Reading Knoxville: This Shaky Earth

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Book by Ramon DeGennaro, Reviewed by Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

 

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“Poetry enables us to know what it ‘feels like’ to be alive in the world,” wrote Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren in Understanding Poetry. “What does it ‘feel like,’ for instance, to be in love, to hate somebody, to be conscience stricken, to watch a sunset or stand by a death-bed, to be willing to die for a cause or live in a passionate devotion to some chosen ideal?” Linda Parsons Marion, in This Shaky Earth, takes the reader on a powerful emotional journey from memories of childhood to reflections of being a grandmother through poems whose feelings pulse from every page.

This Shaky Earth takes the reader on a powerful emotional journey from memories of childhood to reflections of being a grandmother through poems whose feelings pulse from every page.

In “On Russell,” the poet revisits her grandmother’s house through presence and memory: “Rooms that spoke my first language–…Rooms calling me once more before I abandon this shell of earth…” In “My Grandmother’s Housecoat,” the poet reflects on this keepsake in the closet (“Housecoat, she would say, not robe) occasionally slipping it on:

Sometimes I sink into its rag batting, dwarfed

by cuffs and waist. I drape myself in its tired embrace,

used Kleenex still balled in the pocket.

Parents often struggle with thoughts of how they could have raised their children differently. In “Jesus Bread,” her daughter “refuses the Easter bun” leading the author to speculate on what she could have done differently.

Had I led my daughter to the well more often—

the pew, the font, the hymnal—to Mount Olivet

and the multiplied loaves, had I swallowed

my own stiff-necked resistance, she might take

this offering forged of past and present, raise

Sunday’s cup to her lips.

Parents also bear the burden of caring for their aging parents whose memories can be ravaged by time. In “Yes, Yes,” the author visits her father in an assisted living facility:

In the darkened room,

my father dismisses lunch, waves me away

like the kitchen help. Yes, go on now. Miles to go

before he sleeps, nothing about me says daughter.

In “This Shaky Earth,” the author is stranded on the side of the interstate with a flat tire, screaming for help from the thoughtless traffic (“I’ve run out of verbs on the shoulder of I-75”). She had just left her aunt in Georgia who was coping with a husband with MS and her own health problems.

Be still, my heart, we called, both needing

to be shocked from time to time on the side

of the treacherous road.

In “Where the Wild Dreams Are,” the author inhabits the imaginary world of her granddaughter’s books,

In the land of wild things

I rattle the pages I read to my granddaughter,

where monsters roar their terrible roar and roll

their yellow eyes and curl their awful claws.

only to have this dream turn into a nightmare (“My oldest daughter, who rarely sheds a tear, pierces the petrified air”).

The poems in This Shaky Earth passionately evoke the feelings of time and memory that define our existence, seeking answers to the questions of what it feels like to be alive. “Only poetry…can help us to answer such questions,” Brooks and Warren noted, “and help us, thus, to an understanding of ourselves and of our own values.” This collection fulfills all of Brooks and Warren’s criteria for great poetry.

Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at mike@testprepexperts.com.

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