Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Barbara Crooker – Gold: Poems [Feature Review]

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”1620329409″ cloaking=”default” height=”160″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Rz6NHJrwL._SL160_.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”107″]Page 2: Barbara Crooker – Gold: Poems

Part Three departs somewhat from the trajectory of this specific death and its aftermath, diving instead into childhood memories and poems that praise the ageing the beloved and the endurance of longtime love. But the section does open with Crooker’s strongest poem concerning loss, where writing in the dark with sparklers on July Fourth concludes with a subtle act of entwined mourning and celebration:


And though my mother’s
name has been erased now, I write it, too:
a big swooping I, a little hissing s, an a that sighs
like her last breath, and then I ring
belle, belle, belle in the sulphuric smoky dark.


In general, poetic device in this collection is limited to sound and imagery, but here the reader is treated, sparingly and perfectly, to repetition of that poignant word, belle, French for beautiful.


Some variation on the word “gold” appears no less than thirteen times in this collection. But variations on the word “blue” appear even more often. This is, of course, because Crooker is no naïf; in Part Four, several poems begin to wrestle more with the question of what hope, delight, and praise would be in the absence of their opposites. Could they even be experienced without the burden of evil and decay? Referencing Leonard Cohen in the collection’s penultimate poem, “Pistachios,” Crooker writes,


The way this small nut
slips perfectly back into its shell, although you
can never quite click the lid, tuck in the world’s
sorrows, make it stick tight, once the hinge
is broken, and the crack that’s in everything
has let the light back in.


Here the theme is underscored by a subtle mastery of her art: the short, clipped consonance at the start of the sentence mimics the abrupt closure of death, but the longer vowel sounds of the last two lines echo an extension of hope beyond the closed door.


The poems of Barbara Crooker’s Gold are psalms of praise, written with the extravagance of the Song of Songs. They make one want to love everything—ageing bodies, starlit nights, rich foods, longtime partners, childhood games, and especially one’s mother (and then, perhaps, even oneself)—with a tenacity and tenderness that does not let those things slip away, even when they do.


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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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