Book Bag: ‘Past Repair’ by Carol Edelstein; ‘Awakening’ by Stephanie Shafran

Staff Writer
Published: 2/2/2021 1:59:00 PM

Past Repair by Carol Edelstein (Simian Press)

 

Northampton writer Carol Edelstein wears a number of hats, especially as a longtime writing workshop leader. She and her husband, Robin Barber, also run Gallery of Readers, a nonprofit group that organizes readings for area writers and publishes books and broadsides, with an eye to aiding both emerging and established writers.

Edelstein is also a poet, fiction writer and essayist whose work has appeared in a wide range of literary magazines and anthologies including The Massachusetts Review, The Georgia Review and Denver Quarterly. Now she has a new poetry collection out, “Past Repair,” that looks at love, loss, the mysteries of nature and the pull of memories.

Her free verse poems are readily accessible, but they can go in unusual directions, with impressionistic images and voices that can shift suddenly from light to dark. “There is no waking from certain dreams,” Edelstein writes. “They simply sleep on inside your waking self.”

“How Will You Be Remembered” offers some of those darker themes, a meditation on death and what it might mean that imagines gravestones resembling “baby teeth” when seen from above, perhaps a reminder that we will leave the world as simply as we entered it: “In slow procession, we carry our lights / toward a freshly dug hole. // It’s meager, what we have, this hole / for everything we were.”

A more celebratory title is “The Way I Choose to Worship,” which serves as the first line of the poem. The narrator in this case finds a spiritual connection “on my back under the tall pines and birches. / Here is my sanctuary. My words to You / nothing special — what I’ve had for lunch, / who came to the feeder today, / a list of clouds drifting by …

Edelstein writes in the poem’s conclusion, “Forgiveness has to be a habit relentless as tides. Asking, granting, asking, granting. / Daily as wind rocking the high branches. // And thus I lie down among trees.”

There are laments for love that’s died, as in “Handwriting Unmistakably Yours,” in which the narrator receives an envelope with money inside and no return address; she suspects it’s from a former lover and reflects that “Returning love has always / been difficult for me — we figured that out together. / Taking love came naturally.”

But “Secret Meeting” sketches two lovers embracing by a frozen pond, shivering but happy: “Someone keeps / knitting us together. / Hear those needles clicking? / Let’s huddle love, / let’s breathe. These small kind clouds / that appear / from our mouths / might be ordinary words: / almost almost.”

The poems in “Past Repair,” which are enhanced by pen and ink drawings by Easthampton-based artist Adell Donaghue, offer “tenderness and intimacy,” as one critic puts it, “and a brave approach to unanswerable questions.”

Awakening by Stephanie Shafran (Daffodil Press)

Another Northampton poet, Stephanie Shafran, has released her first chapbook, “Awakening,” which Shafran says contains a number of poems she’s written over the past 20-plus years. On her website, she writes that publishing the work “like the journey described in ‘Awakening’ … took determination, faith and affirmation that even in the most challenging and tenuous of times, words matter.”

The poems in “Awakening” speak to surviving loss, and overcoming pain and abuse, to find renewed life and spirit. “After Since Unfinished by Richard Blanco” is a nod to that poet and his poem of that name, with five stanzas that all begin with the line “I’ve been writing this since.” What follows is the tale of a young girl recalling memories of planting flowers with her father and then trying out the typewriter he gave her on her seventh birthday: “You’ll be a writer someday, he said with confidence, / and this will get you started.”

But then the narrator recalls waiting for the headlights of her father’s car to return one night, only to discover “his white Valiant sedan complied with his demand / and pumped carbon monoxide / until his hands loosened their grip on the steering wheel / and his body surrendered.”

“Make-believe” recalls the disconnect between a young girl playing with Barbie and Ken dolls, who kiss and always get along, and the acrid words between her mother and father. In “Photograph,” the narrator wonders why her partner grimaces in a picture: “Not willing to be captured at ease? / Or is it the way I handle the camera / awkwardly, not quite / as you instructed?”

Yet Shafran’s poems also speak of healing, of finding beauty in unexpected places. The prose poem “While My Sixteen-Year-Old Daughter Visits Auschwitz” imagines the terror that once reigned at the infamous death camp, comparing it to the cancer destroying a loved one. But even at Auschwitz, the narrator writes, each new year brings a “season of rebirth and promise — the promise nature makes to yellow irises — this spring and next year.”

Nature also holds lessons for a graceful way to live life, and for accepting what one has been given. “Trees,” Shafran writes in the poem of that name, know “how to survive by bending with the wind, / stretching roots to quench thirst. // When branches break from winter’s wet snow, / trees know how to heal wounds, / make do with what remains.”

“If I could today,” the poet writes, “I would become that tree, / poised in front of this green metal chair / where I sit this early spring afternoon.”




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