Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life’s Transitions ed. by Sheila Packa

By Dan Sinykin 

Here is the end of the poem “Divided,” by Amy Jo Swing:

a bit of panic now that the anticipation of
color is gone. Now that the drive home is dark,
color only memory, and even shape is suspect.

These are haunting lines, especially as we pivot toward another Minnesota winter. The repetition of the word now places us in the moment after we have seen what we waited for. The recognition that each day is growing shorter than the last is as much about the turning of the calendar as it is about a mental state. The feeling of claustrophobia that can come after private joy, when suddenly the world looks hostile.

This is only one of the many moods evoked by the collection Migrations, which brings together dozens of writers from the north country, young and old, polished and raw. The book feels, above all, like a community event. It is an intimate gathering, because poetry, whether in verse or prose, provides a forum for people to express emotions and stories that otherwise often stay hidden.

Beverly Hanks remembers how her father walked thirty miles through the snow from a Depression-era job to make it home in time for Christmas, carrying oranges for her in a pair of wool socks. Molly Tillotson works through why she never returned to Antarctica after that first time. Jasmine Baumgart discovers the power she feels from feminism. Rocky Kiukanpi writes about a place where, in his words, “the center of the world is everywhere.”

The theme of the collection is “life’s transitions.” As one might expect, a great many of the pieces deal with birth or death, lyric celebrations or elegies of longing. At their best, they catch us off guard with a startling image or an unsentimental turn of phrase. The very pregnant narrator of Linda LeGarde Grover’s “Parturition, a Poem for Brenda,” imagines she sees her dead grandmother in a window, only to discover herself in a mirror, “an ageless crone at twenty-two.” Or, in Gary Boelhower’s elegy, “Between Us” he writes:

Sometimes the distance
            between us is light years,
                        you in your dying, me

in my planning to keep
            the flowers watered and
                        get the house painted

The phrase “you in your dying,” paired with daily chores, hits me, at least, with the poignance of the sort of tediousness of death, its everyday-ness.

Alongside birth and death we return, as always, to the seasons. Ellie Schoenfeld writes:

We have no idea
what the sun will
call back to life,
his warm fingers digging deep
into the winter
which is melting away
inside of us.

If the end of autumn brought panic, here the spring thaw brings resurrections we may not have expected. The shortest poem in the collection, “Emergence” by Cindy Spillers, expresses not surprise, but – like it or not – the inevitable rebirth of spring:

Tenacious crocus
Erupts through frozen darkness.
No turning back now.

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