These Many Rooms, Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Four Way Books, 2019, 72 pp.
Reviewed by Susanna Lang
In These Many Rooms, Laure-Anne Bosselaar has written a book-length elegy for her husband, the poet Kurt Brown. The poems travel back and forth as memory travels, through the rooms she remembers from Belgium where she was 20 years old and “free,” the rooms she shared with her husband, the rooms where she is now alone again except for his ashes, his cat, and echoes of his presence.
The book opens with a brief introductory section of two poems. The first evokes that attic room in Antwerp, where dust and dusk are one and the same:
I think of you, love—search for you in each room
that breathes between me & dusk, me and dust.
Love, torn corner from this life.
That last line is a reference to a line she quotes from Rilke, who said that “most people will know only a small corner of their rooms.” She wonders “how to understand that word only,” preferring the thorough study of that one corner. From that room she walks in the next poem to the hospital where her husband now lies dying, the one-word lines in the poem’s center mimicking the drip of fentanyl into his veins. Here Death is both personified—”whistling softly through its teeth”—and objectified as the fog, a still-life painting, an “it.”
And from there we enter the “Rooms Remembered,” a long poem divided into sections that takes us on a tour of the rooms where Bosselaar lived her marriage and then her grief for her husband’s loss. These poems are more open, more spacious, more filled with white space than the poems I’d read in earlier books. The lines make room for what is lost, for what can’t be said precisely, for the very silence her husband entered at last:
how silence swallowed his last breath—
& followed him
inside the silence after that.
At the very end of the sequence, there is finally room for acceptance, her hands making their own small room in the last light by the ocean: “worn, open & lit.”
The last section is made up of individual poems that explore other rooms and other griefs, including an elegy for another poet, Larry Levis. The acceptance she had found at the end of “Rooms Remembered” is fragile, tentative, still permeated with her pain and very aware of her own mortality. She brings the book to a close with another pair of poems, though these are not set apart as in the introductory section. “While There Is Still Time” celebrates days “when nothing gets done” except the creative work of memory. Here she remembers not only the rooms where she’s lived so generously, but the poems that are her “other mother tongue,” in particular (for this piece) lines from the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. And in the last poem, “This Night,” she almost accepts the temptation of disappearing into the night as the cat does, her husband’s cat who mourned his loss more immediately, more physically than Bosselaar could herself, stretched across the doorway to his room while the poet kept herself busy and dry-eyed.
I am grateful that Laure-Anne Bosselaar hasn’t followed the cat and her temptation into the night. I want to read the next book, to inhabit the space she creates for her reader within lines that make beauty from the hurt of our lives.
Susanna Lang’s third collection of poems, Travel Notes from the River Styx, was released in 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. She lives and teaches in Chicago. More information available at www.susannalang.com.