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More Perihelion:

Issue 6: No More Tears

Issue 5: Phoenix

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews

Need to Know



A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Mary Moore

Kate Benedict

James Walton Fox

Jane Blue

Tom Goff

Kate Lutzner

Heather Burns

Maria Melendez

Karen Alkalay-Gut

Laverne Frith

Laura Ann Walton

Roger Pfingston

Scott Odom

A Patient Clarity

Snow Effects: Poems on Impressionists in Winter
by Lynne Knight 

28 pages. Small Poetry Press

by Barbara J. McGrath

The subjects of the poems in Lynne Knight’s Snow Effects are fifteen Impressionist paintings depicting scenes from "some of the most severe winters France has ever known." Knight brilliantly merges the worlds of painters and poet as she takes readers on a journey through winter, light, longing, love, and grief. These poems are like snow flakes falling slowly to earth; the telling of each is unhurried and deliberate, allowing a story to emerge.

Knight, as omniscient poet, has a gift for entering these moments fully and offers up with great care the intimate details of the subjects of each story. At the same time, the sweep of the poet’s brush is wide. For every participant in this drama of pervasive winter painters, poet, human subjects in the paintings, light, snow, reader becomes a character in a larger, more inclusive painting about typical human situations.

Setting context for the poems in "Body That I Bring to You in Winter," the poet considers the effect of winter on the painters:

    There was more snow than usual
    those winters, as if Nature had contrived
    to complicate things for the painters,
    confuse their eyes while they tried
    to paint light becoming light.

To know this, the poet must be adept at changing perspective as she "move[s] in closer / until I can smell / the oils, feel how the body loses heat."

Her ability to render detail exquisitely at the same time that she reveals each poem’s larger significance is apparent in "The Snow Bride," in which Mme Lafitte "hurries / along the lane for butter" so that she may make "pain du beurre, to woo / M Lafitte back to her." The poet reveals further her character’s thoughts: "there’s no / other woman, just the general gloom / of winter, cast upon the passing into age," lines that could be merely the caption for one particular painting; yet they have greater significance, for example, in adroitly calling up the literal presence of winter as well as the metaphorical comparison of winter to old age, as Nature again becomes a determining voice in human affairs.

People, objects, and weather merge in a rare first-person poem, "Body Bent on More." The persona, 'walking down a snowy road past pines / so heaped with snow they bend like old women,' worries about her lover’s assessment of her, for he has told her, "You’re too thin. / All winter in his voice" and "Stop holding all that grief in your spine." In reply the speaker says, "as if it were a rope I might let down" and "I could have sworn there was snow / . . . piling on / my spine, bending me over my future." Here concrete detail and abstraction merge as snow becomes a metaphor for grief, while the body, weighted down by grief and snow, bears down on its future self. Rarely does a poet capture such a constellation of meaning in a few apparently simple lines.

Knight is not afraid to journey deep into a painting to render her stories. For example, in "Body in a Dream of Arms," one of the most poignant poems in the book, the poet enters painting, then story, then dream. The poet voices the thoughts of a man caught in endless winter:

    She has been dead

    three years now, first the child, then her,
    wrenched from him by wild fever. For weeks
    they lay in their plain boxes out behind the barn
    while he waited for the ground to thaw. Even after
    they were buried, he dreamed they were

    rooting and flowering.

A lesser poet might pull back from such details. However, Knight takes the reader with her into the most difficult of moments and offers them up in all their raw beauty.

Throughout the book are constant reminders of just how pervasive winter and its effects are. In one of the final poems, "Bodies in a Ghostly Reach," two figures in a horse-drawn cart "let themselves fall / into the ride like sleepers into dreaming." And, although the snow already is deep, "It will snow . . . so long / the empty road, blue stream, even / the vanished trees will cover over," implying that perhaps winter never will end.

However, from the poet’s perspective, the most severe of winters will not destroy the human spirit. In the final poem in the book, "Body as a River Passing into Shadow," the speaker beckons to the reader, saying with hopefulness:

             stand beside me at this painting
    for a while. Look how the trees reach down
    into shadow, then become themselves again.
    Let whatever cold that comes between us
    sink beyond our reach the way loss
    sinks from us while we go on, holding all
    there is to hold as time moves through us.

Individually, these spellbinding poems hold their own. As companion pieces for the paintings, and as tributes to the painters, their subjects, and survivors of winter everywhere, they illuminate with patient clarity. Snow Effects is a book to be read over and over, for each reading offers up greater gifts.

Barbara J. McGrath's award winning poems and reviews have appeared in numerous journals. Recently, she was the winner of Oneiros Press' first broadside contest, judged by Albert Goldbarth. Last year she completed her doctorate in English at Illinois State University. Currently, she teaches college-level writing courses and is at work on a full-length poetry manuscript.


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