A debut poetry collection explores faith and family.
Divided into 12 numbered sections—“one o’clock: A Time to Be Born”; “two o’clock: A Time to Die”; “three o’clock: A Time to Plant,” etc.—this book showcases a fresh deployment of language and the energy of innovation. Take the metaphors in “Birth Announcement,” for example, that describe the newborn baby: “Little temple / Little closet for the soul…Leaking lover,” or the self-introduction: “Hello, my name is / Griever, daughter of Leaver, / party of one.” The poems surprise with frank confessions, as in this address to a long-dead father: “You were supposed to give me a better ring / than the crap one I got when I turned sixteen.” As details compress into taut, musical lines, an intriguing origin story emerges: “I am from the stench / of a 4:00 a.m. dairy barn / and a 4:00 p.m. whiskey…I am from this union’s milkmaid, / cake-bake seamstress / who sewed her own wedding dress / and then sewed mine.” Avoiding both sentimentality and generality, the twin traps of writing about life, the book turns to a creative use of formal patterns. In the list poem titled “How to Mother Your Children If Their Father Dies: An Inconvenient 12-Step Program,” Point 3 instructs the mourners in how to grieve: “Provide ashes for everyone by burning up how you thought life was going to be. Allow children to donate to the cause and heap their own ashes on their heads.” Pannell’s subject matter swerves from family legacies to religious faith—its loyalties and hard places. By the end of the book, in the section “eleven o’clock: A Time to Be Silent,” faith arrives with such grace that readers understand it never left. In the poem “Silent Retreat,” a “beautiful, holy place,” the spirit tolls at 5:50 p.m.: “I heard the bells, and my soul unlocked. / They gave flight to what I cannot say.” Moving and funny, these lines deserve attention.
A striking and courageous volume of poetry with an original voice.