This is a collection centred around space – the space in time between now and Etter’s childhood, the space of the great Illinois prairies and the space on the page that Etter uses so masterfully.
‘Night Ode’, the opening poem in the collection sets out the stall – the poems that follow will explore nostalgia, loneliness and finding one’s own path. The image of the narrator walking alone on the dark night streets is filled with potential and feels other-worldly, which is apt in a collection where so much explores the passing of her parents:
“The third hundred-plus day in a row, everyone’s abed
or torpid before
television screens when I float past on the night’s first
Despite this, and despite knowing the focus of the collection, I was still unprepared for the force of the emotion that powers the beautiful ‘My Father and the Blizzard’, which juxtaposes real-life weather reporting with the deterioration of a father’s health – the final phrase “a weatherless world” lingered with me for a very long time.
One of the main features of the work in this collection is the dexterity with which Etter uses spacing in her poems. It’s something I struggle with, but hers is so skilful, many poems could become two through the strength of the line spacing – particularly ‘Prairie’ which opens the second section. The majority of this section is ‘Afterlife’, a long poem spaced over many pages – something I hadn’t really experienced before, but so necessary here when a poem moves page four lines in on the phrase
“the absence holding up so much presence”.
In fact, I hadn’t really thought much about the idea of having a line sit alone on its own page (I struggle enough with one-line stanzas, let alone whole pages), but was blown away by the impact of
“The apologies shine like coins in the bowels of a fountain—”
sitting on its own – which was, I’m sure, the point.
The conversationally-titled ‘And Now for a Kind of Song’ finishes the collection, acting as a sort of doorstop to the openness of the poems between it and ‘Night Ode’ – both songs in their own way, bookending a collection full of ponderous breaths and yearnful sighs.