I follow Ingrid Wilson’s Experiments in Fiction, and I looked forward to reading her book of poetry, 40 Poems at 40. I was not disappointed. Her “voyage of self-discovery,” is personal, but there is a universal appeal. Many readers will be able to relate to her first poem in the collection, “Unexpected Things” (A Villanelle), and the hope it conveys.
“Life is full of unexpected things: the clouds part to reveal a golden sky as I breathe in the hope each new day brings.”
In “One Poem at A Time,” Wilson explains,
“this is not a polemical poem.
I’ve changed my life, one poem at a time”
She goes on to write how poetry has healed her, “restoring inner light and harmony.” Her evocative poetry is written in several forms—I particularly liked the Cadralor. In her poems, Wilson travels through time and space—and takes readers with her to and from England, to the sea, to Venice, and elsewhere, sharing moments of love, joy, understanding, and grief.
Wilson has launched her own publishing business, Experiments in Fiction. Recently she published the highly rated Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women, an anthology edited by Gabriela Marie Milton.
@TopTweetTuesday is doing a lovely thing today–sharing poetry book reviews. If you’re on Twitter, check it out.
Overdue Book Review #2: Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl by Marian Longenecker Beaman
Readers of my blog will recognize the name Marian Beaman from the comments. She comments on nearly every post I write, and she was one of my first followers. Full disclosure—we have met in person back in the before time when people actually did meet in person.
She was working on her memoir at that time. I think I remember a discussion about the red shoes then. You can see the shoes in the delightful cover photo. Indeed, the book is beautiful, and it is filled with lovely family photos, as well as illustrations created by Marian’s husband, Cliff Beaman.
Mennonite Daughter is a memoir that covers the early years of Marian’s life up to her marriage to Cliff. It covers the conflict she had with living within the restrictions of her Mennonite life, while also loving many aspects of it.
“Even after the strict dress code fell away, the strong pillars of faith and family have defined my core values. . .In my heart, I will always be a Mennonite.”
The book explores her troubled relationship with her father–who never told her he loved her–as well as the connections she had to her “two mothers,” both named Ruth. One was her biological mother, a farm wife and mother; the other was her Aunt Ruth, who remained single. Aunt Ruth was a Marian’s mentor and her literal teacher at the two-room schoolhouse that Marian attended.
Mennonite Daughter is set mainly in Lancaster County, PA, from about 1940 to the 1960s. Readers learn about farming, as well as what it meant to be a young Mennonite woman during that time. This included the proper plain clothing, as well as living according to the tenets of faith. To wear jewelry, make-up, and certainly red shoes, was part of the “fancy” world. We meet Marian’s beloved grandmother, her sisters and brother, and her relatives. We see Marian chafing under restrictions, and we feel for her as she waits in hope for her parents to acknowledge her hard work in high school after she graduated with honors. The book also includes maps, notes, and recipes.
This memoir is heartfelt. It is a book based on love—of family, of community, of learning, and of faith.
Elizabeth Gauffeau’s Grief Songs is a short book that leaves a long, lingering presence. The book is a collection of personal photographs paired with mostly tanka poems. (A tanka is a 5-line poem typically written as syllabic lines of 5-7-5-7-7). This means that each poem is a sharp distillation of a moment, an event, or even the history of a relationship between parents, between her and her parents, or between her and her brother.
Because the poems are brief, the book can be read very quickly. However, a reader who lingers over words and photos will be rewarded. The poems and the feelings behind them grow with repeated readings. I must say that sometimes I was left wondering what happened. This is not a criticism of the poems, but rather, my own curiosity about people. “Youth Group Picnic,” for example, gives us a glimpse of the day—two children waiting in the car, giggling and honking the horn. Liz fills in the rest of the story here on her blog.
“For a Crooked Smile,” however, needs no additional context.
“He was my little brother.”
That poem brought me to tears (as did several others):
Grief Song III
I held her hand as she lay dying death rattle in my throat.
This is a book of poetry that is highly accessible, but with poems that resonate. It is a memoir in bite-size pieces. Each poem is a snapshot, a memory experienced in the way we are all hit by a sudden remembrance of a time, a place, or a person.
In “Sixty Years of Katherine,” Liz writes:
“minutes tucked into envelopes decades left in dresser drawers”
These lines feel both personal and universal. Those of us who have helped a parent move or who have cleared a home after they’ve passed, understand the complex emotions behind these beautiful, succinct phrases.
Elizabeth Gauffreau is wonderfully supportive friend of other writers. I follow her blog and follow her on social media, and you may want to, as well. But– this review is unsolicited. I did not tell her I was writing or posting it. She may respond to comments here though.
Congratulations, Liz, on this lovely, poignant book!
From her website: Elizabeth Gauffreau writes fiction and poetry with a strong connection to family and place. She holds a BA in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an MA in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. Her fiction publications include short stories in Woven Tale Press, The Long Story, Soundings East, Ad Hoc Monadnock, Rio Grande Review, Blueline, Slow Trains, Hospital Drive, and Serving House Journal, among others. Her poetry has appeared in North of Oxford, The Writing On The Wall, The Larcom Review, and Natural Bridge. Her debut novel Telling Sonny was published by Adelaide Books, New York in 2018.
This set offers readers a comprehensive and well-documented study of the American Revolution and the people who experienced the conflict. . . The well-written entries are organized alphabetically, and each entry on a specific subject contains a historical overview and concludes with a bibliography for further reading. . .A great deal of research, sensitivity to people and subject matter, and thought went into compiling this encyclopedia. It not only offers a broad understanding of daily life in the time period but it also discusses women and the diverse populations in North America, including Native Americans and African Americans. This set is a valuable addition to any library, and it offers readers an important historical understanding of the everyday lives of people who lived before, during, and after the American Revolution.
— Harrison Wick, Booklist, December 15, 2015
Nice birthday present for me! I think your local library, school, and historical society probably need a copy of this. Maybe two. 😉
Forgive me for sharing another review of Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast (along with the companion volume, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis). I value the reviews from academics so much, and I’m happy to see it has received great reviews from scholars. I hope they continue. But I’m thrilled to see this book also receive mass-market attention, as in really mass market, as in Playboy. I write academic history books and reference books; my books are typically reviewed in academic journals and more specialized sites. So I’m going to take my few moments of almost-fame and share this review with you.
“Readers of this magazine may be forgiven for thinking they know a thing or two about body parts. But with two new volumes, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast and its companion, Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis, publisher Rowman & Littlefield shows there’s always more to discover. From the ‘divorce corset’ (an early-1800s device to lift and separate) to ‘magical penis theft’ (the superstition that a man could lose his member to witchcraft), we’re not ashamed to admit we learned quite a bit. . .”
–Cat Auer, Playboy
The Playboy article has a chart with some fun facts from the books, if you want to learn more. Or better yet, buy the books! (Wouldn’t they make fun coffee table books?) I just noticed Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast is available on Kindle–so you can take it everywhere.
Thanks for reading!