Book Review Archives

Rest in Black Haw

By: Emily Elizabeth Schulten
Reviewed by: Jane Elkington Wohl
New Plains Press, 2010
$12.95, Paper

Emily Elizabeth Schulten’s poems wash with the slosh and slurp of southern American wetlands. The reader feels always on the edge of creeks, puddles, rivers, and oceans. Schulten seems to be particularly interested in the intersections of water and land, whether it’s the actual bank of the river or the mud on the creek’s bottom.

This concern with the edges and meetings of things extends beyond the actual water and soil to include the joining and leaving of bodies. Some of these poems use natural imagery to lead readers into the intricacy of sex. Her poem “Horse Breaking” describes, on the surface, a would-be rider and her wild horse, but its final lines—“It is his ride, but my motion. / This is how he loves.”—makes it a lovely and very physical, sexual poem.

Schulten’s intermingling of the outside world and the sexual creates an erotic tension throughout the book. Even in the poem “Spring of the 17-year Locusts,” which on the surface shows us a small boy catching a locust just as it sloughs off its shell, Schulten creates a sexual energy by referring to the locust as “she” and ending the poem with the erotic image “contracting her muscles in pitch,” creating both the actual pitch of the locust’s song and the sort of “fever pitch” of orgasm. The erotic energy in these poems creates a work that feels very tactile and intimate.

Although many of Schulten’s poems are intimate, some of them feel as if they need to expand, open a bit more. Most of these poems look similar on the page and the work as a whole would benefit from more attention to format. For example, “Labor Day Weekend” might be stronger if Schulten had inserted a space between each couplet. The form of the poem might then have echoed the dig and swing of the canoe paddle through the water. “Studio on West 9th Street” might have been improved by breaks between ideas as well; a little separation would have helped the reader immediately grasp the changes in time that create the poem.

Occasionally, Schulten’s use of pronouns created some confusion for me. There is sometimes an “I,” a “you,” and a third-person pronoun in the same poem. On a first or even a second reading, it is not quite clear to whom each of these pronouns refer. By taking a little more care with her pronouns, Schulten would have bolstered some of these poems from good to spectacular.

It is a misnomer to call these “nature poems” because Schulten is not singing praises to the beauties of the natural world, but, rather, using the natural world to replicate, to describe, and to explore the intricacies and mysteries of human love and connection. Nov. 2010

Jane Elkington Wohl lives in Sheridan, Wyoming. Her poetry collection, Beasts in Snow, was published by High Plains Press in 2005.