For National Poetry Month, we read Gloss by Rebecca Hazelton, part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Our book club consists of Alexis Paperman, publicity assistant and grad student studying library information science; Morgan Reardon, marketing assistant studying English literature and American Indian studies; and Julia Knecht, exhibits and data manager.
Morgan’s favorite poem was “Recast, Again,” in the first section of the book, “Adaptations.” The poem beautifully captured the feeling of a child’s helplessness and how we can be observers in our own lives. She interpreted this poem to be describing the speaker’s childhood of witnessing a failing parental relationship and how the speaker wants to shield their own child from its effects. The imagery really brought the reader in, as though they too were lying on the ground watching the rest of the world float by: “I spent most of my childhood watching / the clouds / revolve while I stayed still.” The way the poem is structured, in short stanzas spread across the page, evokes the drifting of the clouds. This poem also explores how our memories can shift and trick us into believing in things that never happened, but the point is that it doesn’t matter. The speaker is looking toward the future, toward the person listening to these words.
Julia especially enjoyed the poems “Group Text” and “Why I Don’t Believe.” “Group Text” is a nuanced portrayal of modern friendship in a digital age, detailing a group text exchange between friends that bounces seamlessly between philosophical queries and poop emojis. It explores how a digital medium influences our social exchanges, such as how the speaker is “just three dots, shimmering.” She is a witness, always on the cusp of contribution. “Why I Don’t Believe” takes a painful look at the fading relationship between mother and young son, best summarized by the line “I am in an unequal relationship / with a toddler.” The poem is a startling portrayal of motherhood that strays from the straightforward narrative of limitless motherly love to consider socialized conflict that arises as children age.
Alexis wanted to say the whole collection was her favorite, however, when pressed, she decided on “Recast” and “Largest Hands.” The idea of “Recast” is not exactly new. It is the description which Rebecca Hazelton utilizes that illuminates roles of women: “the glaring lights of a delivery room after she’s moved the story along.” Indeed, there are times when that line has resonated with Alexis—that what she is doing is simply moving the story or plot of someone else’s life forward. She thinks that many of the moments presented in Hazelton’s collection will resonate with women. Strong imagery is one of the things that appeals to Alexis in poems. Hazelton’s poem “Largest Hands” is filled with such imagery as it describes the functioning of the dollhouse. Underneath the first layer of “Largest Hands” is again the questioning of what forces in life create a fragile ideal that leaves the soul wanting. It is hard to properly do justice to the poem in a simple excerpt; however, here is the line that drew Alexis in: “Where are the children? They were too expensive.” It is the fourth line in, and, without the context of the poem as a whole, may not mean much. Still, Alexis hopes you take the time to read both poems as well as the rest of Rebecca Hazelton’s collection.
Overall, we thought this book was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The way Hazelton plays with structure really adds to the depth of her poems. She weaves the concept of people portraying themselves in different ways to themselves and others throughout each piece. She comments on this using the metaphor of Hollywood, describing people as actors who perform on and off set. Along with discussing the sense of self, these poems also examine sexuality, relationships, and power. The cover image, lipstick smudged off of a pair of slightly agape lips, feeds into the idea that we cultivate an image for ourselves in the public eye, but that the way we cover and disguise our inner selves cannot be easily taken off. These poems fit well together, and though some of them stood out for us personally, it felt like they were a part of a cohesive collection. A reader with any level of experience reading poetry will be able to connect with Hazelton’s words.