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Green Bodies by Rosemary Winslow

The Word Works, 2007
Review by Julie R. Enszer

Truth-telling is integral to poetry. Putting the truth into language is both a calling and a struggle for poets. In the forty-five poems of Rosemary Winslow’s first collection, Green Bodies, the struggle of language is evident in both form and content. Green Bodies is divided into three sections and although the book is interwoven thematically each section presents and addresses different concerns.

The first fifteen poems are an elegy for the poet’s brother. Winslow writes with great power and sensitivity about this death. In one of the most ambitious poems of the collection, “Walking Quaker Whiteface Road I Meet My Brother,” she engages both the metaphysical questions of grief in lines such as,

Once in my grief
I saw something of my brother appear
The night after the funeral

As I walked the floors of the house.
A place of whiteness, and sensed conveyance—

as well as the philosophical questions of grief when she writes, “What is it to lose a life you never/had time to live?” Winslow’s lyric and narrative impulses sing in this first section even as she introduces the content that will pressure and transform the collection in the second section.

Narrative wends its way back into Green Bodies leading the book to its conclusion in the final section. The third part can be read narratively as recovery, but it is recovery not only of personhood or the self but also of language. It is in understanding this structure and comment on poetic discourse that Green Bodies opens to its fullness and power as a collection of poetry. The final poem in the book about the dance of two beavers ends with these three words, “startled, suddenly, bliss –,“ a conclusion which even might be the key to the collection.

Winslow is a poet with a keen ear for the music of her poems, but underneath her sonority she is pressing the form and structure of poetry and interrogating language, asking when it works for us and when it fails. This is when her work is most potent: the concatenation of lyric and narrative with sound and form.

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