There is a moment in Brenda Schmidt’s latest collection of poems, in which the speaker invokes the melodious sing-along of nursery rhyme:
Cinderella dressed in white
Went downstairs to say goodnight.
Made a blunder.
Too far under.
How many shovels make it right?
“None”, the speaker interjects, “The going is slow, conditions poor, traffic/steady. There’s a shovel in every trunk.” In this poem, called “Too Far”, acute observation is combined with commentary that is, at times, humorous and, at other times, distressing. The verses are fragmented, while the images mutate from the wild into the mundane, as though the poem stands interrupted in the collection, as an abandoned nature documentary. Yet, still, it belongs, with a marvelous image of a window onto the world of the poem: “Where in hell/is the scraper? I use my nails./Through the scratch marks/the forest resembles a bit of parsley/left on the cutting board.”
That poem feels like a digression, and a telling one. In Grid, moments are approached in their apparent stability only to be swept away in song rife with interruption and fresh stimuli, lending a new perspective. It is as though the familiar ground is an eye glancing back and the reflection only a nodal-point, open to opportunity and play.
Photography is a code, style, or subtext in many of the poems, though there is a dynamic present that makes stasis and capture undesirable. The speaker is free to follow philosophical whims arising out of close study of her subjects, such as the rainbow toad, in the delightful “Warts and All”. The reader will also be delighted with the moments that settle into view, that generate pathos in their wake. In “Leaves,” the speaker contemplates the dying in the late-autumn leaves “still clinging to the trees/…/twisted, shriveled, shivering,/as if they didn’t quite know how to go about falling.” In this poem, the speaker and the leaf are one in feeling, while the dying is just a breath away. Schmidt demonstrates the magic and power of the minimalist form in “A Field of Round Bales”. It is laconic and playfully oblique, as though each image appears as a clue within a greater mystery.
It would certainly be remiss not to mention the relationship between this collection’s speakers and nature. In “Mystic Lake Road Corridor,” a watermark in this collection, the boundary between self and object, human and nature, is invoked. The speaker’s desire for this dissolution is palpable, perhaps unavoidable. As she waves at a truck passing by, she feels a change occur, as though an objectification has taken place. She is “enveloped, filmed,/a whim, all eyes/quick glances, bits of pink,/drooping blooms/the faces of tiny dolls weeping.” The poem is an enigma, suggestive of transformation. Towards the end of the poem, she warns herself against wielding in her camera an unworldly power over her object: “Quiet now./Hold steady. The camera has its limits.” Schmidt senses the fragility in that which she touches, in that which she speaks.
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