By: Barbara Wiedemann
Reviewed by: Irene Latham
Finishing Line Press, 2008
This forty-page staple-bound chapbook features twenty-six poems that take the reader on a journey to places like "Kelly, New Mexico" and "The Oregon Coast Near Langlois." With nearly a third of the poems titled after specific locations, it reads on one level like a travel journal, documenting the sights and sounds on the trail. Wiedemann gives us mesas and “black rocks two billion years old” (“April 27”), coyotes and spiders, sage, juniper, and Douglas firs. In “The Exchange” we find out “ponderosa pines / smell like vanilla.” Each poem celebrates a new discovery in the natural world.
But don’t be fooled by the simple, spare language. These poems move beyond mere description to reveal rich veins of emotional content. Wiedemann’s close examination of her surroundings guides us to the interior world of the heart and mind where deeper discoveries are made about self and relationships. This is achieved in part by Wiedemann’s invitation to share in her communion with the history of each place as indicated by such things as petroglyphs in sandstone and landscapes of old adobe structures. It is in this ancient world of “the Anasazi / and later the Paiutes” (“One Hundred Miles North of the Grand Canyon”) that the poet finds her own place in the world by connecting with the people who came before.
Ultimately this collection is about love and desire, and the choices we make. In the title poem, Wiedemann says desire “diminishes / maybe half and then by half / but never is really gone.” Later, in a poem titled “Desire,” she speaks of “the golden flames of the fire / that burned too quickly / and consumed itself.” In Wiedemann’s world, these two ideas are not at odds with one another, only different parts of one complex human emotion in which “one can never be satiated” (“On Celebrating Desire”).
This open-ness to the human experience is also evident in the questions Wiedemann asks: "And sometimes I wonder / would it have been worth it / to compromise / would it have been so hard?" (“The Precipice”). She answers her own question, then invites us into the conversation, or the stillness, depending on the poem. She also promises "after practicing on the privet, she’ll start on her life" (“The Privet Hedge”). By the closing poem, "The Faith of Spiders," we, too, are ready to "set out on breezes,... / like immigrants / into an unknown world." Sept 2008
Irene Latham’s book of poems What Came Before earned a 2008 IPPY Award and was named Alabama State Poetry Society’s Book of the Year.