Wow...this one is ...well, I don't quite have the words but I bet OKD would. Verbal acrobatics accurately describes this collection, but those gymnastWow...this one is ...well, I don't quite have the words but I bet OKD would. Verbal acrobatics accurately describes this collection, but those gymnastics got in the way of my ability to connect with these poems. I really wanted to like this, but I abandoned it as each poem started feeling more and more like a struggle to get through and to understand than the one before. Liked "And Her Soul Out of Nothing" much better. ...more
Rachel Mennies’ award-winning The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards attracted my attention because of its poems exploring themes such as coming of ageRachel Mennies’ award-winning The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards attracted my attention because of its poems exploring themes such as coming of age as a Jewish woman in America; interfaith marriage; the history, the present, and the future of Judaism, and the sense of finding one’s place in the community as well as the family.
For various reasons – the death of my husband’s grandfather, the main family tree branch connecting him with his Jewish heritage; celebrating the winter holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, and returning back to Philadelphia for the holidays – made this the perfect book for me to read when I did.
In his introduction to Mennies’ work in The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, Robert A. Fink of Texas Tech University Press and editor of The Walt McDonald First Book Series in Poetry, posits that the title
“suggests a delightfully ambiguous, ironic interpretation of God’s hand that protects, that judges, that points to history, heritage, the promises made to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the law meted out to Moses and the children of Israel. God of the Garden of Eden. God of the Shema. This Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not hand of God, however, is also a glad hand, welcoming hand – one that “accepts / the muddle of our lives ,” a God who “holds/ nobody responsible,” who says, “As you wish,” and then “retreats into the sunset alone.” (“The Jewish Woman in America, 2010″) Glad hand also connotes what could be a less-than-sincere gesture, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts / neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, ESV). There will be no pat, no comfortable answers in this collection of poetry.”
Perhaps no comfortable answers, but for this reader several poems evoked feelings of comfort because they were set in my hometown of Philadelphia. It happens to be Rachel Mennies’ hometown, too, and that of her family.
“They went to Girls’ High School, classrooms filled with young women speaking foreign tongues, caught and released, caught and released each day, back when men and women were kept separately until marriage ….She left his bedside and paced a block of Old York Road, north and south, east and west, as if a cage around her kept her close.” – Philadelphia Woman, pg. 27
What Mennies does exceptionally well in these deeply personal poems – divided into five sections – is show through her curation of her family’s stories how one’s ancestors and their history remain an indelible part of us, even as we move elsewhere to build our own lives and raise our own families. Our lives may be vastly different, the religion of our birth may become faded or forgotten, but the reminders are there.
“I see them in Giant Eagle, buying the same soup and eggs as I buy; at the Squirrel Hill library,
their sons garbed as God prefers even in hot July, consoled by the tallit, trailing blessed white strings
through Forbes Avenue dirt. The women cover their heads, their skirts making dark mysteries
of their legs. All faith, they show me the fabric of inaccessible glory, the rents in my own life. My God holds
nobody responsible. He lives in the thick air over Philadelphia, likes it there, doesn’t speak to me much, if at all….” – “The Jewish Woman in America, 2010″ (pg. 9)
Yet we are connected to our ancestors through stories and ancient customs. They are always with us, as in “For Rose,” my favorite poem in this collection.
Practical. we take the names of our dead because the dead are sturdy – stern mantles of opportunity, watching as we shoulder them from windowpanes, closets. Rose – one curling r
makes hundreds of us, Rachels, Rivkas, Renates, Richards, Ronalds, this slip of a woman in a fading photograph keeps all our tongues moving. Blessed are you, lord of our passed-on,
our looking-over-us-on-high, as the dead name us consonant, as we cast aside the baby books and run curious to the headstones, hunting for names among the mausoleums and weather-worn
statues, the roses gone to pulp beside the roses freshly brought, red and resonant. – “For Rose”, pg. 24
Rachel Mennies, a resonant new voice with echoes of the past....more
I've been trying to read more poetry and I think I've been successful with including more of it in my repertoire. I usually like anthologies such as tI've been trying to read more poetry and I think I've been successful with including more of it in my repertoire. I usually like anthologies such as these because of the potential to become acquainted with new poets.
I picked this up because it had several poets whose work I have previously enjoyed (Mark Doty, Edward Hirsch, Tony Hoagland) and others who I wanted to try. Unfortunately, I failed to connect with or even understand most of these poems. Most seemed rambling and I couldn't grasp the point. It just didn't do much for me at all and was overall fairly boring.
Mark Doty is one of those writers who could write anything and I’m convinced I would love it. He’s among my very favorites.
Paragon Park includes the cMark Doty is one of those writers who could write anything and I’m convinced I would love it. He’s among my very favorites.
