From Publishers Weekly
The death of the poet's mother occasions this fifth collection's opening sequence, a mixture of narrative pieces and sentimental lyrics, which generally depict a world flattened and bleached by grief: "Whiter than music, whiter than bone,/ whiter than ivory, whiter than hope,/ whiter than prayer, whiter than a name// ....Now, after too many white words,/ I stumble and touch branches heavy/ with ten thousand blurred white petals." In another poem, the speaker, lying despondently on her bed, describes at length a "white curtain, sheer/ as a soul, lifting in the wind..." and concludes, "I watched and could do/ nothing as the curtain rose and fell." In their simplicity, nostalgia and formal leanings, Spires's poems can work as a sort of methadone for readers addicted to Elizabeth Bishop's dark meditations on single objects or abstractions; Spires's "Silence" or "Bruise" or "Grass," attempt Bishopian set pieces of memory and inner life. When it comes to love and the passage of time, Spires, who has also written four books for children, runs the gamut from "the sighs/ and crooning of a newborn child,/ bright syllables strung, like beads/ on a string, into meaningless meaning" to "the center of a vacancy that is the center/ of the new." Flying home after a sister's wedding, one speaker describes how she "carried the roses home,/ your wedding roses, ivory and crme" and "buried my face / in the flowers of memory, inhaling deeply." In "Curio," one of the book's final poems, the speaker walks on the beach collecting objects, "picking and choosing,/ making the worthless precious," while "wave upon wave, the memories/ come." While readers may link these tokens to the flowers and waves of their own experience, they do not quite add up here on their own.
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Spires' fifth collection is dedicated to her late mother, and her elegiac poems are the epitome of grace: polished, elegant, and timeless. Adept at form, she uses rhymes tenderly, almost longingly, as though she wishes she lived in a world where such balanced beauty wasn't so rare. Shades of Frost, reflections of Dickinson, even intimations of Poe place Spires in a solidly American tradition albeit with British roots (there are hints of George Herbert, John Donne, and Coleridge), yet she is also steeped in classical myths and drawn to the delicacy of Chinese poetry. As Spires remembers her mother and lovingly observes her daughter, she reflects on the relentless dynamic of change, intoning, "Happiness is fleet, is fleet, is fleet . . .
" There is a lacy quaintness to these lovely poems, an unabashed romanticism as the natural world glistens, dewy and redolent, then turns abruptly dark, raucous with crows, with death, only to turn toward the sun once again, so that, to quote the hymn Spires holds dear, "now the green blade rises from the buried grain." Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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