A Visual, Playful and Engaging Conversation: Book Review

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Maureen main post image

For the next several weeks, we are pleased to partner with the Englewood Review of Books to bring you some fine book reviews. We are delighted to feature some of the members of our community whose work Englewood has highlighted. Today we feature Neruda's Memoirs: Poems by community member Maureen Doallas. Maureen blogs at Writing Without Paper.

Maureen Doallas is, according to her biography, “a features writer, editor, poet and owner of an art-licensing business called Transformational Threads.” She wrote these poems as a way out of the grief of the loss of her brother to cancer. To one who might find such grief overpowering, a pain that would lead us in exactly the opposite direction of picking up this book and reading the poetry and prose contained therein, I would ask you to pause for just a moment and reflect upon what I want to tell you about this marvelous little tome: it is a thing of beauty.

How can I say such a thing? Any book of poetry runs the risk of either being a pedantic and voyeuristic trudge through someone else’s shadow side or of overdramatizing reality to the point that the poetry itself becomes the very kind of escapism that might be called “self-medication by other means.”

Somehow Doallas gracefully does neither of these things in this book. What she does is use her poetry, and the structure of the book, to mimic the patterns of an, eventually, deep friendship. We begin at the surface where we meet an ordinary, yet interesting, person:

“Hazardous Duty: Ode to My Kitchen”

I have no taste
for the violence
my kitchen demands of me
to squeeze and score
fillet and fry
flash-freeze and melt

ground grind and grill
mash whip whisk
or beat till stiff.

I conscientiously object
to chopping things to bits
when it’s enough

to simply pare away peel back
or toss and throw together
what’s simmered steamed or stewed.

But ask my for my recipes
and I’ll tell you:
not just any Bloody Mary will do.

It is this visual, playful and engaging kind of writing that draws one into a curious relationship with the author. I have never thought of my kitchen, and the language around preparing a meal, until I read that poem and yet I would still beg to differ that a simmered frog is just as dead as one whipped till stiff! That I could imagine myself bantering that kind of idea with Doallas in person is the very quality that engages one in the task of reading further.

For it is not until further in, once the relationship between author and reader has been established, that we are given an opportunity to be present when hard news is delivered.

This is just a portion of a poem (“Grounded in Fall” ) written as though a letter to her brother:

I missed fall
that evening

you called at 7:30
with your out-of-the-blue-news.

The heat wasn’t on yet.

Doallas conveys to us what any of us who has received a phone call like that one knows, the image becomes frozen in your mind as a sort of pylon, “This Is Where ‘Normal’ Changed”. The poem continues with an emotional ride through the stages of grief as experienced by a sister. It is amazingly powerful because of its truth.

The remainder of the book touches down in and around Doallas’ grief and the eventual picking up of her pen to write down the words that we are now invited to read.

I had initially contacted Ms. Doallas to interview her for this review. Upon deeper thinking I realized that I had no questions for her that were not already answered in some way, shape or form in her book. To be able to accomplish that for any writer is a magnificent feat. For one to be able to do it around something as deeply personal as the death of a loved one is truly sublime.

The Englewood Review of Books is based out of Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis and publishes reviews for a socially-engaged Christian audience in two formats: a free online edition (weekly) and a print edition (quarterly). Their hope is to get people reading and discussing books in their church communities, reflecting on how we're called into God's work of reconciling all creation. For another view on Englewood, check out this delightful podcast with John Wilson at Books & Culture.


Book Club Announcement: We are excited to announce that the next book club book is Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki! The start date is Monday, May 9th. Order your book soon and get ready for some enchanting conversation! Widgets

Image: Assumption of the Virgin by Randall David Tipton, used with permission. Review by Chris Enstad.