94 Pages; Print, $17.00
A poem can’t free us from the struggle of existence, but it can uncover desires and appetites buried under the accumulating emergencies of life.—Adrienne Rich
Tempering personal fulfillment with inner peace may be one of the more abstract pleasures of aging. In her latest collection, Anne Whitehouse examines and celebrates quoitidan twenty first century life from a distinctly wise female perspective. Divided into six sections, these finely wrought poems resonate with honest unrestrained emotionalism.
Many of the poems investigate domestic detail, from never saccharine salutations addressed to family, meditations upon relationships, even a mouth-watering menu for a summer time feast. Thus, in a “Few Things My Mother in Law Taught Me” Whitehouse quotes her gin-swilling mother-in-law with a Zen koan like gravity:
If you love a complicated man, you will learn
And in the same poem, the declaration “To hide a feeling is not dishonest / it can be a way to protect and honor it.”
Another matriarchal ode, “Wedding Silver” is an abbreviated bitch about family silver, which is a surprisingly frequent reaction about inherited possessions. This time Whitehouse tempers compassion with her annoyance of a long-standing and broken promise. Secretly sold silver inspires “leaving this bitter surprise / as her legacy.”
Several poems addressed to her sister resonate with sibling complexity. Bemoaning her sister’s fear of the water, “Contraries” inspires her own self realization: “Just imagine—not ever going under, / always in the air and not in the water / never feeling the wonder / of an alien element all around.”
Although Whitehouse lives in New York, a reverence for nature animates much of her work. [End Page 28] Her introductory poem “A Girl Who Fell in Love With an Island” finds the poet recalling her younger self “making salutations in the setting sun / over the sea in a reflected fire / of blazing gold and rose embers.” Later in the book, she mourns her divorce in “My Last Spring in My House and Garden.”
If I could, I would slipinto the soil like a buried seed.Instead I am being blown far, far away—I, who always clung so close to home.
If form and language are metered, the intensity is not. It’s precisely this mature passion that ignites Whitehouse’s work, echoing a lifetime of experience and observation. “Scenes from California” finds the poet near the ocean, where she concludes:
Past mossy trees tangled in vinesand lichen-covered fences of an old farmlies a ribbon of brown sandwithout beginning or end.
Much as this volume is rooted in real life. An adept wordsmith, Whitehouse plays skillfully with language and pens lines like:
Sunwashed, seastruck, windsweptSunstruck, seaswept, windwashed,Sunswept, seaswashed, windstruck
In “the delicious reverie” of “An Afternoon Nap.”
Interestingly, the poet chooses widely varied personas to write in. Her award winning poem “Calligraphies” succeeds beautifully in transporting the reader to “the old days in China” when “We could hear artillery batteries / firing into the mist at the island / that still resisted the mainland.” After the Cultural Revolution, the son tells us his father “…would take sticks / and write calligraphy once more / in puddles on the ground / that would soon disappear / as soon it was written, / leaving invisible skeins of sorrow / in the changing reflections / of cloud and sky on water.”
A sculpture to Peruvian victims of the armed conflict of the late twentieth century is the subject of “The Eye That Cries.” Via Whitehouse’s lines, the reader sees the local mourners, “Those strangers with dark, wrinkled faces / and bowler hats, their legs bowed / as if they’d just stopped off a ship / into the fogs of the coastal capital.” Inspired by a Cuban cookbook, “My Cuba” captures the voice of an exile who says, “an impossible thought / like the idea of life I might have had, / had my grandparents not left.”
Now, more then ever, we need poetry for strength and solace. Whitehouse’s contemplative talismans transport the reader to a place where, hopefully, “Your mistakes will force...