When I was younger, I used to go to the rec center and throw myself in the big pool for the tedious swim test. That initial dive was cathartic, I felt free, I felt like a mermaid, it was beautiful. This catharsis was second only to how I often spent the rest of the afternoon: catapulting myself to the bottom of the twelve-foot section of the pool to touch the bottom, trying to stay for as long as possible, and then the sometimes peaceful, sometimes (mildly) fearful ascent to the surface.
There’s this point of the ascent, shortly before your head breaks the water where you see the fluorescent lights dance through the mini-waves above you. A certain sense of calm usually comes, but at the same time, you’re anxious, air and life is literally inches away, just out of reach, and you hope with all your might that you can grasp it.
(Oh, and by the way, here’s a link to my vlog!)
This is a beautiful collection of poetry, one that has many allusions to birds, mythology, and love. But you know what’s funny? As well written and emotional as the poems were…I didn’t “get” them.
And that was frustrating as heck for me! As much as I like to think of myself as a creative, go-with-the-flow, #vibing person, I am also very analytical. I mean, I studied rhetoric in college for goodness sake! And for whatever reason, all that training seemed to be completely irrelevant here.
Feverfew‘s not like Confess where the poems tell a historical story; it’s not like The Dilemma where the poems tell a story of love and loss; it’s not even like The Sound of Revolution where I saw the poems as speaking to more of an intellectual/spiritual/emotional revolution than that of guns and government.
Instead, Feverfew, for me, evoked the feeling of being on the brink of change. It’s like when you graduate from college but you don’t have an “adult job” yet and you’re putting in apps everywhere but hearing nothing; it’s like when you are dumped and you don’t know why and everything feels kind of surreal; it’s like the 11th month of COVID and you keep saying to yourself “how the heck do we still not have it together, I just need to get out and feel the grass beneath me and the breeze against my face.”
Feverfew is knowing that one thing is no more and something else is coming, and you’re excited but you’re anxious, it’s that moment right before your head breaks the surface of the water after being submerged.
Now I’ve talked a lot about how I felt while reading it, and I suppose you might be wondering about the poems themselves (mostly blank verse; very little rhyming and if anything, it’s slant). Or perhaps you’re wondering about the subject matter (birds seem to be a motif that Saunders enjoy, as do various tales from Greek mythology…also there are a number of references to love and sex…and fire).
Or maybe you’re wondering which poems in particular that I liked–“Emergency Call” was so emotionally charged and intense, but in a wonderful way–or perhaps even verses/lines… I can do that, here’s a few:
- “…how to drop from the heights, / heart-shaped face falling to earth / as if love itself were plummeting” (pp.9)
- “…how wrong we are to think that fire / can cauterise corruption” (pp.10)
- “…she has forgotten they are beaked kleptomaniacs…” (pp.14)
- “That night the moon–a pearl bowl in the night sky / …My realms are sky, the moon is mine” (pp.22)
- “…Seek agape, the brother love, / not Eros with its blades and barbs” (pp.23)
- “…the moment is born, the moment dies, simultaneously” (pp.44)
- “…quiet can be a kind of poem” (pp.43)
I think it’s obvious that Saunders is a skilled poet, and I think it’s clear not because her message reached out and slapped me in the face. I think it’s clear because I could not stop reading–I needed to figure out why the Greek gods seem so important to her; if love is freedom or if the fever of “Feverfew” is passion; why blackbirds are so important that they appear in multiple poems. I needed to finish the book, to break free of that feeling of hope and fulfillment being just out of reach…
So even though I don’t feel confident that I nailed Saunders’s intention(s) for the meanings behind the poems, I still loved it. I still recommend it because it’s simply incredibly well done. I loved that it simultaneously felt like poetry but also like philosophical quandaries or even just personal stories. I loved that she made me feel the urgency and the passion and the peace in the poems, and I think and hope that reading this collection will evoke those feelings for you too. And if you felt something else, let me know!!
That’s all I’ve got for Feverfew, and I’ll be back on Thursday with my regularly-scheduled reviews.