visionary poets writing today. Unlike many others, James Wright’s visions are authentic, profound, and beautiful . . . He is a seer with astonishing compassion for human beings.

I think this episode with Dickey is a good lesson for any writer. It’s normal to feel defensive when your work is criticised. However, if Wright had continued to hold out against Dickey’s comments, he never would have experimented with changing his style. He would never have become the beloved and influential poet we know today. He never would have written the poem that lifted me out of myself and made me seek out this book.

Have you ever received a criticism that you initially thought was unfair but later recognised had merit?

Accounted For: Poems, by Jeannine Savard

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A chorus of voices fill this 2011 collection of poems from Red Hen Press. People crowd the pages, alone or in company, describing prayers and portents, dreams and deserts. Savard uses the things of this world—donkeys, gold silk, stars, wild thyme—to ground emotions and epiphanies. Like Virginia Woolf’s “moments of being”, each poem holds a cup of liquid light.

However, much as I reveled in individual phrases, sometimes the objects and images came too fast for me, piled on top of one another, without enough context for me to follow.

I first understood what appealed to me in poetry when I read Robert Bly’s Leaping Poetry. He says:

My idea, then, is that a great work of art often has at its center a long floating leap . . . The work can have many leaps, perhaps shorter. The real joy of poetry is to experience this leaping inside a poem.

Graves maintains that the leap enables the reader to access the unconscious. He calls it “a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again.” While that may be true, I instead think of it as being given the space to bring my own experience, my own emotions into the poem.

I love when two images come up against each other, the liminal space between them resonating with sounds neither can summon on their own. Similarly, an artist can lay down two strips of color on canvas and where they meet, our eyes see a spectrum of colors faintly vibrating. For example, in one of my favorite poems, “In a Radiant Field”, Savard says:

Touching her own ribs
she overhears the years of a tree

before the lightning struck.

She gives us a moment to hold these two images, of ribs and rings, and let them echo before summoning the lightning strike.

However, too much obscurity, too much private meaning invested in the image leaves the reader stranded on one side of the gulf. As Bly says of Neruda: “The links are not private, but somehow bound into nature.”

In several of the poems in this collection, the gaps are sometimes too wide for me, rendering the poems impenetrable. Perhaps there were allusions that I didn’t recognise or my brain couldn’t move fast enough. Bly goes on to say:

Thought of in terms of language, then, leaping is the ability to associate fast. In a great ancient or modern poem, the considerable distance between the associations, the distance the spark has to leap, gives the lines their bottomless feeling, their space, and the speed of the association increases the excitement of the poetry.

Other poems, with time, yielded meaning. “Ekstasis”, for example, conjures in cascades of images the experience of different kinds of music, the sound of the words as important as the images themselves, such as “Acoustical honey” and “Nine parrots come pecking at the foot of the porch stairs.”

As writers we struggle with finding the line between saying too much and saying too little. Certainly, as readers we want to do some of the work, not be spoonfed, but finding that line can be difficult. Trusted readers can help. I rely on my critique group to let me know when I haven’t provided enough information or am being too obvious.

To make it even harder, individual readers bring their own preferences and experience to a poem. I’ve participated in a poetry discussion group for several decades, enjoying the opportunity to explore in depth the work of a different poet every month. A side benefit has been hearing how others react. Tastes vary wildly. People interpret words, phrases, images differently. Their disparity has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or bad.

I found many of the poems in this collection difficult. When the juxtaposition of images worked for me, I experienced the excitement Bly describes. Always, I appreciate the vividness of her descriptions and am happy to immerse myself in the music of her words. I love, too, the way she tests the barriers, trying to surmount what holds us apart. As she says in “Sky Treasure”, our history is the “cry of so many hungers, / no boundary in between.”

What excites you in a poem?

Selected Poems II, 1976-1986, by Margaret Atwood

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I came to Atwood through her fiction, but it is her poetry that has come to mean the most to me. For me, her poems from this period expressed my own complicated mix of sorrow, pity, praise, and controlled rage.

