Monday, February 16, 2009
THE WREN’S CRY by Dorian Brooks (Ibbetson Street Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143) $15.
Review by Barbara Bialick
Dorian Brooks’ THE WREN’S CRY, is a great volume of poetry, which deserves to be better known, for it’s in the league of famous poets, far and wide.
She both enriches and breaks our hearts with well-edited, polished lyrics carved out of love, nature and memory. But don’t stop till you read the last poems, which will almost kill you with their powerful anti-war messages, one after another, landing as a dead monarch butterfly on Sitting Bull’s hat…
The book calmly but pointedly begins with memories of her family, first with her grandfather leaving his little girl (Brooks’ mother) his”collection of speckled eggs”
She says, “It’s from him I inherit/my sense of the natural order…” But she’s not so rational that she doesn’t see nature’s transformative power, hinting at reincarnation of the soul, even as creatures or plant life. She says her own mother may have had the “soul of a butterfly” or could be heard in “The Wren’s Cry”. She envisioned herself coming back as tumbleweed…”how often I whizzed past/the little things/…a wavering comb of moments behind me.”
Her memories and creativity help her create such vivid images, as when she imagines her father talking to Bach “On a Cold April Day.” In “The Wish” she wants to be talking with him over a beer instead of waiting as he “finished revising despair’s long manuscript.”
She moves from her parents to her sometimes traveling husband. They share the love of nature. In “The Willows”, she notes. “How beautiful (the willows) are” she writes of the trees, “in their sadness”…/Timeless, they touch the depths of loss…lithe as dancers/mourning whole kingdoms…I harbor sorrow on my own shore, /among my own kind”. Then she brings us to “Ground Zero”, where she just discovered the death of their baby boy happened at the same time as the largest ever underground nuke test in November, 1971 in the Aleutian Islands: “and I can’t help thinking, /No wonder you left.”
People are also expressed as that part of nature in which they get ill…from her breast cancer to her husband’s heart attack. She muses about a neighbor she never knew who apparently died of suicide, but having a view of the same Blue Spruce that she loved. She touches on her academic side with a tribute to a professor who died: “the dark earth yields its shimmering tassels.” She calls on the Celtic goddess of poetry but also reminds us of the death of young girls who used to paint radium on watch faces.
Naturalism deftly falls into politics. In a powerful scene she asks us to imagine a place being named not for a famous man, but for a woman giving birth some time in history on that spot. In “Historical Marker” she writes: ‘On this site, no man/was ever bayoneted/or shot, not battle /fought for God or country./But once , long ago a woman lay here/gasping and straining/…for hours, then lifted/her baby to her breast…”
Keep reading. You will love these poems, such as “Whales”: “the heart/is an open book where/nothing is written except/whom we shall love, whom not/snow on water.”
And you must read the book through to the end where she presents a potent batch of anti-war poems good enough to finish off the book as well as the reader!
She speaks against current wars in “Friendly fire” or” How the Dead Come Back To Us”…to “Tumbleweeds” where she describes herself as an innocent cow girl with her toy guns shooting the imaginary Indians, not realizing then the tragedy of her game. Which leads to “Mariposa”, a Spanish butterfly…being the name of the “U.S. battalion/sent to fight the Indians/who lived in what became/Yosemite National Park…Mariposa. I can’t get/the sound out of my head/as I stare at the famed/black and white photo/of the park’s great Half Dome,/pale moon rising over/sheer rock, no living thing/in sight. Maybe the souls/ of the dead really do/come back as butterflies--/or else maybe as words/that,when spoken, flutter/across time, on wings/brighter than blood.”
Her words are certainly bright. As assistant editor of the literary review “Ibbetson Street”
she is a big part of the “small press” scene in Somerville, Massachusetts. But she deserves to also be a part of the “big press” which oozes out of academia, rarely noticing all the talent the small press finds. She is definitely part of that talent!
--Barbara Bialick is the Author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)