Review by Barbara Crooker (email)

by Rosemary Winslow

The Word Works, PO Box 42164, Washington, DC 20015;
ISBN 13: 978-0-915380-67-1; 86 pp; $10

In this, her first full-length collection, Rosemary Winslow weaves a web of both darkness and light, terror and joy, violence and loss, trauma and redemption, using filaments that are delicate, yet have enormous tensile strength. She writes about growing up in a painfully difficult family, giving us lessons on how to love the unlovable in poem after poem that express "the terrible complexity of love." (Baron Wormser) Lyric and meditative, these poems bear witness to an almost unbearable family history, in a small quiet voice that never preaches, but speaks of love and forgiveness of that which is truly unforgivable.
In the structure of the book, the poems are arranged both thematically and chromatically. Section I sets up some of the themes: pain and loss ("I want a quieter song than I've had in my life." ("Palomino")); a brother's death from cancer at fifteen ("What is it to lose a life you never // had time to live?" ("Walking Quaker Whiteface Road I Meet My Brother")); the passing of a difficult father ("I think / he died early on purpose, knowing I was coming, / him whom I feared for most of my life. . . . he let go so he wouldn't have to meet me face to face" ("Driving: Night Along the Susquehanna")). They're limned in monochrome, numinous shades of white: "light gold morning light" ("Palomino"); "strange luminous fog," "the thickening white" ("Walking Quaker Whiteface Road I Meet My Brother"), "bone opened white to daylight" ("To a Fish"), "blossoms of thick cream," ("Linden"), "gull’s white underside" and "snow beyond eyesight" ("Out"), and "white eyelash" of the moon, ("Listening, Late September"). The lineation is standard free verse in 3, 4, or 6 line stanzas, with shorter ones set up in one stanza blocks.
This changes dramatically in Section II, where most of the poems of violence and abuse are found. Lines are chopped and broken, running down the page, running away:

                                                                                        And far far
away mother                         across across across across

     small shoes         shiny black gripped in her hand

The shattered lines echo the shattering experience, and the lack of punctuation adds to the chaos and frenzy of this aptly named poem. The other poems in this section follow the same pattern, or lack thereof, ending with the pivotal "Four Five Six. . . ."These are dark poems, dealing with themes of a terrifying father ("an angry log sunk on the davenport,")(" Linden"), a remote mother ("I never saw him kiss her," "her eyes up close were large, they had / a sadness deeper than I could fathom then" ("Mother, Then and Now")), and sexual molestation by the grandfather ("Sheep" and "Carnal"). Robert Frost wrote how "we shall be known by the delicacy of where we stop short," and Winslow exemplifies this with lines like these, after her mother's father-in law (ie her grandfather) tried to rape her:

                          and other
things happened to her
and some to me
and some the same, it seems
        ("Mother, Then and Now")

Color does not play a significant part here, except for a hint of green in "Apples," foreshadowing what will come in Section III.
Which is that green, the color of hope and forgiveness, breaks out all over the poems: "the green dress" in "After The Seven Acts of Mercy," the "green refuge" in "Naming the Trees" and the cedar in the same poem that "cheers me up [,] all that green towering life."

There is the green that "melted and spread / over me" in "The Day" and the hummingbirds whose "green bodies" are "two shimmering leaves / soft fire" ("Transport").
Hope is always quietly present:

where we walk every day and do not notice
the rich the poor the quiet lake
the goldfinch the grass, afraid to walk in splendor.
. . . .
for we are not done, we darkly, hardly
able to come where no love is
and love's force insistent--soft        here        now--
where all around us furious joy is gathering the kingdoms.
        ("After The Seven Acts of Mercy")

And so is forgiveness, as in this poem about her father, "Naming the Trees":

My father knew the names of all the trees
. . . .
. . .         showed me how to read
by bark and leaf what was apple
what oak cherry black walnut
. . . .
When I was older I learned he was wrong. . . .
maybe he got it wrong from his father
and so on. . . it was like that at home
you could never tell what was true.
. . . .
It was never clear why this was loved
and that was not--I'm glad I'm here
where names don't have a personal past
trees are just trees a bit of nature.
. . . .
I think about him how his life was
how he stays in me loving the earth
how what he did was done in pain.

The title of the cover art is "Prayer Web II," done by the poet's husband, John Winslow, and it could not be more fitting. An abstract steely web forms a grid over a collage of bodies, some bent, perhaps by pain or grief, some dancing, in strength or joy. The background is an appropriate forest green. Winslow's book draws our attention to both the strength and fragility of connections, Frost's "countless silken ties of love and thought" that bind us not just to our own family, but to the family of humankind. Despite the weight of sorrow, the darkness of violence, Winslow tells us that there is a "web of perpetual light / holding us so gently we don't even know,"("Palomino") and she does this through these remarkable poems whose quiet beauty will haunt us long after we put the book down.


Barbara Crooker's book, Radiance, won the 2005 Word Press First Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. Line Dance is forthcoming from Word in early 2008. Her poems appear in a variety of literary journals and many anthologies, including Good Poems for Hard Times (Garrison Keillor, editor)(Viking Penguin). She has won a number of awards, including the WB Yeats Society of NY Prize (Grace Schulman, judge), the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Prize (Stanley Kunitz, judge), and the Rosebud Ekphrastic Poetry Award.


Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.