Review by Dori Appel
by Barbara Crooker
812 Westwood Avenue
Chattanooga, TN 37405,
2010, 68 pp., $14.95
As a fan of Barbara Crooker’s two previous collections, Radiance and Line Dance, I approached her newest, More, with an enthusiast’s high expectations. In this latest volume I found everything I’d hoped for: keen observation, generosity of spirit, supple wit— and more!
The title is a perfect choice, and while Crooker speaks often about desire, longing, and the wish to make things last, her bracing appetite bears no relation to greed. A celebrant of food (olive oil, salt, all five flavors of chocolate), she also pays enthusiastic tribute to the miracle of a new day: “dawn turned up its dimmer/ set the net of dew on the lawn to shining” (“Narrative”), and her fellow celebrants : “every dog within fifty miles is off-leash, running/ for the sheer, dopey joy of it” (“Strewn”). “Excuses, Excuses” includes this tender and memorable tribute to her husband of thirty years: “I would choose you again if I met/you at a party, even if I could see/the future, the damaged child/ the bodies that creak and sag.”
Walking on the beach, Crooker’s “Surfer Girl” leads us with easy humor from a description of herself “on the far side of sixty, athletic as a sofa” to her youthful alter-ego “lithe and long-limbed, tanned California bronze,/ short tousled hair full of sunshine.” Longing and whimsy merge as she feels the wind at her back and imagines the bliss of catching the perfect wave, “choosing my line like I choose these words, writing my name/ on water, writing my name on air.”
Here, as in many other poems, touring the natural world in her company is an invigorating experience. In the collection’s opening selection: “A thin comma moon rises orange. a skinny slice of melon,/ so delicious I could drown in its sweetness. Or eat the whole/ thing, down to the rind” (“How the Trees on Summer Nights Turn into a Dark River”). A variety of small birds flit among the pages, autumn’s late bare branches are saluted after “the burning bush has given up, slipped out/ of its scarlet dress” (“The Mother Suite”), and a stone “that lies there, inert, nothing but itself” ultimately gives voice to its “one long song. Something about eternity. Something about the sea” (“Geology”).
The ekphrastic poems of the book’s third section take a number of striking turns. I particularly liked the dismissal of critics who “fail to see the forest/ for the brushstrokes, the celestial city in the centrifugal clouds” (“Late Turners”). Crooker is clearly an ardent appreciator of clouds: rolling, expanding, changing their colors and shapes, being pulled apart like taffy, and in one poem’s moving conclusion, bleaching themselves pure white—with a poignantly darker lining: “White,/ the memory of itself, what you see before/you fall into bed at night, into the arms of sleep./ or the long tunnel you swim through/on that last journey home (“White”).
In the beautifully harrowing journey of “Demeter,” the poem’s movement is in an opposite direction, from darkness to light: “It was November when my middle daughter/ descended to the underworld. She fell/off her horse straight into Coma’s arms./ He dragged her down, wrapped her in a sleep/so deep I thought I would never see her again.” Eventually, the daughter rises from her coma, heals, and resumes her life. For her parents, however, seen in a snapshot, “drinking coffee and smiling,” there will always be the hovering awareness of possible, irreplaceable loss.
More is the work of a poet who understands the paradox of fulfillment within impermanence—reading these poems feels like a wake-up call to notice. The penultimate selection, “Strewn,” closes with lines that capture the collection’s essence and Crooker’s readiness to meet life’s exhilarating, sometimes painful, embrace: “All of us broken, some way/ or other. All of us dazzling in the brilliant, slanting light.”
Dori Appel’s collection of poems, Another Rude Awakening is published by Cherry Grove Collections. Her poems have also appeared in many journals, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and Calyx, as well as in a number of anthologies, including When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple (Papier Mache Press) and From Here We Speak (Oregon State University Press). A playwright as well as a poet, her plays have been widely produced in the United States and internationally. Three of her full-length plays are published by Samuel French and a number of her monologues are included in anthologies. She was the winner of the Oregon Book Award in Drama in 1998, 1999, and 2001.