Review of The Smooth Yarrow from The Montreal Review of Books

Today’s Music

Review by Bert Almon   •  Published in the Spring 2013 issue
The Smooth Yarrow, by Susan Glickman

Susan Glickman’s book, The Smooth Yarrow, shows a chilling awareness of mortality through the accumulation of injuries like broken bones and the loss of teeth. Not old yet, she is close enough to celebrate elderly women “who use their best china every day / and jump the queue at the grocery store because they have so little in their baskets / and no time to waste.” Even her garden poems mix exquisite celebrations of new life with knowledge of the transience of beauty. The first section of her work is called “Homeopathic Principles.” Whatever the truth of homeopathy as a medical practice might be, the philosophy of treating an illness with drugs that induce its symptoms is – suggestive. A poem can build up our resistance by administering mild doses of the very toxins that we suffer from in living: sickness, age, grief. The loss of a loved one is the greatest toxin of all, and Glickman’s elegy  for her father, “Breath,” offers not consolation but a powerful recreation of his passing, with the breath of the dying man as the focal point for a family unsure how to react. Emily Dickinson’s great poem, “IheardaFlybuzz–whenI died” comes to mind, but the confusion in Glickman’s poem is in the watchers, not the person dying. “We hesitated, no longer sure what to pray for.” Uncertainty is the paradoxical remedy here, evidence of how deeply the family cares. The poem that deals explicitly with homeopathy as a metaphor is “Homeopathic Remedies for Scar Tissue.” Glickman knows that life is a series of scarring experiences. One remedy is to smear sandalwood paste on the injury. It will attract bees, from which we may learn how to dance in the sun and how to fight back, though a bee’s self-defence is fatal. But life is fatal, after all. In one of her excellent garden poems she celebrates the compacted hearts of rosehips (analogues for the mature poet), and calls them “Late bloomers: late / as in late Brahms. Not tardy / but ripe.” The analogy with the great autumnal works of Brahms is a good one and also fits Glickman’s own wise and elegant work.

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