As in her fiction, Atwood sometimes uses a female protagonist to shed new light on social issues. Most poems about the myth of Orpheus focus on his divine music and tragedy of his trip to the underworld to bring his wife Eurydice back to the realm of the living. However, Atwood’s “Orpheus (1)” gives us the voice of Eurydice who says, “the return/to time was not my choice.” She speaks of his “old leash . . . love you might call it” and says:

Before your eyes you held steady
the image of what you wanted
me to become: living again.
It was this hope of yours that kept me following.

In these few lines, Atwood captures the frustration of women wanting to be seen for themselves, not something to be molded to their husband’s fantasy, along with the patient kindness, the desire to spare him hurt that keeps us silent.

Myths and fairy tales are subtexts in many of these poems. In “Variation On The Word Sleep”, she alludes to several fairy tales, including one of my favorites: The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands . . .

Atwood’s Canadian identity has informed much of her critical work, including her landmark book Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Published in 1972, it makes a case that Canadian literature reflects a unique national identity, one derived from the harsh conditions in the frozen north and the clear-eyed accounts by early pioneers trying to survive in the wilderness. This somber theme works its way through many of the poems in this collection, sometimes emerging in strong, unpretty images. In “Flying Inside Your Own Body”, for example, she describes

Waking, your heart is a shaken fist,
a fine dust clogs the air you breathe in;
the sun’s a hot copper weight pressing straight
down on the thick pink rind of your skull.

That sense of the landscape as something hostile is tempered by her ecological awareness and sometimes difficult love for the things of this world. In “Marsh, Hawk” she describes a swamp and “a mass grave” of detritus—rotten trees, old tires, bottles and cans—that “spreads on the / land like a bruise.” But the poem takes a left turn in the middle, as so many of Atwood’s poems do, as the speaker wants the marsh rushes / to bend aside, the water / to accept us”, to become one with the complicated beauty of the physical world.

In much of her writing, Atwood draws inspiration from historical figures, particularly Canadian ones, such as Susanna Moody. Some of the poems in this collection seem to draw on this awareness. Sometimes she seems to be speaking for those who came before us.

In Negotiating with the Dead, a collection of her Empson lectures, she says, “Not just some, but all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear of and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.”

What themes or preoccupations do you see in one of your favorite writers?

Hélène, by Deborah Poe

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In this chapbook of poems, a young woman, Hélène, works in a factory-convent in 19c France weaving silk. As described in the epigraph from Foucault girls entered these factory-convents at thirteen and stayed for years, confined and watched over by nuns. Their wages were kept back and only given to them when they left at 21, after food and lodging were deducted.

Hélène’s factory is located in the village of Jujurieux in Ain, not that she knows the village; enclosed by the factory walls, her days consist of “nine hours weaving and three hours teaching” by which she means being taught. She speaks admiringly of “the benefactor” who has created this golden prison, who “offered something other than work on farms.”

The first poem is so dense with images, images without context, that the reader is overwhelmed. Only gradually do they begin to cohere and convey meaning. Thus we experience what Hélène, must have felt on first entering the enclosed world of the factory and her awe at seeing the glorious silk tapestries that she will have a hand in creating. The book’s beautiful cover gives us a taste of that glory.

Other poems are bare statements, stripped to the bone yet still carrying the weight of the story that emerges from these pages. It is Hélène’s story, of finding a friend among the “mummied” girls, of her own fall and its consequences. Poe gives us only the ghost outlines of a story, leave more than the usual space for the reader to fill in with her imagination.

Hélène’s story is much more than this simple outline. As her loneliness and restlessness grow, she escapes into a fantasy of living in China herself, feeding mulberry leaves to the worm, imagining how the secrets of silk “wandered via nomads along elongated slender grasslands.”

The other epigraph is from Chuang-Tzu about the use and limitation of words. Together these epigraphs signal the twin concerns of this book: imprisonment and art.

