Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review of THE ETYMOLOGY OF SPRUCE, poems by Joyce Wilson

Review of THE ETYMOLOGY OF SPRUCE, poems by Joyce Wilson, Rock Village Publishing, Middleborough, MA, 81 pages, 2010

By Barbara Bialick

THE ETYMOLOGY OF SPRUCE is a longer than usual first book in “the small press” arena, but Joyce Wilson has a lot of talent and promise. She’s already been published in the Harvard Review, Agni, Antigonish Review and other well-known journals. She also publishes her own on-line literary magazine, The Poetry Porch. She’s taught English at Suffolk University and Boston University.

But what really drew me in was the concept of figuring out the etymology of her family, as symbolized by and reflected in the etymology of nature, specifically a spruce-tree-eye-view of death and regeneration.

In the poem, “Spruce Down” she takes inventory of the dead tree, how it lies horizontally, how much its lumber is worth, and like an etymologist, looks backward to its “roots”: “we sorted through the refuse/the way the tree had once/sifted sunlight, playing,/dispersing the emptiness.”

There’s another spruce tree poem, “Armless Spruce”, that comes near the end of the book, after you’ve read about the early death of her father, and its effect on her and her family. It’s obviously a symbol the reader should try to decipher. “These sticks, now brittle stumps, cannot/Be healed, though salved with healing paint./They have no use, but waver, fraught/With grief. This heart, by loss defined…”.

I also like the “Hymn” she wrote where she presents a stanza, then asks a question, to which different flowers give the answer:

“He gave me perfume/that was too strong…a bicycle that I needed/years to grow into…Would he admire the woman /I have become? No said the nightshade,/yes the geranium.”

And I would have to forgive him for dying is the refrain in “The Taxi From Town.”:
“He showed little regard for chronology/arriving at a local movie in time/to see the last scene first: the wound and the blood…the hero riding off as if forever…I suffered with the fear for years/before I saw the value of beginning with the end..”. Hence we have the etymologist…

My main reservation with the book is its length. Through the first half, she maintains an ever-growing line of poems you can analyze in the etymology theme The second half goes in different directions, albeit with some good poetry, but she should have left out some of the less powerful poems. Even so, I recommend this book!

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