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Can We Understand Our Own Lunar Eclipses?

Carol Dine’s Trying to Understand the Lunar Eclipse is like many other works of poetry. It is wrought with imagery and vagaries, leading the reader to come to their own conclusions about the subject matter. However, what sets this book of poems apart from others is that it is not pretentious. It deals with real-life issues in images easily understood and pictured in a layman’s mind. This is not a book merely for academics. It is not the tactile nature of this book that captures my attention, on the other hand.

There is an undercurrent or a subtext throughout the poems reflecting an inner turmoil regarding her past, her present, and her future as a mother, daughter, wife, lover, and woman.

For instance, “In the Everglades” begins with a woman on a journey to find her former self and through images of the swamp, heat, and groves of trees, she finds the “Pods burst, perfect seed,/moss and sea water,/a daughter/curled like a fern.//” The narrator finds herself curled like a fern, though ferns are not the first image one would expect to find in the Everglades. So I wondered about this poem and whether it was an actual journey a woman went on or if it was a metaphorical journey into herself and the heat and swamp she faces are those memories and regrets we each carry with us about our life choices.

Another of my favorites from this book “Woman in the Cafe” is an observation piece of an older woman sitting in a cafe with a tattoo on her arm. But it is the end of the poem that reveals the observation is much more than a look at body art on someone in her 70s. Its a testament to the stains, the memories, the life choices made by each of us that we can either bury within or carry on our sleeves.

The more personal pieces, or what I would consider personal pieces about her family, and in particular about her father, are especially revealing. The undercurrent of not so much rage as disappointment and misunderstanding come bubbling to the surface. “On a Self-Portrait by Jim Dine” the lines that illustrate this are “Where the robe knots,/I see him burning at the stake/made from an easel.” But in “My Father’s Voice on Tape,” which is broken into parts marked Side 1 and Side 2, the eerie lines “Seven years and still you’re speaking/from behind your throat like an oboe.//” and “The sun lights your face./You close your eyes, too sad/to be the ice cream man.//” mix images of beauty with grim images of a man tormented or as a hidden tormentor.

Finally, “Painting Abstracts” symbolizes to me a rebirth of sorts. In it the narrator shapes items, colors objects, and generally is free to do what she pleases. “I cover the landscape with oils and marble dust,/deep green and earth brown.// I break up colors and shapes:/cloud caught in a tree, the pull of tree from sky./” Though not the last poem in the book, I think it propels the undercurrent toward a resolution, though it may not be an immediate resolution.

I highly recommend this book for even the casual poetry reader.

As Promised…Carol Dine Poem Review

Trying to Understand the Lunar Eclipse by Carol Dine has a number of vivid poems within its pages. “Hurricane, Megansett Harbor” espouses eerie and lasting sounds that echo in the reader’s ears. The hurricane is heard and felt, and my favorite image in the poem is “We can smell it/deep in our throats,/wet and panting,/its mouth wide open”

The eye of the hurricane is wide and the wet rains pour down on the ship as it cruises through the waves with its passengers huddled inside. This poem brings me back to New England, and the summer storm season. Hurricane season on the Atlantic coast runs from June through November, so you can imagine how many tropical storms and hurricanes can form in a given season. While each storm has its unique characteristics and strengths, the experience of surviving or living through a hurricane is unique to each person. This is the the opener of the poetry book. What a way to start off the book. Way to go Carol.

Stay tuned for another installment of poetry reviews from this book until I finish the memoir and Patterson novel I am reading.

Places in My Bones…

Though I have not had cancer or breast cancer for that matter, it probably would seem odd that a memoir about a cancer survivor would get to me that much, but it did. I may not have cried while reading the book, but Carol Dine’s Places in the Bone reaches into the soul of the reader and pulls at the heart strings and a number of other senses through poetry, journal entries, and prose.

This book is not only a journey through her cancer ordeal, but also through her familial struggles with her father and mother. The distance between her sister and herself as a result of these struggles and how she copes. I have one of her poetry books slated on my to read list, but this memoir gives the reader a clear perspective on how these struggles infuse her poetry with palpable imagery and insight. For example, “When the heel of my father’s hand/pounds my back,/I focus on the bedroom wall./I am walking beside the reservoir./ The oaks are giants/taller than him;/”

Her past relations with the likes of Anne Sexton and Stanley Kunitz also play a significant role in her ability to cope with the realities of her treatment and her growing frustration with the relationship she had with her father, mother, and sister. I admire Dine’s ability to connect words to express her frustration, her anguish, her hopelessness, and her resilience.

Dine teaches at Suffolk University, my alma mater, though I never had the pleasure of her company in the classroom. However, I will never forget her generosity in helping out a fellow poet, floundering when her mentor turned her down; she agreed to sponsor my poems for an emerging writers contest for Ploughshares. Even though I did not win the contest, her kindness inspired me to keep going.