That didn’t happen with Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems by Maureen Doallas. In fact, just the opposite happened. The reality exceeded my expectations, and by a wide margin. (If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be saying this.)
What do you expect from a first collection of poetry? Not this. Not this polish or precision. Not this range of feeling. Not this strong grasp of language, themes, words and range.
This is not a collection of poems by someone new to poetry. This is a collection by someone who knows her way around, someone well read, and yes, well-versed.
The collection, edited by Marcus Goodyear, is comprised of four sections – Enter, Listen, Exit and Remember. Each is introduced by a short essay, and each informs the poems in the specific section. The poems don’t necessarily need the introductory essays, but they become richer as a result. And they help the reader understand that this collection comes from a profound loss for the poet, the death of her brother in 2009.
To see how Doallas chisels words with precision, consider “Gone to Seed:”
Fireweed done producing,
gone to seed,
brilliance cuts a swath
through green’s shallowing shelter.
Agitated Monet yellows
burnished Van Gogh reds:
two nods to nature’s talents.
Lips of leaves
I carry a palette that can’t compete
with summer’s last firing.
If I’m lucky,
my hand will find its way
before the final fall.
The beauty of words matches the images they evoke. Doallas often combines references to nature and art, and here she uses them almost interchangeably to a full effect.
The poems cover, among many other themes and ideas, faith, reading a children’s story, Mother’s Day, a son turning 22, news events, public tragedies and what might be called “interiors,” the thinking parts of the mind, heart and soul. From “To be Re-enchanted is Uneasy,” one of many favorites in this collection:
To be re-enchanted is uneasy
with an unquiet mind
holding on to daily reminders
of what you’re about to lose
you imagine you’ve lost already
Moment and moment and moment
choking away unaccounted for
as you, sitting as on watch,
join sentinels all praise-worn
and too quick to gather for the left-behind
before the gone are gone
And then there’s that intense sense of loss, the loss of a beloved brother, whose illness and death led Doallas to begin writing the poetry she’d left behind in college. Poetry became more than therapy; it became a way to explicate illness and death. From “Grief’s Lessons:”
I’ve learned to rock my grief
inside, the way a doctor’s fingers,
all rubber-gloved smoothness, gently massage
the chest cavity open before reaching in to expose
the raw fist-sized metronome that keeps
keeping our time perfectly, even after
the skins cracks and the bones, ossified,
turn porous and hollow, more a sieve
for questions than a sarcophagus for answers…
I read that poem four times, and each time the meaning deepened. This is something common to all the poems in this collection: they become finer with successive readings, and I suspect that when I read this volume again, they will have aged well.
It’s a stunning collection, combining beauty, grace and heart.
Diane Walker, a friend of Maureen Dallas, reads the title poem from the collection in a video Diane created.
Maureen blogs at Writing Without Paper.