Poetry Comment

THIS ISSUE BRINGS together two poets we were thrilled to publish in the Women’s Review of Books, and they couldn’t be more different. Linda Bamber infuses her poems with a Buddhist sense of detachment—or rather, the hope of detachment, which life so often defeats. In “Nirvana,” she’s embroiled in the comedy of dailiness: a missing can opener, a visit from the plumber, computer problems, friendship problems, just . . . problems! Nirvana has never seemed so far away, and yet Bamber leaves open whether retreat from the world is what she wants, deep down. The warmth and affection in “Phone Call,” about a wide-ranging conversation with an old friend, makes me suspect love calls her to the things of this world. But what about that beautiful gull in “Dead at Last,” whose indifference to her, and presumably every other human being, comes as a kind of relief? The world is not entangled in our consciousness. Lucky us. Lucky gull.

A tightly written sonnet, Marion Brown’s “Revlon” conjures up her mother’s complexity: formal and stuck in her ways but also sexy, she’s a working woman in a man’s world, keeping it all under control. She’s fire and ice, like her favorite shade of lipstick. What does such a mother teach her daughter? “Before introducing me to one of her / colleagues, she’d nudge me, ‘Smile.’”

I’m reminded of Adrienne Rich’s “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” with its close examination of the falseness at the heart of conventional femininity, the double-edged sword of beauty, which wins a bit of acceptance and maybe even power for the mother while passing on to her daughter the message that to be a woman is to dissimulate. The poem is set in an earlier era, but Revlon still makes Fire and Ice lipstick. Make of that what you will.

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