The brevity of the poems reinforces the sense of confinement, the silencing of the girls. Hélène compares herself to the work in cocoon, saying “Feel but tell no one a way of being.” Even the accents of her name seem to enclose her.

Poe uses additional quotes from Chuang-Tzu to signal and suggest hinge moments in Hélène’s story. Poe also makes effective use of the Japanese poetic technique of the kakekotoba, or pivot word, one that carries two meanings, such as when she says of the factory’s architecture “it looms straight down.” Hélène becomes entranced with individual words and the world of meaning each can hold.

Gently, always leaving space for us to make Hélène’s story our own, Poe juxtaposes the beauty of the silk tapestries with the working conditions of the time. We cannot help asking ourselves what confines us and how we escape. As readers and writers, words are our tools and our drugs; they are the keys that open our memory and senses and imagination. Hélène’s story gives us room to ponder what we dream and how we are transformed.

What confines you? How do you escape?

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse

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Another Middle Grade coming-of-age story told in verse—pure coincidence that this was next up on my TBR (to be read) pile when I stopped to read Brown Girl Dreaming. Hesse’s story is also a Newbery winner but is fiction rather than memoir. Thirteen-year-old Billie Jo loves playing the piano when she isn’t busy helping her father and pregnant mother try to keep body and soul together in Dust Bowl Oklahoma.

She is good enough to be asked to play in shows, often with handsome Mad Dog. If she gets well enough known with her music, she can leave the failing farm and the ubiquitous dust behind and go to California. Then a terrible accident throws all her plans into disarray.

Spanning a two-year period from January 1934 to December 1935, these poems paint a vivid picture of what life was like during that terrible time. She describes having to turn the glasses and plates upside down on the table until the last second before serving the meal, and still the food is saturated with dust. There is the heartbreak of a field of wheat, already decimated by drought and wind, be flattened by hail or devoured by grasshoppers.

In some aspects, Billie Jo’s life is similar to many teens: wanting more independence than her mother is willing to give her, feeling as though she’s stuck in the middle of nowhere. When her teacher is in a production of Madame Butterfly, and Mad Dog says that “most everyone’s” heard of that opera, Billie Jo is miffed.

How does that
singing plowboy know something I don’t?
And how much more is out there
most everyone else has heard of
except me?

And she has a best friend. But when Livie leaves for California with her family, Billie Jo says, “I couldn’t get the muscles in my throat relaxed enough / to tell her how much I’d miss her.”

Poetry works well as a form for this novel. The fractured narrative adds to the feeling that you are reading a diary. Also, the necessary compression distills each scene into its essence while retaining the emotional impact. Hesse makes effective use of symbols as well, such as the mother’s special cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. Here is one complete poem, called “Broken Promise”:

It rained
a little
everywhere
but here.

Other poems are longer and tell a more complete narrative, such as “Blankets of Black” about going to Texhoma for Grandma Lucas’s funeral. Billie Jo’s detailed description of the ordeal is riveting.

While written for ages 11-14, Billie Jo’s story will certainly appeal to adults as well. For younger readers, it’s a good introduction to the terrible tragedy of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Depression.

Have you read a Young Adult or Middle Grade novel that brought an historical period to life for you?

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

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Woodson’s memoir in verse invites the reader into her childhood. Reading these poems felt as though Woodson and I were leafing through a photograph album while she told me about these people and places.

Her family’s story, like so many of ours, is a fractured one, with lots of moving around and relationships that fall apart due to death and divorce. Being people of color during the 1960s and 1970s adds further complications. Still, there is a strong current of love and security holding the family and their story together.

In “home” she writes of being taken as a newborn to meet her grandparents in South Carolina. She describes the porch, the azaleas, the red dust on her mother’s shoes. Then:

Welcome home, my grandparents say
    Their warm brown
arms around us. A white handkerchief,
    embroidered with blue
to wipe away my mother’s tears.
    And me,
the new baby, set deep
inside this love.

