[Issue #8, Fall 2002]
Walnut from Waterloo
By Sue De Kelver
Marsh River Editions, 2002
Reviewed by Kris Rued-Clark
"Like a child with a fist/ full of wild weeds/ I bring you poems."
These opening lines introduce us to a chapbook that speaks of growing up
in the baby boom decades of 20th century America. Sue De Kelver first shows
us a Catholic girl coming of age in the Midwest in the 1960s. Then we see
her as an adult, tending her garden, growing a friendship, and bearing witness
to the cycles of birth and death as mirrored every season in her garden.
De Kelver delights in wordplay and practices it with a keen ear. She reveals
a sense of humor, the soul of a rebel. The perfection with which she captures
childhood memories elicits chuckles of recognition, followed by nostalgic
musings. These titles suggest the range of emotions dwelling within them:
"Sister Mary Something," "My First Delicious Taste of Mortal
Sin," and "Eat Your Heart Out, Thomas." Yes, you can go home
again, she declares.
She jars us out of complacency with playful twists. In "First Holy
Communion Dress," showing us snapshots of her girlhood, she describes
pious poses taken by parents when the real person is sneaking off in jeans.
At the end, De Kelver triumphantly breaks free of the bonds of others' definition
of self, into her own selfhood.
"Extinction," in which she describes a niece trying to complete
a matched family of toy dinosaurs, becomes a metaphor for the disappearance
of the traditional, intact, "four-person family."
She makes us long with her for an escape from "February's dungeon,"
and she speaks of carrying a butane lighter "to ward off the icicle
demons/ tormenting my southern bones/ a talisman against blizzards."
Here is a woman who is familiar with the realm of enchantment, yet remains
firmly rooted where she has planted herself. To stay grounded in her flights
of fancy, she anchors herself with rocks in her pocket when she visits her
herb garden on windy days.
De Kelver brings a gardener's sensibility to the growing and gathering of
poems. These are the crop of a master gardener, tending her plot with love
and an elfin sense of wonder. Each word has been selected as carefully as
a gardener chooses seeds from the catalogs that bloom every January. She
instills within us a feeling of poignancy at the inevitability of adventure,
looking forward to what the next season will bring. We are rewarded with
a harvest as bountiful as any gardener could wish. Succulent, juicy, and
satisfying, these words will enrich and nourish. Dig in -- there's much
to savor here, and the poems stand up well to repeated readings.
Walnut from Waterloo by Sue De Kelver is available from Marsh
River Editions, M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, WI 54449.
Kristine Rued-Clark works in radio as a commercial copywriter. She is a
member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Marshfield Area Poetry
Society. She has a poem forthcoming in the Wisconsin Poets' Calendar. Her
book reviews have also appeared in Free Verse.
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