Sienna's Reviews > Graft

Graft by Helen Heath
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, poetry

Attending the launch of Graft here in Wellington has surely been one of May's highlights for me. Is there anything better than finding oneself in a crowded bookstore surrounded by joyful, expectant people, a glass of wine in one hand and a volume of poetry in the other? At base writing may be a solitary act, but those words are made possible by — and meant to be shared with — community, a community that grows as time and books pass from one person to the next. It would be impossible not to feel the love in a room full of family, friends, artists, booksellers, publishers and readers, especially when you can see the impact of that audience on the author's face, and hear it in her voice.

There's a lot of history in this collection, science merging with myth, art and artistry, life and death. It's dense, thoughtful, perfectly complemented by Billie Stewart's painstakingly crafted textile cover art, which depicts a colorful, stitched Día de los Muertos-style skull bookended by a pair of hearts embedded with arrows as a reminder that what we love we lose, sooner or later. The lidless blue eye below gazes unflinchingly at this inevitable pain alongside Marie and Pierre Curie, pensive and angular. There are poems about heritage and home, the Ithaca to which we long to return by (of course) the most circuitous route possible; there are Greek words that remind me how much the language has changed — and how little; there are hymns to the children who transform everything and make motherhood meaningful; there is a love poem so stark and true it'll force tears from your eyes.

Heath pursues twisted fairy tales with humor and pathos and evokes great minds long since slipped into silence, treating Curie and Newton and Tinsley and Franklin and Brewster and Galilei with respect and honesty. These poems are a delight; they make me want to expand my history of science readings beyond the realm of alchemy, if only time would cooperate.

And they were all trumped by the sequence about her mother, which may explain why I had to read them all again last Sunday, celebrating Mother's Day thousands of miles from my own; her mother, my maternal grandmother, had died unexpectedly from a subarachnoid hemorrhage five years earlier, slipping into a coma from which she never woke, so there was no goodbye, no chance for any of those unasked questions, just a lot of distance. And, yet, as solitary as these times feel, we all share them. Poetry is the act of putting presence and absence and memory and perception into words, at once allusive and self-referential, so much happening in grey matter rather than blue and green and brown, but it's also the understanding that follows. I hope Helen won't mind if I include one of my favorites (the other is "Elegy") here to show just how powerful language can be:


At first she was just distant.
Then the distance
increased until we realised
she had left us.
But then, as time passed
we began to wonder
if we had, in fact, left her.
Perhaps she was waiting for us
on the island.
Perhaps we just needed to find
our way to her —
make our journey through perils
to find her weaving
not her shroud
but her wedding gown,
waiting for us.

In summary: buy it, read it, share it. You won't regret it.

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Reading Progress

April 11, 2012 – Shelved
Started Reading
May 13, 2012 – Finished Reading
May 15, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
January 10, 2013 – Shelved as: poetry

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