Blue Mistaken for Sky
Blue Mistaken for Sky, by Andrea Hollander
Autumn House Press, 2018. 86 pp.
Reviewed by Susanna Lang
This is not a book to open at random so you can read a few poems and then set it aside for another moment when you will read a few more poems. Together, the poems form a verse memoir, beginning with the winter after the speaker’s divorce, and suffering through her grief and obsessive rethinking of the past:
My mind like a spider
caught in its own web with only
the wanton wind to strike.
By the second section, she has moved on to other, parallel betrayals, memories of adolescent friendships lost and of awkward encounters with sex, of her mother’s illness and death, her father’s punishing silences and his later descent into dementia, the sense that after everything and everyone have been taken from her, and even the rain pursues her.
I won’t escape anything.
My father is dead
My mother is dead.
I want to be home.
A frenzy of rain
rages across the asphalt.
But in the last chapter, she finds a way to move on as we humans do after great loss. She can take pleasure in the plate of fresh apricots glowing on her new table, and “love the way the dust motes shimmer” in her new flat that she inhabits alone. Solitude becomes a home for her as marriage had been for decades, but we have the sense that this new home is one where she can become herself, take up all the room in the bed,
as if I were as balanced
as a planet in the cosmos.
The poems in Blue Mistaken for Sky are carefully sequenced, so that the umbrella that a stranger held over the speaker’s head in the first poem is no longer needed or desired in the last few pages, when the woman in “Music” stands in the rain,
pooling on the sidewalk,
rushing over the curb.
That same rain that pursued her through the earlier betrayals becomes a “sweet-tempered yatter” that she listens to as if it were a concert performed only for her, while she lies fully dressed alone in her bed. This is a pleasure that she chooses for herself, “because [she] could.”
The language of these poems is straightforward, a woman speaking directly to the reader as if we sat together at the birch veneer table in her new kitchen. The details of everyday life become oracle, the syntax of everyday life heightened by metaphor and double entendre. Remembering her 12-year-old anger at her father’s silences, she ends a bitter poem in the middle section with an admission of failure,
revealing this now,
all these years later—
in a poem, of all places
and both of them dead—
could change anything.
But of course, poems do change everything for this poet who writes with a cartridge pen to remind herself that she must pierce the cartridge to make the ink flow like blood, to drain the infection and find healing. If you read the poems the way Andrea Hollander gave them to us, one after another, you will reach that moment of recovery at the end, and believe with her that there is, in fact, a way to escape grief.
Susanna Lang’s newest collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in summer 2017 from Terrapin Books. Her last collection was Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013). A two-time Hambidge fellow, her poems have appeared in such publications as Little Star, Prairie Schooner, december, American Life in Poetry and Verse Daily. Her translations of poetry by Yves Bonnefoy include Words in Stone and The Origin of Language. Among her current projects is Self-Portraits, a chapbook collection of ekphrastic poems focused on women artists. She lives with her husband in Chicago. More information available at www.susannalang.com.