ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"to one who bends my time," by Sarah White,

 Deerbrook Editions 2017. A review by J.R. Solonche

In a day when emotional blackmail passes for poetry and content providers pass for poets, it is indeed a pleasure to discover a poet who reminds us that poetry is an art, especially one who does so with grace, wit, sophistication, and steadfast honesty. Sarah White is that poet. She is among those "good writers" as Ezra Pound called them, "who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear."

to one who bends my time, Sarah White's most recent poetry collection, is, for all intents and purposes, an autobiography in verse. Her subjects are childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, marriage, motherhood, maturing, aging, and finally the prospect of death. Her relationship with her parents, her siblings, her husband, her lovers, her sons, all are here.

In her poignant lyric, "What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" we are told the little Sarah "wanted adjectives," unlike her peers who "chose nouns -- / -- a nurse, a nun, someone/in uniform." She feared that she would be a bad noun, "bad nurse, worse poet." Well, the grown-up Sarah became a professor of French, an accomplished painter, and lucky for us, a poet. A poet whose voice is distinctly her own.

She is equally adept writing in received forms and in free verse.  "The Pipe, the Plants, and the Misdemeanor: A Pantoum of '72," is exquisite. It's too long to quote, so take my word for it. But here's a sonnet not too long to quote:


On a Line from Shakespeare's Sonnet 81

"When all the breathers of the world are dead…"
After love, she gets a stuffy nose.
Is she alone in this
or are there others? What to choose?
Deprive herself of bliss

and freely breathe, or proceed
and nearly smother?
Oh, skip it. There is no free
lunch.  No free pleasure

either. She would behave
more chastely if the danger
of mortality were grave
for her or for her lover.

But, really, the risk is slight.
She'll live with it. Good night!

And here is one of my favorites. Hold this brilliant gem up to the light and see it sparkle:


If, at my deathbed,

you seem glum, I plan
to sing the Norwegian
national anthem.

Not that we are Norwegian.
I learned it from a teacher
who was not Norwegian either

but, for her own
reasons, taught her seventh graders
Ja, vi elsker:

Ja means Yes. Elske, Love, Landet,
Vannet, For og Mor, Land,
Water, Father, Mother.

We learned one verse ---
enough to bid farewell
to you, my dears,

to waters, lands, and parents
I have loved, enough to say
"Thank you, Miss Babcock: Ja!

I can continue this review by telling you what a terrific, intelligent, and indispensible poet Sarah White is, or I can give one more poem so you can see for yourself what a terrific, intelligent, and indispensible poet Sarah White is. No contest. Here's one more poem:


Rhyme Goes in and out of Fashion

I sort the socks ---
a tan, a black, a brown ---
I've kept them all
as if the mates
would reappear
out of the blue.
A friend who lived with me
used to slip sweet notes
between the layers
of my scarves
and underthings.

Sometimes in the clutter
I discover
the scribbles of a lover.

I started with a quote from Pound. Let me now end with a quote from Frost. I can think of no poems that better exemplify Robert Frost's dictum, "A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom," than the poems in to one who bends my time. Get this book. It belongs in your poetry collection right next to Elizabeth Bishop and Stevie Smith. If you don't have Bishop and Smith, then get those too.


Both Sarah White's and J.R. Solonche's poems have appeared frequently in Offcourse.

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