The voices of four women poets are gathered in one place in the beautifully designed collection Mend & Hone. The title’s pungent phrase, suggesting the acts of both repairing and sharpening, intrigued me, as did a question asked on the back cover by the poet D. Nurkse: “How do we make ourselves at home on a stone falling through space?” All four writers in this book seem engaged in the work of finding and making a place for their lives, both within experiences of the physical/natural world and the world of human interactions.
Mend & Hone is part of an annual series published by Toadlily Press, the Quartet Series, in which four writers are presented together to create a conversational effect for readers. Each poet wrote her chapbook independently of the others, and I found it quite fun to see and hear the common threads amongst these distinct voices.
The first chapbook, “Turning the Forest Fertile” by Elizabeth Howort, is one long sequence, the only chapbook in this collection without individually titled poems. A meditative sense of wonder hovers over the work as its narrator navigates, locating a sense of home in the city, in the forest, with another, with silence. It begins within a dream-like place: “Inside a cloud, we rise at mountain’s peak. We lean toward and / talk creation- floorboards, ladders and lofts. We talk to the teeth / of time, feeling a hunger, a great mouth opening, slowly . . .” A couple of pages later, the ethereal shifts and the narrator directly presents her vulnerable struggle to live amidst the multi-tasking life of a city:
. . . I wanted to spread silence into the corners of the sub-
way, into the phone towers and schoolyards.
But the city was loud, louder than ever before. I stood in the
crosswalk, brakes screeching, trucks pounding. I stood at the cen-
ter of the city, feeling my heart rise and fall, feeling my breath
saying silence, silence, silence.
How to restore and keep balance amidst relationships that may or may not stay together is one theme in the next chapbook, “This Meeting of Tracks” by Dawn Gorman. These poems are often situated outdoors in the poet’s native England. In “Revelation,” a couple visits a “ruined abbey” on a winter’s day where “Single cobweb strands link ancient pillars, / glinting like silver tightropes.” No words are spoken between them as they tour this ancient place with evidence of lives long gone. He watches her “trace Braille lichen jottings.” Yet this quiet visit has clarified something, since at poem’s end, “Everything is clear.” In other poems, like “Snatching the Story,” fragility is what’s clear as the narrator, hiking with a partner by stone walls on the “bitterest day / of the year,” imagines being blown away by the wind and notices that “Outside, it’s just / lovers perched / on the edge of things.”
Next, Mend & Hone travels to Tennessee, where Leslie LaChance, the author of the third chapbook, lives. Some of the poems in “How She Got That Way” are inflected with the lively sounds of speech. In “So, There It Is,” her narrator enthuses, “Oh, marry me like you would a river, / Geronimo-hollering all the way down the bluff.” The subjects and the voices shift like jazz in this chapbook. “Everybody’s Talks About It” focuses on summer rain that keeps not arriving: “Sky’s all pearled up like my pageant queen. // Tease. It’s a drought on. Couldn’t give a damn.” What’s wrong with the sky? “She all blue sarcasm, bleached and mean.” These words get right to the point, their direct imagery focusing my attention as a reader. This felt particularly true in “Properties Pastoral” when the narrator instructs: “Count the rustic / vacation homes sprouting / on the opposite ridge.”
The last poet in Mend & Hone, Janlori Goldman, has also created poems that are fully involved in looking and listening to the world around her. Her chapbook, “Akhmatova’s Egg,” also has imagery in which the natural world is a full presence. In “Winter Solstice” she describes the moon’s slow appearance behind shadows “as if sky were a gill / through which all things // flow in filter out.” One thing that flows through her work is a sense of immersion in troubled places, those where “mending” may be useful but not forthcoming. In “At the Cubbyhole Bar,” the narrator is listening to stories layered with trauma as a woman cop describes how her squad of World Trade Towers’ first responders are all getting sick, “in the lungs, the stomach, in your case, the breasts.” The writer of the poem is a listener, and in the last stanza, the storyteller describes a moment she heard great suffering and had to decide how to listen and respond. A woman was begging the cop to allow her to go behind a barricade and retrieve her dog: “she promised the risk was all on her. / You knew it didn’t work that way” but let her go with the words: “bring him this way / so he can lick my cheek.” That little undercurrent of hope is one of the pivotal strands of the urge to make amends for all the broken spots.
Though the voices in this collection were quite varied, their themes and imagery met up in interesting ways. These are poets who are really listening to the quiet as well as to the noise of their lives and the lives around them. I found that the title Toadlily Press gave the work brought questions that resonated throughout the pages: what sharpens us? What mends the breaks?