Paragon Park includes the complete texts of Mr. Doty’s collections Turtle, Swan and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, as well as eight of Mr. Doty’s earliest poems. In an author’s note that precedes these poems, he writes about the process of self-discovery involved in re-reading them.
“That’s one thing I liked about doing this reading, seeing what have become familiar gestures or vocal strategies emerge – suddenly there I am, becoming me. This seems mysterious – wasn’t I always myself? Yes and no. Maybe the turn of voice was there, the habit of speech or the manner of thinking, but here it is in this poem or that appearing on the page, and thus in some way concretizing a self: a manner of speaking, a means of making meaning ….I can see a style emerging in them, but also ways of thinking, rehearsals for concerns and questions that will be given a larger form later on.” (pg. 158)
Honestly, the man even seems to speak in poetry, doesn’t he? If I’m ever lucky enough to get the chance, I’m pretty certain that I could listen to Mark Doty for hours.
It makes sense that these poems are included here with Turtle, Swan (the complete text of Mark Doty’s first book of poetry, published by Godine in 1987) as well as the full collection of Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, also published by Godine, in 1991. As I’ve come to expect from Mark Doty – have I mentioned that he is probably my favorite poet and one of my very favorite writers? – these are poems that are deeply personal, reflective of a childhood, of friends and lovers and places gone too soon.
Some of my favorite images and lines, then. (I am not going to be able to go to the shore or the boardwalk again without this imagery from the poem “Paragon Park”):
“The music bounces from loudspeakers - forties swing suggesting we might see our parents , freshly stepped from a snapshot, stepping around the corner; unchanging fragrances of sea wind, junk food, and the hot gears of the ferris wheel.”
or this, from “A Row of Identical Cottages”:
“Traveling brings back every other summer by the sea; our long, familiar conversations’s all I remember …and Then …
Memory seems a kind of shoreline, the edge between sleep and the world. We’re never sure what we’ll wake to -
what form the past, which has no boundaries, has chosen for its intrusion into today, or how our random memories will match
My God, that’s gorgeous, isn’t it?
At times, Mark Doty’s verses seem to evoke Springsteen – or maybe it’s the reverse. Regardless, they both have that enviable ability to take what we think of a fun setting (“Playland”) and transform it into something fantastical, mythological and deeply spiritual.
“I’ve never seen anyone but us leave, and I believe that everyone here has been dead for years, and that they not only don’t mind but are truly happy, because here there is no need to guard themselves, no possibility of an aesthetic mistake, and no one is too old, too poor or mistaken.”
There were lines in these poems I loved and entire poems, too (“Tiara” and “A Box of Lilies”). From the latter:
“This is what I imagine it’s like, Doug: once the mailman brought me a box of lilies, by mistake – shipping error, nursery packet’s benevolent whim? - twenty-eight pale and armored hearts, spiky as artichokes. Nothing was labeled but I could guess their intentions by their heft; some were twinned, even two-fisted, and the instructions plain: Dig deeper than you need to, fertilize with a little bone, allow to remain undisturbed for years.”
With each precise, perfect word, Mark Doty’s poetry has a way of doing that – digging deep, fertilizing those memories that may have been undisturbed for years. Quite simply, he’s a master....more
Meh. Like others here, and for the same reasons, I'm not entirely sold on this collection. (And this is my first Annie Dillard book, but I plan to reaMeh. Like others here, and for the same reasons, I'm not entirely sold on this collection. (And this is my first Annie Dillard book, but I plan to read her other work. Probably not my best choice to start with.)
Some of these poems felt like they were over my head. The meaning seemed vague. Maybe those are the ones that are "just jokes," as Ms. Dillard writes in her author's introduction.)
That said, there are some memorable lines and images in these poems.
"So much is wrong, but not my hills." (from "Mornings Like This", which feels so very Pittsburgh-like.)
"Give me time enough in this place/And I will surely make a beautiful thing." ("Mornings Like This")
"Think over what you have accomplished. Was it all that you wished? Has this story been told before?" ("Junior High School English")
"I think of innumerable things; steal out/Westward at sunset, take oar, and row/In the dark or moonlight. In the evening I scribble/A little; all this mixed with reading./ I have a piano, but seldom play./ Books are becoming everything to me." ("From a Letter Home")
"To better my life - don't you think I eagerly desire it? Cannot I serve some purpose and be of any good? Do you think we too shall be at the evening of our life?" ("A Letter to Theo")
And in their entirety, the poems "The Writing Life," (Bring in an eggbeater." "Break apart stones to see if they contain fossils."); "I Am Trying to Get at Something Utterly Heartbroken," and "A Letter to Theo" are probably my favorites. The last two are based on original letters from Vincent van Gogh, letters 1873-1890, edited by I. Stone, translated by Johanna van Gogh.