The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron wrote in one of her books about compassionate living: "Transform all mishaps into the path of enlightenment. Use unfavorable circumstances as the actual material of awakening." These are the words of the bodhisattva, "the awakening warrior, the one who cultivates bravery and compassion." In Chodron's estimation and in her Buddhist teachings, all experience is worthy. One might say the same for Christine Gelineau's extraordinary book, Remorseless Loyalty. So aptly titled, this collection of fine poems shows remorseless loyalty to this world and how the poet sees it.
The speaker in these poems connects her life to the loved humans and animals around her. Gelineau plumbs the depths of human relationships, especially of mother/child or, more deeply, of mother/daughter. She searches the past for clues to how we become who we now are. She asks how our culture and the culture of our ancestors act upon us and upon them. She asks Tolstoy's question: "How then must we live?"
Her gaze is steady and intense. A sense of threat often pervades the poems. At the death of the speaker's mother when she is sixteen, she is shunted into the abrupt company of a cousin she hardly knows:
siren sounded out there
. . I'm
Sirens echo through generations, forward to an accident in which the speaker is in the ambulance herself, and then back to her Irish ancestors and their superstitions.
William Matthews once said that all first books have anecdotal evidence that is used to dispense with, but also to create with, those moments of childhood, first love, first death that must be expressed. We see this in such poems as "Rocky Point: First Love": "The memory I hold is slow motion and exact:/ In the sea salt, light-jeweled summer dark, / And never does the wheel descend." The anecdote is used not just for its own sake but to look outward, into the world.
This poet's work is all muscle and heart, filled with passion for all that is lost and all that is still to be had. In "Bliss," spring arrives soaking the sluggish landscape with melting snow while "the uterine / muscle of a month bears down, rousting / the fetuses each from their dark havens, / thrusting them naked and mewling into / the hungry light."
The poet Eamon Grennan, praising Gelineau's poems, noted that "one of the poet's tasks is to encounter pain. Not to resolve it, not even to console it." Here is a poet who not only encounters, but sees. With her help we are able to see, too.
ELLEN DUDLEY is author of Georgraphic Cure (Four Way Books, 2007) and Slow Burn (Provincetown Arts Press, 1997). She is founder and editor of the Marlboro Review.
Loyalty is an eclectic collection of creative and innovative poetry
from the work of Christine Gelineau (winner of the 2004 Richard Snyder
Publication Prize, and Assistant Director of the Creative Writing Program
at SUNY Binghamton). Gracefully offering its readers a lyrical investigation
into the literary complexities of Gelineau's work, Remorseless Loyalty
is a superbly presented anthology of poetic rhetoric. Spring Again: Spring
again//that old chicanery/of sun-finished flowers//The meadows/are tricked
out/in sudden green,//the rivers gulping,/tearing to the sea//We are so
eager to believe/the sleight-of-hand/the magic cotton-tailed trees//Smoke-white
blossoms/cloud the air yet/beneath//our feet the earth maintains her old
BACK to BOOKS
last updated 1/27/2011
Copyright Christine Gelineau 2006. All rights reserved.