Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Joannie Stangeland's Into the Rumored Spring

Into the Rumored Spring
by Joannie Stangeland
Ravenna Press, 2011
Reviewed by Janelle Elyse Kihlstrom

Joannie Stangeland's Into the Rumored Spring was dedicated to and inspired by the author's close friend, a breast cancer survivor, although I believe the fine craft and broad scope of the poems it contains will speak to almost any reader who has struggled, in matters both profound and mundane, and survived.  However, it's difficult to imagine a more authentic gift from one author to another (the friend, we learn in these pages, is also a writer) than honest, thoughtful poems like these.

They not only testify to the empathy a loyal friend can offer, but, in addition to their fine craftsmanship, they are filled with moments of unexpected beauty and flashes of unsentimental insight.

The collection opens with a poem of despair, as the protagonist is caught in the "cruel silk" of cancer's "Web of Days."

Recovery is excruciatingly slow.  In "The Hours of Waking," "... the day becomes more ordinary,/ a gauntlet..."

Stangeland writes in "A Crow Means Everything":

When the murder makes its own weather,
a wheeling dusk, that flurry
blocks what sun will show.
If there is one way to fly,
the crows will find another. 

Hope is elusive.  In "A Dream of Sound," "She breathes the sky,// listens for another story,/ the residue of last night's dream./ Wind shivers the smallest leaves."

In "More Than the Sum," there is a glimpse of acceptance:  "If a part of herself is missing,/ it is no longer a part of herself."

In "Tender, Then Bright," "What is no longer green is becoming green./ Next she will see the new leaves/ of the willowsso tender, so bright."

Interspersed throughout the collection are brief poems, each entitled "Intermezzo," in which the protagonist's husband and daughters bring home news and mementos from her old life and from the outside world she has been shut in from during long weeks and months of illness.  Her adolescent daughters are often described as "blooming."

Other poems describe dreams of returning to Venice, a rower's paradise, filled with stirring, almost taunting descriptions of the city's sensual delights.  The protagonist is an avid rower.

In the collection's final poem, set in Spring, she is finally ready to go back on the water:

The hull skims across the lake.
The sun is in her hair.

Leaves emerge, soft as moths,
shiver in the wind.

Spring streams around her.
She is blooming.

A moving labor of love, a wonderful tribute, these poems provide a window into the slow, day-by-day struggle against an insidious disease by refusing to shirk its starker aspects and by offering hope without platitudes.

In "When It Is Blue," Stangeland writes:

Her new body, built now for water
sleek, streamlined

a seal or a porpoise
(think of dolphins around the bow

as a schooner races along the coast
and the sails are full.) 

*Note from the author:  The author friend for whom the poems were written is doing well and approaching her five-year mark.  All author proceeds will be donated to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.