- The Echo of Ice Letting Go by Julie Hungiville LeMay, and: Ghost Town Odes by Matt Schumacher
The opening poems of Julie Hungiville LeMay's collection announce the subjects that drift through her verse and never seem beyond reach or memory: a daughter's constancy, a son's addiction, friendship and heredity, cancer and its shadow of mortality, prayer and religion, and the creative struggle to make sense of our fractured lives and the places in which we find ourselves. The first poem suggests a theme: "I ride / with sadness. I am ripe with sorrow" (1). The closing poem of the first section offers a counterpoint of mercy and gratitude:
Thank you for Incense Cedar memoriesof winter sweatersand dark worn pews,
and for long-awaited greenof the Wild Ginger'sgenerous heart-shaped leaves.(18)
Three of the four sections in LeMay's first book-length publication feature poems inspired by John Muir and include lines taken [End Page 475] from The Essential Muir. The epigraph to "Half-Found John Muir Poem #5" attests to the complexity of LeMay's verse: "But the darkest scriptures of the mountains are illumined with bright passages of love" (24). LeMay has called Alaska's Matanuska Valley home since 1978, and the long hours of the dark winters seem to keep vigil in these poems. She evokes an Alaskan winter with a simple image that ties up a poem about the death of a "young mother": "The pale sun never rises, only trolls / the cold horizon for echoes of our songs" (2). Funerals, prisons, hospitals, and feelings of ineffectualness are all present in The Echo of Ice Letting Go. But for all the melancholy, LeMay strives after the illumination that comes from bright moments of love.
LeMay's love of poetic expression reaches out to touch the love of the natural world. The poet calls on Muir, the "old man of the Sierras," to be her muse:
Talk to me, talk tome, tell me, and I will
share scrub oak,fireweed that announcesabundant red, andcottonwood that fadesyellow like sun that skimsthis Chugach range in winter.(24)
Muir's boundless capacity to witness the beauty and wonder of the natural world and to communicate it so lushly becomes not only a salve but also a challenge and inspiration for LeMay. There is a sense of powerful ecopoetics here—LeMay addresses Muir, but she also listens to and speaks for the earth itself. She filters Muir's words through her psyche, rinses them in Alaskan waters, and hangs them to dry in the "snow-/ pack, diamond light, cobalt sky" of her own mountain ranges (15).
The image of a "soul-blue" sky (17) recurs in various iterations. The clarity and boundless potential of the Alaskan sky is even more poignant, given that it shares the same horizon that hides the winter sun. LeMay's poetry acknowledges the alternating fortunes [End Page 476] of day-to-day lived experience while also recognizing the earth as one constant, even in its shifting boundaries, in its ever changefulness. The poem "Remission" presents elements of the natural world standing out distinct, each offering assurance in its particular hue: "The sky extends / endlessly blue," "the snow on the mountain pretends purple against gray granite / all so clear // it seems I can reach across into valleys, stroke the spruce." But just as she attempts to hold on to the scene, "the snow / blows of the ridgeline and blurs into the clouds until there is no end / of mountain, no beginning of sky" (89). Boundaries shift, allowing the dark scriptures of cancer to be illuminated with bright passages of nature, and shift again, in the ceaseless interplay of struggle and peace.
If LeMay's poems are introspective, introverted even, then Matt Schumacher's are extroverts. They thrive on the madcap tales of bandits and abandoned mining camps. They surround themselves with...