Monday, May 30, 2011


Review of CRACK WILLOW, POEMS OF TRANSFORMATION, by Shelby Allen, Cherry Grove Collections, PO Box 541106, Cincinnati, Ohio 45254, cover art also by Shelby Allen,, 82 pages, 2011

Review by Barbara Bialick

The poets who wrote back cover lines for this book, speak of nature, survival, metamorphosis…that’s all there, but the poem I want to zoom in on is one about her father in a photograph.—“In an Old Newspaper Photo”. Like this photo, this is a book full of secrets, family secrets, that she tells but doesn’t tell, knows, but doesn’t know:

“…my father stands straight/at the center of men and smiles/…he’s completed a deal/…But I know my father had another smile,/thin as string, bent/like the curve of his hat,…/a smile below sad eyes/the same look his father had/in the photo on my parents’ bureau/My father used to say his father/always wanted to…I don’t remember what…He never did it,/My mother said my father/always wanted to do something too…/I recognize/the little tell-yourself-it-doesn’t-matter smile,/our family caption…”

Allen probably has this smile, too, one of the Radcliff girls overshadowed by the Harvard boys, in the 1966 Yearbook, or the smile of the FAO Schwartz “three-ton teddy bear” in Boston. “Am I still (my mother’s)toy?/Do Not Climb, the sign says,/but children are climbing,/right up to the steel scarf and its fetching bow/…giant F, giant A, my mother’s silenced initials./an O on the third block as wide/as my buried scream.”
I would call this book “a good read,” but I am also waiting for its sequel when she tells me what is going on here and that she has even more fully transformed the past.

Like the skater paper doll, in “A Closed Shop”, captured “in your groove, the slot cut for you/in the lid of the box/Stop, little skater/You don’t even have ice./How will you learn to fall?”

But the poet does tell us what to do in “Any Tree Will Listen”: “If you can’t speak of it,/stand in the embrace of a Norway spruce:/all of Norway will shelter you/in a cloak of boughs filled with fjords of light./,,,If you can’t find a tree/when you need one, all you need/is a crack in the concrete: one green shoot.”

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