Reviewed by Sarah W. Bartlett
From the first poem, “Autumn’s Yard” explores themes both enduring and endearing. In this debut collection, Averyt pays close attention to the vagaries of nature – from the external world of Nature we associate with trees, flowers and birds; to the inner world of nature as personal character and spirit; to the Big Questions concerning the nature of life, love, mortality, eternity.
The first thing the reader learns is that Averyt loves to move ordinary language around, catching both the unexpected and the doubly-intended meanings in a single pass. This she achieves through word order, reference and line breaks as much with as the sound of words themselves.
For instance, in the opening poem she writes “Here the doves in coo/mourn . . .” where the pun on here/hear immediately alerts the reader to a needed second look at the stanza. Then of course the mourning dove, rather than cooing, is “in coo,” both a reversal of the anticipated order of the phrase and an added level of meaning.
Such artfulness is also evident in the ordering of the poems throughout the collection. Sometimes the closing word, line or subject from one anticipates the next. In the case of the first two poems, we end on “turning” to find the next poem titled “Turning 70.” This device is both subtle and helps carry thematic integrity as a unifying thread throughout the collection.
In part the sparsity of her language permits multiple interpretations. Phrases float on the page in fixed relationship to one another, permitting the images to float into and above one another in our reception of them: “breeze asway/pine needles light/shadow dappled/beneath an evergreen,” so poignantly capturing what remains of an autumn afternoon when the crimson leaves fall, holding us with her in that moment of contemplation.
While most of the poems are short, there are four two-page offerings of a more narrative nature. In “Passing Thoughts,” she weaves a counterpoint between the deaths of grandfather and cat. Far from being a trivial piece, it is an intimate exploration of the bound(arie)s of death.
On this subject of death, a favorite poem is “Giving Way” with its many plays on words, starting with the title; and moving into “the ones not too badly damaged/go to Salvation,” “our cousin spoke for the empire,” “someone/has taken time/removed the clock/from the wall/and pocketed the key.” Beneath the beautifully crafted language lies the bedrock experience of those left behind: “All the questions . . . all the memories . . . fill the house/we are emptying . . . as if it were easy/giving way.” And without naming it, asks the age-old questions: how do we give way to change, to loss, to expectation, to our own mortality?
In writing workshops and classes I lead, we engage in a practice of jotting down resonant lines and ‘reading them back’ to the writer as a way of saying what ‘found good ears’. Averyt’s work makes me want to offer a series of lines just because they are so lovely. This, from “Questing Immortality”: “a gathering of spirit/tenders the solace/of eternity.” Or this: “the sun/splits/the mist/splays/open/morning’s/yearning” from “First Light.” But then I’d just be re-writing the collection all over again!
Her poems about love lost are no less poignant than those on death: “now left only/with the pierce/of emptiness/bellowing” from “Speech Less,” and “I can be cut in half and still be whole” from “Leap the Dips.” Near the end of the collection, “Musk of Memory” ends with these lines: “grieving less/wanting more/still rooted/in earth.” And so are we after reading through these meditative reflections on the many aspects of nature.