Review of Ellipses


Writing the Body 
Andrea Macpherson - Ellipses 

The two poetry collections at hand converge on a shared fascination with the roles that our bodies give to us, and the ways that our bodies can reveal things about us.  The poems in Andrea MacPherson's Ellipses are concerned with motherhood, with focused narrative sequences centering on particular women.  Diane Tucker's collection Bonsai Love is a miscellany of poems written with compassion and empathy for the human condition, especially in the human feature of embodiment.  

Ellipses is broken into four sections; the first two, "the other mothers," and "routine" contain narrative poetic sequences that explore and reflect on the lives of May and Gertrude, the author's two grandmothers. The poem "the gaze" in the section about May is a story of May's character as well as the author's own retracing of family history. The poem evokes the speaker's reflection on this important woman in her life: "She'd stepped backwards instead of forwards and then spent the rest of her life trying to retrace those steps: How did I get here, how did I get here?" These lines sum up the cuious, reflective, and meandering study of the speaker's grandmother. The following section moves more quickly through the stages of Gertrudes life. The pair "routine, 1951" and "empty, 1977" creates a powerful juxtaposition: the first, a visceral exploration of the physical demands of mothering three small boys, and the second, a picture of a grandmother holding her son's baby during brief and infrequent visits. The fourth section, "directions for sleep," redirects the focus to the speaker's life and her experience of having children as she reflects on her past growing up. Throughout the collection, MacPherson does "reclaim" motherhood, as her press release suggests. Her poems make motherhood not merely worthy of "the stuff of poetry," in the words of one of her speakers, but they also make motherhood the topic for poetry.  Through the crystal clear and incisive imagery of bottles floating in soapy water, a fresh epidural scar, ominous black vans, and heavy bloodstained laundry, MacPherson takes readers into the most difficult problems of motherhood, those with ever puzzling questions of abortion, suicide, child abduction, and the death of a child.  She approches these risks of motherhood with just as much curiostiy and compassion as she brings to scenes of tender new motherhood, demonstrating the rich and vast possibilties for poetic exploration of mothers and mothering....Neither poetry collection carries any such regret. Both poets prove their skill through these strong and sophisticated compilations. Side by side, they enrich each other through their poetic exploration of what it means to be defined and shaped by the roles our bodies hold for us.

— Susie DeCoste Canadian Literature

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