Sunday, September 15, 2013

Linda Gregerson Is A Master of Her Craft

Linda Gregerson is not a good poet. She is a great poet. A lot of the poems in The Woman Who Died In Her Sleep deal with death and mortality. This is one of my favorite subjects. But this isn’t the whole of the book. She also deals with religion, love, parenthood, weather and seasons, politics in America, life in Michigan and a myriad of other matters that you’ll just have to dig into by reading this book.

                For Gregerson, death isn’t an event that we wait to reach. Death is all around us. It is as much a part of life as life is a part of life. Life and death cannot be separated. Although this notion is not new, by any means, the way she communicates this fact is fresh and heart-warming. What can we do about something that is always around us? It surrounds us with its open arms like blankets. For Gregerson, death is found in abundance, on the dinner plate and in the grass. She mentions a neighbor’s sentiment that death “will not have her if Jesus/does first.”

                I should back track a bit. The poems in this collection are not about death. Rather, the many ideas and notions of death, some true and some false, are so imbedded within the work just as death is so imbedded within life. Death is not subject matter, but thematic and the thoroughness with which Gregerson addresses it is very admirable. She presents many different ideas from many different people: Her daughter, her neighbor, her father, etc. So it’s not just Gregerson’s notions of death that we read, but a communal attempt at understanding what it is and what to do about it.

                In this age of information it is easy to think we are entitled to freedom. And those who lack means or access to this information are below us. However, Gregerson asserts in the poem “Luke 17:32,” differently: “How is it in this second/world, the one where we start over, that/we still/can’t get the story right? Who/cannot read shall not/be saved.” A lot of Jesus’ followers were illiterate. Mohammad, arguably one of the greatest prophets to ever live, could not read. Are Jesus’ followers saved? Is Mohammad saved? Gregerson’s question is valid. What does it take for us to feel like we are better off than another? Where are we going? Are we any better off now than in Jesus’ or Mohammad’s time?

                One of my favorite lines in the entire book comes from the poem “Creation Myth,” where Gregerson writes: “I/will take the world for home.” This line is so simple yet so profound. I feel like there are a lot of religious people who deny this world. They are so caught up with the idea of Heaven or an afterlife that they don’t allow themselves to be at home here. Now, being at home here proves to be a difficult task. With all the death, killing, destruction, lying, cheating and stealing going on. Though it is challenging, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile task. I myself am interested in Heaven as well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t attempt to find home amidst the chaos of this world. It takes a lot of strength to call this place home, and to feel that it is. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with it. You’ve got to hold yourself accountable for the condition the world is in, and not just brush it off as a temporary dwelling that you have no stake in. That line, to me, is an act of taking responsibility for your actions and the actions of fellow human beings.

                The entire collection of poems is a testament to Gregerson’s mastery of her craft. However, it seems she saved her best for last. The last poem of the book is “The Woman Who Died In Her Sleep.” And it doesn’t appear to deal with death as much as birth. But perhaps that is the genius of Gregerson, she realizes the two cannot be separated. She talks about the birth of her daughter, and the months leading up to her birth. She finds it “Amazing/what the flesh can make of all this in/terruption.” She talks about the innocence of her daughter, and how she hasn’t yet learned to ignore her mortal wounds.  

                At 77 pages, this book is concise. Upon finishing it, I immediately wished there was more. But I find solace in the fact that I can go back to this book over and over again. Gregerson doesn’t just talk about her world. She brings us there. When you open the first page, prepare to be taken on a journey like one you’ve never been on before. Prepare to be inspired and disturbed with daring delight. My only regret is that I didn’t find this book of poems sooner. This is the kind of art that I really need.  

To see The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep on Amazon, click here.

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