Blue Mistaken for Sky: A Review/Reaction (with one personal story)

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Tea: Papaya/Black Tea blend

Song: No song. I am enjoying an awesome Caesar salad that I made though with homemade croutons.

 

Before I dive into this incredible collection, I should be honest: I know Professor Hollander. Not well, obviously; however, I took her classes multiple times at Lyon College. As such, even 6 years later, I still hear her physical voice in her poetry.

I will not hold anything against, or for her though. She did teach me that.

I cried. I mean full on bawling. She once recommended reading poems aloud, and so I did. I brought this collection to my work, and read it as aloud at 3 A.M. as I walked home. It was heart-wrenching. Please, buy this book. Buy a box of kleenex, and have a cup of tea ready.

For the non-poetically inclined:

Turns: a term used for the change in meaning, tone, or metaphor in a poem.

 

  1. Her turns are on a dime.
  2. Her turns are written in a way that they are earned, but not expected.
  3. They made me feel — how I imagine — a 65-year old woman feels.

I typically hate shorter poems. I understand that as a form, poetry has lent towards short poems since around the 1930s. That is one reason for which I sometimes have a hard time reading contemporary poets. There are, obviously, exceptions. I sat to read this collection, and it flowed. Each poem led into the next with little hesitation. The only transition that was slightly awkward was ‘Envy’ to ‘Drive-In’. We will get to ‘Envy’ later.

Her typical free-verse style gives her poetry a conversational tone. It is evident enough that the first thing my boyfriend said when I read her to him was, ‘It sounds like she’s talking to me.’ As a traditional form-lover myself, I found myself not missing it. It pulls off like a memoir. She takes one’s hand, and leads one through key rooms in her life. ‘This is the foyer where my father stood. This is the living room where the green couch was. This is the bedroom where I live.’ It gives the collection a sense of safety where one can let one’s guard down, but maintains the rawness one craves in poetry. I seriously — I swear to gods on all that is holy, and cooked in butter — cried a few tears at least every other poem.

She covers divorce, self-esteem, familial abuse, and decor in a collection that makes me just want to hug her: like not in the creepy everything-will-be-okay way, but in the heart-wrenching montage in 1980s films we’re-actually-ugly-crying-together way.

Overall, I personally have to say that the honour I felt as a reader being privy to her life is immense. There is nothing that I could change about this collection.

‘Grammar Lesson’ is the poem that I had to resist reading out of order. It plays around with a certain verb. It is pedantic — in the original sense — as a classic poem was. I would liken its structure to Snorri. It puts distance between the poet, and the material. This allowed me, the reader, to get in between the two. I felt like the poet had to teach me something in order to deal with the subject matter.

‘Envy’ time. This poem wrecked me. I have a few mists in my eyes from the earlier ones, and I decide to go forward. I am reading this poem — it concerns being second-choice/second-best — whilst walking down Sweetwater in Sugar Land, TX. I made it two stanzas. The start of the third when the turn happens: it turned me into a weeping wretch. I, truly, stood there on a public sidewalk, and wept. Thank you, Prof. Hollander.

This made the transition to the next poem difficult. I had that second where, all book-lovers have been there, I wanted to put the book down to have a breather; however, I needed to get over the hurdle, or else I would not pick the book back up. Her voice — poetic voice…she did not suddenly appear, and speak to me — made me continue. My fear of being second-best, and second-choice was activated. She just hammered on that button in four stanzas. I felt raw afterwards.

 

Personal story: When I took her short-fiction writing class, I was ecstatic. I had taken her Introduction to Poetry — not really my favourite if I be honest: not enough classics —, and her Poetry Workshop course — definitely my favourite class. It seriously inspired me on the project which I am writing now. —. I happen to take longer than normal to put my stuff in my bag. Has one ever noticed that educators have a presenter face? For instance, another professor, actually was not a morning person. She, the other professor, would come into our 8 AM class, though, and say, ‘Hello, everyone’ with pure cheer. As soon as 9 AM hit, and the course ended, her face would fall, and she would stumble up for some coffee. I had never seen Prof. Hollander’s professor face fall. I knew that she had one: come on, she was born in Germany, and the Germans love formality, and rules. She also comes from a Jewish family. Jews also love formality, and rules — I apologise to my Jewish family for that truth —. This day, though, I saw her face fall. She just sat at the table after everyone had left, and I packed up my books. I tried to ask what was wrong. I expected, morbidly, that her cat had died. She had a fight with her son. Something mundane, and valid. She responded with, ‘It’s divorce. Sometimes your life just falls apart.’

BOOM!

My instinct was to run. I was alone in a room with someone who obviously needed someone who was obviously wiser than I was. I walked her up to her office, and tried to make small talk. I think that I probably failed cheering her up. Still, I want her — and you, my lovely ruminants…who should be finishing a cup of tea right about now — to know that she makes me proud to have taken her class, to be a fledgling poet, and to be a Jew. She is not religious to my knowledge, but to know that there are strong women tied to me by genetics — however small the link is — makes it easier on me to face my fears/tribulations. So, in short, I failed her as a student. I am sorry, Prof. Hollander. She, however, did not fail me as a professor, or as a poet.

 

-J.A. Victor Wilson

 

Seriously, buy this collection. It would make an awesome winter present, or even a I-want-you-to-bawl-as-I-did present.

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