|Jan/Feb 2019 Reviews & Interviews|
Kelsay Books. 2018. 114 pp.
Christine Potter's work first appeared in Eclectica in the April/May issue of 2003, seven years into this publication's 23-year run. In the time since then, 11 more poems have appeared in these virtual pages, six of which are in her luminous and inspiring collection Unforgetting.
I've read this collection multiple times, and I'm always struck by the unexpected moments that occur, like the "paper fan that / opens into a pleated circle of cherry blossoms," found when cleaning out the trunk of "the fancy car that was my mother's before / she began to forget" (in "Escape Mechanism"), and the way the past manages to still seem fresh and real but also to exist as ghosts haunting the present. Looking first at a poem that appeared in Eclectica, one of my favorites that has stuck with me for years is "The House We Didn't Buy." While this poem doesn't go as deeply into family relationships as some of the others, those relationships are still very much present, seen through the lens of the "house that held its anger / tight as the inside of a fist." And even though the family never lived in that house, that day in the poem is real and vivid for me, and I can clearly see the autumn light that was "cold and golden on all that / ugliness," and like the narrator, "can't imagine / anyone happy there." What I take from this is the idea that not all ghosts are of a past that happened—we can be haunted too by the futures that never were.
"Spring Twilight," one of the final poems in Unforgetting, is also one that appeared in Eclectica. This poem adds so much coming where it does near the end of the collection. It's a shorter poem, five quatrains, but it takes the reader smoothly from childhood to the present in a way that makes them both simultaneously real. The narrator describes "watching the season advance through / two small windows at the sides of my parent's / fireplace" and the lines swoop in and out of that past throughout the poem, bringing us to the revelation that "Joy / has caught up with me for no good reason. / I've done nothing to deserve it. Even now. / None of us has done anything to deserve / joy." We end the poem feeling a new connection to our own lives as well, to those quiet moments in the past that pervade the present whether we consciously think of them or not and also to those moments of joy that we may or may not feel that we deserve.
Unforgetting leads the reader through family relationships (parents, grandparents, a sister), the mother's memory loss, and many other rich moments caught out of the past. One poem that really encapsulates this collection for me and a good one to end on is "To the Ghosts in My House." In it, the narrator looks at the repercussions of taking steps to drive away those ghosts, the possibilities of exorcism and "wav[ing] sage smoke that would probably set off / the fire alarm," and decides that she would "never turn you out," and that "Without ghosts, a house is a bad hotel." I see this last as a sort of thesis statement for the collection, that without our pasts, our lives can lose their meanings. And while I would love to linger on each of these poems, I urge you to read them for yourselves and spend time with this book. Potter's work has given me so much of value, both in how I feel brought into another life on an intimate level and also in how I feel inspired by both the unexpected and mundane in my own past and the stories I remember of my own family and my own coming of age.