Liz Abrams-Morley reviews


More by Barbara Crooker.  C&R Press , 2010.  68 pp.

Ordinary granite stones, Barbara Crooker tells her readers in the poem "We are Living in Magritte Weather," "neither yearn / for more nor envy their neighbors . . . .  If you lie on the ground in moonlight, /" she promises, "they will whisper what you need to save your life."  A fan of Crooker's earlier work, I read through More, her third collection, pen in hand, knowing I would encounter images and phrases I would want to underline, to grab and retain.   I found myself highlighting line after sumptuous line of praise, of longing, of simple noticing and celebrating the colors, textures, tastes, moments of this world. When I closed the book, I knew these poems, too, whispered, crooned, and sometimes sang rollicking ditties to what we all need to save our own lives.


Human beings, Crooker reminds us in poem after poem, are creatures who want.  And what we want, "is not found / at K-Mart naked in the blue light."  ("What You Want").   These are poems walk with humble awareness and deeply spiritual awe through the natural world finding "a small flash of happiness in . . . a scrabble of bayberry, goldenrod, pearly everlasting and milkweed. . . .  Anchor me to this world, God of sand," ("The Winter Sea") Crooker pleads. 


She opens the heart-wrenching, lovely but far from sentimental "Mother Suite," a series of five intimately lyric poems which focus on the failing health and eventual death of her mother, with a burning bush which has "slipped out of its scarlet dress, stripped down / to twig and limb/ bare bones, the architecture of itself."  We, as readers, see this bush, and see, too, the mother who is becoming her own pure architecture.  Offered this simple image, we are led to feel the longing of the daughter who brings a lemon tart and "remembers life is bitter / remembers life is sweet." 


The poems in More give voice, over and over, to the need to hold the bitter with the sweet, to know this paradox.  They know that impermanence is a fact of our world, loss inevitable, and they ache still to praise, celebrate, sometimes even laugh over or lust for sensual pleasures, for more of whatever fills and pleases.   In "Demeter," a mother sits in vigil by her comatose daughter's bedside believing she "would never see her again" and knows that the child's awakening is a "slippery rebirth."  The companion poem, "Snapshot," describes the parents in the aftermath of the awakening, "drinking coffee and smiling" but knowing "nothing / was ever the same.  The ground / had shifted.  They knew / that loss was waiting, only / around the corner."  What to do with the awareness of impermanence but bring one's dying mother a tarte au citron?  It is "the sun / in a crinkled crust. / Each of us," failing mother and daughter who will grieve her, Crooker tells us "will have a wedge, / bitter and sweet at the same time, that melts on the tongue, / snow on the lawn ("The Mother Suite").


Like Pablo Neruda before her, Crooker pays homage to even the simplest pleasures of the eye and the palette, singing an "Ode to Chocolate," noting her luck while walking along a beach in Maine where "Every dog within fifty miles is off leash, running / for the sheer dopey joy of it" ("Strewn").


Crooker is a poet who faces the darkness and opts for affirmation.  When I closed my already well-worn copy of More, I knew that I would, like Barbara Crooker, choose to say "yes to everything, yes to the green hills / rolling out ahead / . . . yes to the clouds blooming like peonies in the sky's / blue meadow . . . yes" ("Yes") even to the wisdom with which she leaves us in "Strewn," the penultimate poem in  the collection, when she reminds us that we are, "All of us, broken, some way / or other.  All of us dazzling in the brilliant, slanting light."

Liz Abrams-Morley's second full-length collection of poetry, Necessary Turns
, was published in 2010 by Word Press/Word Tech Communications and was a winner of a Hoffer Prize in Poetry the same year. She is the author as well of Learning to Calculate the Half Life (Zinka Press, 2001) and two chapbooks.  Her individual poems and short stories have appeared in a wide variety of nationally distributed anthologies and journals (including Innisfree) and have been read on NPR.  Co-founder/director of Around the Block Writers' Collaborative (, she teaches on the MFA in Writing faculty of Rosemont College.



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