A celebrated poet, novelist, memoirist, and editor returns with an account of a life lived to the music of poetry.
Norton executive editor Bialosky (The Players, 2015, etc.) traces her life by discussing poems that are significant to her or that comment in some fashion on life’s various mileposts. Beginning with early childhood and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” she continues to the present, pausing to focus on specific works and, in some cases, on the lives of poets. Her sections are short and focused—“Discovery,” “Shame,” “Depression,” “Sexuality,” “Ancestors”—and many of the works and poets will be familiar to most readers: Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Shakespeare, Keats, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens. But Bialosky introduces some artists who are less familiar in the popular culture: Stanley Plumly, Eavan Boland, Adam Zagajewski. The author uses this format to deal with moments of joy, crisis, surprise, and horror in her life, including the dawning awareness of her love for poetry, the death of her father, the ensuing frustrations of her mother, the struggle to find love, her loss of two newborns, and the suicide of her little sister—a loss Bialosky wrote about in History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life (2011). At times, when the poet’s life is especially relevant, she will tell us a bit about that person (Sylvia Plath); at other times, she offers very little biography (Edwin Arlington Robinson). Although her conception and presentation are fresh and original, Bialosky sometimes slips on a cliché lying in her path—e.g., her blood ran cold when she first read Anne Frank; seeing an attractive young man caused her to feel “like a Christmas tree all lit up.” Thankfully, such bumps in the road are infrequent.
An emotional, sometimes-wrenching account of how lines of poetry can be lifelines.