Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines, which toured in Winter 2021-22 with Poetic Book Tours, explores the evolution of a self-made woman from birth through her later years, enhanced by the water imagery of the undulating waves that affect our lives. This is clear from the first poem, “First Born,” in which a child is born and “breathes blue/water for air,/dark whorl/of muscle, hair,/sea whistle/sways in wave/after wave/of shore/” (pg. 17) In the next poem, “A Cry So Close to Song,” the child’s cry becomes the cry of a gull. Hines takes a look at the simplicity of childhood, but she also notes those moments when you’re given a nickname that might not be so flattering. Alternating between her own childhood and that of her own children, she’s creating a family story that comes in waves across the pages.

“Scarborough Sail” sees a father become a tall ship, with sturdy rigging to hold his child upright in a turbulent sea. It is clear the poem is speaking to some rocky moments in the narrator’s life, but how her father ensured she had a stable home and structure around her. With every tumble, she rises up again, stronger. By the end of the poem, she’s swimming on her own through the ocean “beeline into surf swell,/under mayhem, into sparkle.” (pg. 29)

Ritual (pg. 30)

Sunday afternoon and my turn
to kneel on the creaky yellow
kitchen step stool and bow
over the sink, unspool my locks
into the clean pool, the white
enamel basin. Two rust eyes blink
from the bottom. I bend my neck
for Mother's blessing. I might be clay.
I might be dough. Her pulsing
soap-slicked fingers sink and knead.

Later the poems become more nostalgic for the childhood of the past, with memories of summer camp and lifeguarding. The 4th of July parties and the man all the girls giggle and blushed for. It was fun to read “Swim Meet” since my daughter is a swimmer and has a number of these competitions in all-year round. There’s that moment of realization in this poem that the narrator will not be the best on the team, but the beauty of the swim and the burn of the exercise is something that is seared into her memory: “streaks through blue, the kick-/stroke-surge through the wake/of the winter’s churn.//”

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines is introspective in its look at a life that is evolving and moving forward, even as we hope to hold all of our memories close. The final poems may make you weep with sadness as the family faces the passing of loved ones and the closing of the summer house. Another chapter has closed, but the ghosts slip out into the swells of the sea on their next journey, just as the narrator will do.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo Credit: David Mullen

About the Poet:

Mary Beth Hines grew up in Massachusetts where she spent Saturday afternoons ditching ballet to pursue stories and poems deep in the stacks of the Waltham Public Library. She earned bachelor of arts in English from The College of the Holy Cross, and studied for a year at Durham University in England. She began a regular creative writing practice following a career in public service (Volpe Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts), leading award-winning national outreach, communications, and workforce programs. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction appear in dozens of literary journals and anthologies both nationally and abroad. Winter at a Summer House is her first poetry collection. When not reading or writing, she swims, walks in the woods, plays with friends, travels with her husband, and enjoys life with their family, including their two beloved grandchildren. Visit her online.


  1. Serena, thank you so much for this review and for the whole book tour! I also love that Scarborough Sail got so much love as Jeanne pointed out. It’s one of my favorites too!

  2. I like the way everyone who has read and reviewed this volume has quoted from Scarborough Sail, demonstrating that in some ways it’s the most interesting and compelling poem.

    • I really do love that poem. There are others I love, too, but I think this resonated most because my father has had some health troubles in the last 6 months.