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Book Review :: Meltwater by Claire Wahmanholm

Meltwater by Claire Wahmanholm book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Meltwater, Claire Wahmanholm buoys her poems between the loss of a child and glacial ice melt, between “wail / and wishing.” Her poems read like a glossary of “every passing catastrophe,” acknowledging that everything is “made of / vanishing.” And, the poet is “living,” “alive / to notice,” asking, What are the implications of artistic fertility and motherhood when we are killing Earth? Perhaps because the “clock is about to start,” poetic form and sequence are important aspects of Meltwater. In the abecedary poems “O,” “M,” “P,” and “XYZ,” there is an alliterative and assonating accumulation “between mist and milk.” In opposition, words melt “white letters of dread invisible against / their surface of snow” in the eight erasures entitled “Meltwater.” In another series that makes use of variations of the statement “Everything Will Try to Kill You,” Wahmanholm invokes Lucille Clifton’s poem “won’t you celebrate with me.” In her poem, Clifton asserts “something has tried to kill me / and has failed,” but Wahmanholm admits she has “no plan to keep the chemicals separate / from the lake, the acid separate from the rain, the bird from the glass.” A series of four other poems entitled “Glacier” recounts visiting “the bright blue undersides turning over and over in the bay,” which “sounds like a metaphor but isn’t.” Wahmanholm is “talking about water.” The glacial ice melt and sea level rise that will flood coastal areas. Unlike other writers who write about climate crises, I get the feeling Wahmanholm does not write to either avert or despite disaster. Wahmanholm writes “to be ready for whatever [is] left of the world” and what “we suffer the empty universe for.”

Meltwater by Claire Wahmanholm. Milkweed Editions, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear.

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