Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weaving a New Eden, review

One doesn’t need to know Sherry Chandler, or her motive for writing Weaving a New Eden, a collection of  her poems published by Wind Publications. One simply needs to read and linger in the richness of its fresh furrows. It is a bounty of craft and style, which will catch the attention of many, but for me the harvest is in the content. I personally believe content always trumps craft. I am a history buff and whether presented to me as fact—actual, romanticized or creative—or fiction, I dig in. In her book Chandler has given me the whole lot of what I look for, plus the bonus of the subject matter being based in the mountains, valleys and hollows of the region where I was born and spent some of my happiest years.  

This is a book that is perhaps as appropriately titled as any. The poet has woven past with present, personal with historic, research with imagination and who she is with many of her womenfolk before her. Page after page, the weaving continues, either through direct statement or sentiment. It is also a book of lost and found, and moving on after each. Unlike most books written about loss, whether parent, spouse, child or friend, Chandler doesn’t start at the beginning and work to the last breath, she gives us the event at the start in “Elegy Sung by a Daughter”  and it is neither maudlin nor rambling:

Anna Katherine Toole is dead,
Lillian Glass too.
Each week a few
more elders die

who lived the life my mother lived.
The dogwood blooms
again. Mother takes
the sun and laughs.

I lie making spoons with you, feel
your breath against
my neck. The blood
runs hot. Hold me.

Readers quickly discover that the blood does indeed run hot. One can almost imagine that Chandler walked across the room, from the bed of her just-lost mother, to a sturdy rocker, where she sat and began to recount tales of  generations of family women (back to the late 1700s), as though ancestral fire was boiling within her. Even though these family poems are information-packed, Chandler does not bore us with ancestral trivia and she deftly sprinkles humor, as in “Namesake”:

I was named for the sake of my mother’s mother, Reenie
Florence, though I’d have called her less a flower,
more a hedge, . . ./

Or in “Granmaw Keith Speaks of Marriage to Her Great-Granddaugher”:

         Child, you look at that old photograph
         your mother keeps in a box and see
         a lumpy fat hag in a handsewn dress.
         I did not have my beauty in a time of snapshots.

Rather than feeling like I had to plod through the first half of another book of personal, baby boomer cathartic recall, I actually looked forward to the next page and the journey of the family. Among the many pieces that make the journey genuine is “Mamaw Reenie Takes Pen in Hand, Sends Postcards to the Future” a collection of 12 cards from her grandmother’s 1957 bus trip to California.  Chandler pens a found poem, leaving the original spelling and grammar intact:

         Card 12: Cactus Leaves Can Never Replace the Good Ol’ Corncob

         then we Changed at Cincinnati 745 in the Evening
         it was 9 Oclock when I got to our lane
         and I had to walk all the way down the lane                                          
         and Cary my Suit Cases.
         it was on Thursday, October 17, at 930
         when I got Home after 4 days and Night Hard traveling
         But it was good to get Back to my Old Ky Home./
In my mind, that last line sums up the family’s feelings, generations all.

The remaining half, “The Frontier,” offers us a parallel world—timewise—primarily featuring Rebecca Boone, but giving country-sized helpings of others in the Boone clan. Chandler continues her weaving with  strands of fact and good lengths of creative yarn. I believe she is able to add more color in this section because the burden of being as faithfully accurate as possible loomed with the family pieces.

We get a mini-history lesson in the rugged travels and settlings of the Boones. The death of children, the faults of well-intentioned men and the constant danger from everything life and place has to offer. There is an early taste of the hardships in “Why I Don’t Write Lyrics about the Frontier”: 
         It is written that Boone went back
         to find James, that boy, his firstborn,/

And as if it were not enough to locate what appeared to be the remains of his first son, the poem continues:

         It is written that Boone went back
         to find Israel, that boy, his second born,/

But, the reader discovers, in this lengthy and somber piece that, while men provided the color, women provided the background for the tapestry of discovery and settlement:

         But what of Rebecca, who had
         no writing, who formed those boys
         from her own flesh, pushed
         them out in the water and the blood,/

And the background had power:

         Rebecca was never to see
         that mountain grave,                                                        
         that carrion-strewn battlefield,
         she who would have known
         the crook of Israel’s finger,
         the droop of James’s left eyelid.

And what collection would be complete without a cat? Chandler delights and conjures in “Rebecca Boone’s Cat, Boonesborough, 1778”:

I could claim to be the first tabby
to stand on the banks of the Kentucky River
but there’s not much glory in it.
Still I had my moment in the spotlight.

There are so many passages and lines in this book that can claim a moment in the spotlight. I have selected a few that strike me as special. And it would be unfair to copy and paste the entire book! Other readers will find fine handiwork on different pages, but one thing is for certain, there is something for everyone woven here. I found one weakness, one that is not common in books of poetry—the journey ended too soon.