This book has won several awards, including the Newbery Honor, and was chosen as the 2017 book for Vermont Reads. While it falls in the children’s book category, it appeals to adults as well.

The title tells you all you need to know about the book to entice you into reading it. While being a perfectly straight-forward description of what the book is about, the title also gives you an idea of how the story will be told. The reversed syntax is intriguing, and the startling use of “brown” let’s you know that we are going to sidestep stereotypes about race and speak plainly .

Here’s the opening of “rivers”:

The Hocking River moves like a flowing arm away
from the Ohio River
runs through towns as though
it’s chasing its own freedom, the same way
the Ohio runs north from Virginia until
it’s safely away
from the South.

Most of all, the compression and music of these three words place you in the realm of poetry. It’s had to resist hearing the echo of the opening of Langston Hughes’s great poem “Dream Deferred”:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

As I’ve mentioned before poetry works well for memoir because of its fragmentary nature. Gathering poems together in a collection such as this doesn’t create the same sort of linear narrative as a prose memoir.

For me, finding that narrative was the hardest part of writing my memoir. Life does follow a neat narrative arc. When we’re in the midst of it, our life seems chaotic and subject to chance; it’s only later that we try to impose some sort of coherent story out of it. Thus, capturing the past in individual poems And it actually reflects how memory works: it throws up a scene seemingly at random, and we are left to make sense of it.

Then the challenge for the poet is to find a way to make these fragments of memory, these separate scenes hang together without the usual transition tools. Woodson accomplishes this with deceptive ease. Arranged chronologically, the poems sometimes also reach back to tell stories of her parents and siblings and other family members.

This is a book that all ages will enjoy. One of the great benefits of reading is the opportunity to step into another person’s life and see the world through their eyes. I’m grateful to Woodson for her gift of her story, much of which reminded me of my own childhood and even more that helped me understand another kind of experience.

Does your state choose a book each year for everyone to read and discuss? If so, which book was chosen this year?

Traveling Mercies, by David Williams

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What’s the use of art or poetry when fools gamble with the future and destruction looms? Whether it’s fire or flood or Eliot’s whimper, words will not help us. Not then, but now perhaps there is still a chance to rouse those who are sedated and sleeping, to tear them from their flickering lights and make them look around and raise their voices.

These powerful poems do just that. Whether he’s writing about Tiwa children in New Mexico, murdered churchwomen in San Salvador, or his own family’s history in Lebanon, Williams gives us stories where compassion rides on controlled passion. Or, as he says in “Breath”: “The stunned drone of grief becomes the fierce,/tender undertone that bears up the world.”

It’s the tenderness that wins me over. Much of the power in these poems comes from the precise details and voices he summons to describe people, before releasing them into something larger. He describes a girl he taught who, before beginning to draw, closed her eyes and crossed her arms “and maybe went flying//to the mountain lake source of her river”.

Of his grandmother he says:

Half-blind seamstress, never learned
to read, except the Novena booklet,
holiday cards, supermarket ads,

she reads futures in coffee grounds,
and we gather round with our cups.

She’s afraid to look these days.
Too many deaths. Wait and see.
You’ll know when the time comes . . .

These poems are as relevant today as they were when this book was published almost twenty years ago. Williams shows us how the past lives on in us, writing about his grandfather on the mountain with his sheep listening to wolves. In another poem, he describes finding “. . . an apple tree/still bearing the fruit of the Levant” and says:

The body keeps faith with something
even stripping its own nerves.
A gesture, a glance, is passed on.
Blue shadows of Lebanese cedars

still move over us here . . .

He writes about old wrongs, tragedies that live on in us. I used to think that ridiculous until I found myself arguing about Glen Coe, surprised by my own passion over something that happened hundreds of years before I was born. True, it was my family, my ancestors, who were massacred. But then I remind myself that with the world grown so small, we must all be family now.

What would you say if right now you could, like Emily Dickinson, write a “Letter to the World”?

