Two Book Reviews

Love Over 60: an anthology of women’s poems by Robin Chapman and Jeri McCormick (eds).  Bay City, MI: Mayapple Press, 2010.  $16.95. 

Review by Beatriz F. Fernandez

Love Over 60 offers us a rich chocolate-box assortment of poems to delve into: light, dark, bittersweet, filled with gratitude, longing, nostalgia, unabashed sensuality and of course, overwhelming love. Written by women born before 1949 who over the decades have tasted life’s gifts and faced personal and social crises, in this anthology the poets spread out their lives like a banquet before us:  birth, death, marriage, widowhood, children, grandchildren, sex, loss, youth, adventure, travel, illness, fear, friendship, and the elusive possibilities of what might have been:

            Dear lovers I never met,
            dear children I never carried,
            you who were here for a while
            clothed in the rags of imagination,
            who brushed past me without seeing
            and sang songs the wind carried away
            as if they were so many leaves
            to be raked and burned later:
            your singing comes back to me now
            beneath the dark elusive notes
            of someones else’s music.

—Pastan, "In an Unadressed Envelope"

Writing mostly unrhymed free verse, these poets express themselves with the freedom and exhilaration of their many years on Earth, which bring to their poetry a potent feminine voice, a refreshing lack of self-consciousness, and a welcome deliverance from cynicism.  They hail from all regions of the country (including at least eight notable poets from Wisconsin), and from all walks of life.  Many are prize-winning poets; some are newly discovering their talent.  Reaching for the wisdom that experience has delivered, these women celebrate their past and present lives, “knowing time/ is brief and stacked against us” (Snider, "Trish at 60").   With the “patience of the long invisible” (Pastan," In an Unaddressed Envelope"), they have collectively come to the realization that “a woman divided by nothing/ but herself is whole” (McNeal," Higher Mathematics").

Their experience of love has also evolved with time and now they find

            We gentle each other
            Slower to judge, we make slow love.
            We don’t give up easily.
            I would love you better now than I did.

—Weinberger, "I Seek You in the Faces of Old Men"

Having loved and forgiven themselves and others, “now, the small unexpected bells of forgiveness/ ringing, ringing, calling me” (Wendt," Armistice"), they give tribute to, among others:

their children and grandchildren,
“I cannot walk her to those stars/ that guide her now” (Isaac-Luke, "Blame Aphrodite");

their partners,
“He is the stone and I am the silver/ We are the ring no one can wear” Elbe," T’ai Chi");

their teachers,
“I was foreign, foreign even to myself” (Spivack, "Madame Joelle Blot, My French Teacher");

and their friends,
“Your friendship must enable me, alone, to walk;/at last, to soar overhead, like the gliding hawk” (Nelson, "Losses").

The title poem, "Love Over Sixty" by Barbara Drake, reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ "Pied Beauty," is representative of the collection’s overall joyous, irreverent celebration of life with all its vicissitudes:

            Here’s to the slippery and the stiff,
            the biscuit and the fish,
            the right and the loose and the in/between.
            Here’s to remembering and looking forward
            and the size of the moment,
            the round and the soft and the saggy of the moment,
            the wrinkles like a well-used map of the moment.
            Treasure the blur of seeing up close
            and the distance in the lens.
            Blessed be the furry and the fuzzy,
            the hairless and the taut,
            the slow and the fast and whatever comes next.
            Let the race be to the leisurely.
            The silk and the wool and the cotton,
            the pills and the table, the magazine.

            The now and the then and more often,
            the wrinkled sheet, the coffee in bed,
            the toenail and the armpit,
            the thumb joints and the arches,
            the bathroom and the leaky flashing around the chimney,
            the sound of the refrigerator humming
            like an old, old song,
            and all the rest of it.

These poets’ accumulated variegated experiences constitute their legacy to their loved ones: “Child I will tell you every glorious thing I know” (Schott, "Flying East for My Grandson’s Birth"); they promise, and they deliver.   

They confront the capriciousness of fate,

            … the odds against us are endless,
            our chances of being alive together
            statistically nonexistent;
            still we have made it …

—Mueller, "Alive Together"

and in the end, they conclude:  

            Forget it.  Are you still alive?  The rest is gibberish.

—Friman,"Permanent Press"

Beatriz F. Fernandez's cousin-in-law, Jane Banning, is a prose writer who lives in Oregon, WI.  Searching for Jane's writing on the web, she came across Verse Wisconsin.  Beatriz was the grand prize winner of the 2nd Annual Writer's Digest Poetry Award. She's currently a reference librarian at Florida International University in Miami.