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Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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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.

Mailbox Monday #678

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Stepmotherland by Darrel Alejandro Holnes for review.

Winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Stepmotherland, Darrel Alejandro Holnes’s first full-length collection, is filled with poems that chronicle and question identity, family, and allegiance. This Central American love song is in constant motion as it takes us on a lyrical and sometimes narrative journey from Panamá to the USA and beyond. The driving force behind Holnes’s work is a pursuit for a new home, and as he searches, he takes the reader on a wild ride through the most pressing political issues of our time and the most intimate and transformative personal experiences of his life. Exploring a complex range of emotions, this collection is a celebration of the discovery of America, the discovery of self, and the ways they may be one and the same.

Holnes’s poems experiment with macaronic language, literary forms, and prosody. In their inventiveness, they create a new tradition that blurs the borders between poetry, visual art, and dramatic text. The new legacy he creates is one with significant reverence for the past, which informs a central desire of immigrants and native-born citizens alike: the desire for a better life. Stepmotherland documents an artist’s evolution into manhood and heralds the arrival of a stunning new poetic voice.

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines, which I purchased and toured with Poetic Book Tours in March.

The poems in Mary Beth Hines’s first collection, Winter at a Summer House, strike a wonderful balance between narratives of everyday experience and a pristine, pure poetic imagination. Always rhythmically diverse, most of the time mellifluous, and often intense, Hines’s poetry vividly paints the life of a modern self-made woman, with her worries and obligations, her family, and her dreams. In response to the heroine’s world, this poetry, never static, vibrates with all sorts of emotions: love, friendship, youthful infatuations, amorousness, jealousy, altruism. As a result, the book gives its reader all the pleasures of a novel—and of lyric novelty. -Katia Kapovich, author of Gogol in Rome and Cossacks and Bandits

Mary Beth Hines sings to us out of the staircases, back yards, and swimming pools of a life sumptuously lived, a world rife with joys and enticements, with girlhood wish and adulthood tryst. Each song lifts on the updrafts of a language passionately breathed. The poems are arrayed with such stunning craft that the art dissolves into the narrative. One forgets that one is reading and imagines that one is reliving this life. Winter at a Summer House is, in the words of one of the poems, a “gift to spark remembrance,” as if the memories had become our own. -Tom Daley, author of House You Cannot Reach

From birth/death and first/last words–– the poems in Mary Beth Hines’s collection, Winter at a Summer House, entice us into the arc of a woman’s life, and tip us into her fall from innocence into experience. The poems are dares, flirting with risk, and holding bliss and danger in a tactile bond of “teeth and ice, breath and coyotes.” They give us what we want from poetry: to be bundled up and awakened; to be reminded before the storm that the storm is coming. We must hold hands and walk under the shape-shifting sky of “old faces––familiar, before they split/and spill, erase us.” -Kelly DuMar, author of girl in tree bark, Tree of the Apple, andAll These Cures

What did you receive?