Visions International, No.95, Spring 2017, edited by Bradley R. Strahan

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I first stumbled across this poetry magazine over a dozen years ago at the Baltimore Book Festival. What I love about it is the second word in the title. Visions solicits and publishes poems from all over the world. Strahan even travels to search out new poets.

It’s a small magazine, around 30 pages, but it packs a punch. This issue includes the work of poets from Slovenia, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Chile, Macedonia, Iran, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

Their homes are identified in the table of contents but not on the poems themselves. As a result, when I read the poems, I’m struck more with the universal elements than with trying to see aspects of another culture.

One of the things I like about this magazine is that the translators are credited equally with the original poets. I tried my hand at translation a few years ago. Before that, I’d always been grateful to have translations so I could read work that would otherwise be inaccessible to me. However, it seemed wrong for a translator to tamper too much with the original work.

Once I tried to do it myself, though, I changed my mind. I wanted to capture the music of the original, the sound as well as the sense. I wanted to hint at the nuances in the other language, the connotations and associations. It was hard. And I admit I couldn’t resist making it a little bit my own. Since then I have much more respect for the work translators do.

Each issue also has a featured poet, with several pages devoted to their work. In this issue the featured poet is J.S. Absher of Raleigh, NC. One of his poems, “The Past and Time to Come”, starts with a cow grazing in a meadow and moves through the lovely names of their four stomachs into a scene where a salesman is philosophising about time in a bar. Sounds odd perhaps, but the juxtaposition works.

Visions is closing in on its 100th issue, so they must be doing something right. Check it out.

Where do you encounter poetry? In song lyrics or books? In magazines or blogs?

Life Upon the Wicked Stage, by Grace Cavalieri

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In my memoir classes I stress that there are different reasons for writing a memoir. You can write a memoir as therapy, to help deal with a traumatic event or period of your life. You can write one for your family. I wish my mother had left more than a few pages about her childhood; now that she is gone I wish I knew more about the rest of her life and had a record of her oft-repeated anecdotes. Or you can write a memoir for a larger audience, a story that addresses some larger issue that will be of interest even to people who do not know you.

I go on to say that only the last sort of memoir is eligible for publication, since that is the only one designed for a larger audience. But Cavalieri’s new memoir proves me wrong.

She clearly states on the first page that she is writing “a catalogue of what I’ve done, where I’ve been in my career so our daughters, Cindy, Colleen, Shelley and Angel, will have a chronology.” The chapters that follow are not actually in chronological order or, as far as I can tell, any sort of thematic order. They are brief tales of her professional life as a playwright, teacher, broadcaster, and poet interspersed with memories of her beloved husband Ken and a little about her parents and grandparents.

Why does this family memoir work so well for a wider audience? One reason is that those of us who read, write and love poetry and drama are all part of Cavalieri’s family. In addition to writing many plays, she worked for PBS in the early days of children’s programming, founded and co-founded independent presses, worked as a book editor, and taught writing. Today she is best known for “Exemplars”, her monthly poetry feature for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and for “The Poet and the Poem”, a radio interview program from the Library of Congress. Cavalieri is also celebrated for her unfailing support of poetry and her generosity to other poets (including me, whose book Terrarium she reviewed in “Exemplars”).

Another reason to enjoy this book is her insider’s description of the worlds of drama and poetry, including tales of the poets laureate she’s met and interviewed. I was especially intrigued by her depiction of her early days writing poetry when she had to persuade the 1960’s literary community in Washington, D.C. that yes, a suburban housewife could indeed be a poet.

And the writing itself is reason alone for plunging into this memoir. Cavalieri quickly brings people and places to life. Her straightforward prose carries emotional weight. Best of all, many of the chapters include a poem of hers about the same events or people. She’s the only other person I know of who starts with a poem and may then expand the idea into a prose piece. I will also sometimes go in the other direction: if I get bogged down in a story, I’ll write it as a short poem, an exercise that helps me get to the heart of the story.

