Friday, February 06, 2015

Stitched with Gossamer: A Review of Jennifer L. Freed’s These Hands Still Holding

Stitched with Gossamer: A Review of Jennifer L. Freed’s These Hands Still Holding
Reviewed by Kimberly Pavlovich

            In Jennifer L. Freed’s poem “Almost Never” she writes, “But our lives are stitched with gossamer / in any case. Details shimmer / and then drift / away”. These lovely lines from a poem in These Hands Still Holding make memory tangible through subtle imagery and concrete detail. Freed’s poems indeed capture the gossamer—the shimmering moments and details that might otherwise drift away. As she explores themes such as nature, childhood, parenting, and loss, the poet takes deceptively simple moments and transforms them into ones more thoughtful and complex.

            One poem that demonstrates Freed’s deft ability to transform the everyday is “Joshua the Basset Hound,” the first poem in the collection. Freed begins with a relatable image of a dog leaning against its owner: he “presses his thick length against my leg.” This image, however, quickly becomes more meaningful. The dog reminds the speaker that “this / is the point of all the rest: to lean / with one’s whole being / into the life of another, / … even if, unlike the dog, / we are afraid of falling.” Freed depicts the basset hound with its owner in order to communicate a message about trust, life, and love.

            “Dandelions” also demonstrates the thoughtful quality of These Hands Still Holding. In this poem, the speaker discovers a bouquet of dandelions left by her daughters. Freed writes that the daughters “are still young enough to see / bright beauty in spring lawns flecked with yellow, / to want to clutch that beauty in their hands.” These lines portray the innocent, excited nature of children while at the same time hinting how aging changes one’s perspective. While the children are “still young enough to see / bright beauty” in dandelions, the parent speaker may no longer have this same point of view. In this way there is a quiet wistfulness to “Dandelions,” especially as the speaker later reflects on the dandelion down:

            loose and lifting in the breeze,
            as though each flower, knowing
            the nearness of death,
            had spent its last force willing
            its whole being
            toward its young,
            so that some beauty of its life
            might yet live on.

These lines reveal the parent’s nostalgic perspective and life’s inevitable cycle.

            Freed further gives depth to this theme of parenting and childhood in her poem “Grace.” The speaker describes her daughters helping earthworms from the asphalt: “delicate fingers lift limp strands / of pink and brown, / return them / to sunburned grass, dark garden soil.” As in “Dandelions,” this vivid image demonstrates children’s innate curiosity and concern. The last stanza of “Grace,” “I watch, / and then kneel down / to help,” is powerful in its brevity. The stanza illustrates the simple but poignant moments spent with one’s children. Perhaps there is something for parents to learn from their children’s actions.

            “When You Are Not Here” stands out. Freed skillfully turns an “O X” signed in a note the speaker writes to a loved one into oxen: “Let them let you hear, in their broad, barreled chests, / the thrum and swell of their beating hearts, in which / you will also hear / my heart.” This vibrant depiction of oxen conveys the speaker’s love and sense of longing for the person to whom she writes. She transforms the simple letters into something much more, something living and breathing that leaps off the page—something Freed herself accomplishes gracefully in each of her poems.

            Although the content of Freed’s poems imaginatively explores the everyday, equally expressive titles would have only strengthened the collection. The titles of Freed’s poems are plain and straightforward without the compelling meaning that might unite them more coherently with the text. Freed’s collection brings to mind the poet Marie Howe, who also reflects upon the everyday. For example, in “Hurry” Howe writes, “Hurry up honey, I say, hurry, / as she runs along two or three steps behind me / her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.” This distinct image of a child running to catch up with a parent evokes Freed, whose own poems elegantly infuse the everyday with unique perceptions that intensify the reader’s own view of the world around her.


Kimberly Pavlovich is a junior at Endicott College majoring in English and minoring in Communication. She is the author of You Carry the Woods (Ibbetson Street Press). Her writing has also been published in FamilyFun and the Endicott Review, as well as online articles affiliated with Small Beer Press and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. She is currently the editor-in-chief of the Endicott Review and plans to pursue a career in the publishing industry.

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