Poetry Review: Silver Roses: Poems by Rachel Wetzsteon

Silver Roses: Poems (2010) by Rachel Wetzsteon, Persea Books, Inc.

I completely enjoyed this collection. It was like having an intelligent conversation with a complete stranger and there was nothing awkward about it.

Even though the collection’s three sections are united in theme, I will refer to several poems in chronological order. The opening poem “Among the Neutrals” sets Wetzsteon’s exploratory flag solidly in the ground to say: Decide, refuse ambivalence and a world of “maybe”. This is an interesting way to start this collection, in the scheme of things. I would like to why this selection was made.

The second poem, “Freely from Wyatt” is my second favorite poem. There was an immediate emotional response. Stanza i. While I do not understand the purpose of biscotti in the culinary world, I understand Wetzsteon’s sentiment. Homemade apple dumplings work just as well. Stanza ii. Yes, exactly! Stanza iii. Yes, exactly! You are welcome here.

“An Actress Prepares” touches upon something I wonder about when reading contemporary poetry. I flow with the poem until she gets half way through and the voice of the actress states: “Vote me off the island.” Will anyone in twenty years understand what “Vote me off the island” means? It is like watching an early 19th century English Regency costume drama/film and, in one domestic scene, there is a US Civil War quilt pattern on a bed. The vast majority of people would not notice such a pathetic detail, but I do. It’s like hitting a deep pot hole in the road. It threw me out of the suspension of reality. That said, I understand no one drives a horse drawn wagon through the woods on snowy nights these days (apologies to Robert Frost) as I as a reader “get” the emotional and physical sensation of the frigid isolation and impatient pull of the voice’s horse. This is not a criticism against Wetzsteon, just a question for the universe in general.

Many of the poems in the first two sections are what I would call writing exercise poems. Writers, after all, write and are passionate to the point of obsessive about their craft if they are to be any good. I found it odd to find them in a collection but they are quite well done. They are enjoyable and I would guess that Wetzsteon had fun doing them. Maybe that’s where the brightness of the first two sections originates.

The final section “The Tennis Courts At Stuyvesant Town” has a definite darkness to it. Wetzsteon is emotionally working through things, or at least attempting to, and not getting to the other side.

The final poem of the collection, “Silver Roses”, I was surprised to recognize as having read before. For whatever reason I thought it had been in “The New Yorker” but it wasn’t until after reading the bibliography at the end, I realized I had read the poem “Silver Roses” in an issue of October, 2010 “Poetry” which I had purchased. This poem at first read first stuck with me like fuzzy weed seeds stick to your socks. You cannot wash them off and must pick them off the sock cuffs. I knew what the voice was saying. It was the shared emotional feeling I have with my dad over a film or concert, the feeling of leaving a concert (here opera) and taking the desire for that reality into the street and walking to the car and driving home with a nocturne feeling of a magical night. It is that joyful, floating feeling you have in spite of yourself.

I did not read Wetzsteon’s biography and Grace Schulman’s Introduction until I had read the collection through twice. It came as a shock this was a posthumous collection.

I cannot imagine I am the first to make this sort of an analogy: It was like you are at a dinner party and the dishes are in the dish washer or sink and everyone is sitting back and drinking wine and talking, laughing and you have discovered a wine someone picked-up on their international travels which you really like (and you don’t really like wine) and the host (God, bless him) is staring at the empty wine bottle and you are tipsy and a little impertinent and you sit there with your empty glass and demand: “What do you mean there is no more of this wine?”

Silver Roses: Poems by Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009)

ISBN: 978-0-89255-364-8


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