As well as many reasons to write a memoir, there are many ways to do so. You can write a memoir, as I did in Innocent, that has an overall narrative arc like a novel. You can arrange your pieces according to themes, as Vladimir Nabokov did in Speak, Memory. You can put fragments together in such a way as to create a mosaic, as Denise Levertov did in Tesserae.

Or you can arrange your chapters in a way that seems right to you. Although I cannot discern a pattern here, I have to say that the chapters flow seamlessly. I especially like the combination of prose and poetry. I’ve seen this done before, but never so well.

I’m glad to know more of Cavalieri’s life and achievements and grateful that with this book she’s shown me yet another way to write a memoir and reason for publishing it.

What memoir have you read that impressed you?

Skydiver: Poems for My Daughter, by Rosa Glenn Reilly

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There’s been an interesting discussion going on over at Writer Unboxed this past week. In the blog post David Corbett peels open some of the ideas Donald Maass has put forward in his blog posts and his new book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Corbett suggests a distinction between emotion and feeling and the implications for us writers as we try to summon both in our readers. Maass responded, and others jumped into the discussion.

One of Maass’s great insights, which I’ve been trying to unpack for myself for several months, is that a reader’s emotional response is far more complex than you might think. He says:

Psychological research into that question has surprising answers. For instance, fiction writers assume that readers will feel what their characters do. They don’t. Readers instead react: weighing, judging, comparing and creating, moment by moment, their own emotional journey.

If you want a textbook on how to create an emotional response in readers, look no further than this collection of poems.

Almost every poem left me gasping, which may be why I chose to start this post from the distant perspective of a writer studying craft. Reilly takes us through the stages of her daughter Tina’s illness: Diagnosis, Metastasis, Hospice, After. But these are not poems of grief. Well, they are of course, but grief a steady continuo behind the melodies and counterpoints of particular moments. Everyday details cluster in these poems, countering the solemnity of what we know is coming.

We see Reilly change. For example, “Tattooed Angel” celebrates the pierced and decorated stranger—the boyfriend she’s only just met—who promises to take care of Tina. Despite Reilly’s “cautious/mother antennae” she sees that “the bathroom is clean/the dishes are washed”, knows that he has been counting Tina’s pills and measuring her fluids. Most of all, he still sees Tina as the “bold and sexy” woman she had been only seven days ago.

Reilly also uses reversals to surprise us into emotion. In “Memorizing” she describes “a lazy/sunlit afternoon” with her daughter, filled with specific sensual details, culminating in the two of them falling into a nap “curled/twin embryos/facing one another/only our hands touching”. Peaceful if sad, yes? But they have fallen asleep “she/exhausted from radiation//me/worn thin from holding/my breath”.

Another technique is imagery. In “The Alamo” Reilly uses our knowledge of that brave and hopeless fight to underscore her own outrage and fury when Tina’s cancer comes back, cutting short the promised years of remission.

Humor also can get under our defenses. In “Sisters” Reilly gives us a beautifully detailed account of a moment between sisters which starts: “your older sister drapes/your limp right arm/around her own neck//she waits/bent patiently/as your left arm slowly rises”. As Tina is carried to the porch, Reilly remembers moments from the girls’ past, all with these superbly accurate details. When her sister tells Tina to stay put, Reilly hears “. . . your younger-sister response/halting/each carefully found word/a lilting/defiant tease//You are not. The boss. Of me.

Even punctuation carries emotional weight. There are no commas at the end of lines, no periods at all except in quoted dialogue, as though Reilly cannot bear the thought of any end, much less a hard one.

Normally I avoid giving away endings, but here, with every poem so powerful, I’ve given you a couple. I wanted to show you how unusual and effective these poems are. When you’re done, read the poems again to see how brilliantly Reilly encourages us to summon our own memories and experiences to fill the white spaces between the lines.

But first read the poems for the experience. If you, like me, are hesitant to open yourself to another death, and the death of a child at that, then believe me you will find more of love than grief in these poems. They will open your heart to the everyday magic of our lives.

What book have you read that inspired moments of strong emotion or feeling?