Book Review by Zinta Aistars
• Publisher: Ravenna Press, 2011
• Price: $11.95
• ISBN-10: 0983598274
• ISBN-13: 978-0983598275
There’s a reason, oh many, why Joannie Stangeland is the poetry editor on my masthead at The Smoking Poet—she knows, lives, breathes poetry. Into the Rumored Spring is her gift to a friend who had, but did not succumb to, cancer. From such a poet, it is nothing short of reverence, and so we know, by reading these tender words so lovingly wrought, that she honors her friend.
What can one do when a dear friend suffers? We cannot follow anyone into death, if that should be the final outcome. We cannot follow anyone into life, either. It is the aloneness that draws that invisible line between us all that none of us can cross. Yet somehow, through her poetry, Stangeland manages to prick holes in that delineation. She communicates understanding, watchfulness, honor.
The poems of this collection follow the journey of her friend through illness and surface into recovery. Each line is as gentle as the touch of a nurse over the stricken, bringing the balm of healing. Even so, there is the undercurrent of empathy with the tediousness of illness, with “the keening that wants to come out” and with the “raw gasp” of suffering. I use the word gentle, however, for even these descriptions are untainted by sensationalism. They are all deeply empathic observations, almost like the rocking motion one takes on while waiting, waiting, waiting alongside a beloved patient.
Ongoing themes, images, touch points in Stangeland’s poetry are the touch points of her friend’s illness. Her daughters who sometimes roll their eyes but bring her their blossoming; her dog Friday who brings her a chew toy; the moths that flutter about in near silence; and the water, an ongoing metaphor for life itself, and a call to life. All of these appear repeatedly in the poems in a steady rhythm like a heartbeat.
If illness makes us hold our breath in waiting, musical exhalations are regularly interspersed in the collection by verses titled “Intermezzo.” Each one is a poem of non-illness. These poems are interludes of a bowl of soup brought to her, or the staccato of tiny creature feet in the attic, or is it rain, or plum petals drifting on water. Each one is a reprieve, yet always a reminder of how life is beautiful, regardless.
In the many details of life observed from a bedside, nonetheless rich with dreaming and memory and hopes for a future, Stangeland conveys how time nearly stops when we are ill, sometimes draws out impossibly long, yet peels away one day from the next, moving us forward almost imperceptibly—and back toward life.
Time starts its tick again …
the story picks up its threads—
some days a tangled mess,
sometimes a tapestry,
brocade of gold as bright
and rich as petals in a room.
Joannie Stangeland, who teaches writing at Richard Hugo House and other venues and works by day at Microsoft, lives in Seattle with her husband and any grown kids who alight for a night or longer. This is her third poetry collection. Her first, A Steady Longing for Flight, won the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Her second collection, Weathered Steps, was published by Rose Alley Press. Joannie’s poems have also appeared in Midwest Quarterly, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly Online, riverrun, Tulane Review, and other journals. Joannie is poetry editor for The Smoking Poet. An interview with her appears in the Spring 2012 issue of The Smoking Poet.