Review by Mary Harwell Sayler
by Sharon Bryan
250 North Goodman Street
Rochester, New York 14607
2009, 102 pp., $16.00
Sharp wit, infinite energy, delightful word plays, and luminous insights shine in Sharp Stars by Sharon Bryan. Not surprisingly, the book opens with a big bang in the “Big Band Theory” where “It all began with music,/ with that much desire to be/ in motion” and the “pulsing you feel before you hear it.” In this creative account of creation, “The darkness couldn’t keep still,” and so “it began to sway.”
Music, humor, and biblical references dance into the next poem, “Saying Things,” where “Adam was born/ blind” but “he could hear/ burbles, drips, trickles” and a voice in his head saying, “Open your mouth,/ let the words fly out.” And it was so. The good-humored poem leans slightly toward slapstick when the newly devised woman of the house sets an apple pie on the window sill. Yet the fun evolves a solemn side, too, as Adam struggles with not knowing, naming, and lying in the dark where his earliest memories of sightlessness return, bringing readers serious insight into the comfort we often feel in the presence of nostalgia.
Another poem, “Bicycle,” also offers serious brilliance in using music “where we all start,/ with a hum rising up/ through our bodies.” The lines continue, considering aphasic patients “who hear but don’t/ understand what’s said” and asking us to “see what happens if/ we set the words to music./” Then a simple melody like “Bicycle Built For Two” apparently can provide a means of communicating those everyday instructions needed for some semblance of normalcy.
With musical connotations and starlit moments, the poems often express the thoughts and feelings most readers have in common. This not only provides that prized connection between poems and readers but reminds us of the importance of humor in dealing with those annoying moments we all eventually experience. For instance, in “Barking Dog,” the poet/ speaker resolves, “After an hour of trying to write/ over the high-pitched yap coming/ from a neighbor’s yard, I decide/ to let the dog into the poem.” That decision pales, however, when “he goes on making the noise/ I came in here – into the poem –/ to get away from, the mindless/ whine of everything that has no/ words or music for its pain.”
Ouch! Those of us who write poetry know the push-pull of that pain until we find words to express the emotional episodes or exhausting events or physical pain we encounter. Sometimes we have the grace to work things out with prayer and humor, and, if we’re like Sharon Bryan, the clarity and insight to know “sorrow rises as if you/ were the well.” That poem, “Welling,” also returns us to the hum of music and the silvery stars as does “Sawdust” where “the air is full/ of small sharp stars/ pinwheeling through every living thing/ that gets in their way.” This might sound ominous were it not for the overall content and uplifting context of the book.
I kept looking, however, for something more to the title than the phrase in “Sawdust,” and “At Last” added an image where, without stars, we’d be “in our black box, no reason/ to stay, no place to go,” which brought my aha moment. Suddenly the black box and the musical references and the sharp stars collided into one of those old-fashioned music boxes I used to take apart. Inside, a thin cylinder or a shiny sheet of metal could be found, pierced with holes that made the music and, yes, looked like stars. Whether Sharon Bryan intended that connection, I don’t know, but regardless, I connected well with her fourth book of poetry and will be wishing on a star for her fifth.
Mary Harwell Sayler is a freelance writer and poet who began doing poetry reviews as a means of supporting her habit of buying books and books of poetry. When she’s not writing, she critiques poems and other manuscripts through her professional critiquing service or tweaks articles on her ecumenical website www.www.poetryofcourse.com. She also judges the poetry entered each year in the writing contests sponsored by www.writers-editors.com.