With Shakespeare pulling her along, Stepp takes readers from youth to maturity in a life fully lived.
In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Jacques famously breaks human life into “seven ages.” These “ages” stretch from birth to death and divide time into segments, from infancy to doddering old age. In this debut poetry collection, Stepp takes the Bard as her guiding star, opening each of the volume’s five parts with an epigraph from Shakespeare. These five movements, however, are kind of like Stepp’s own “five ages,” and the progress of her poetry mirrors the progress of a life. The opening section takes on family themes and often features poetic meditations on childhood. The first piece, entitled “Une Mère,” is a sad reflection on motherhood from the perspective of a wronged child. It describes the baby’s infancy: “Newborn / So defenseless. / Desperately needing / to be nurtured / as the flowers / need / water to bloom.” Yet the poem takes a somber turn later on: “Scapegoat / Your scapegoat / enduring the sin / you projected to me.” By contrast, poems in the second movement take on the heady, ephemeral rush of young love. Here is “Springtime”: “Dusk and Day / entwine / as lovers do. // Your first love … / He appears / as if from nowhere.” And by the time readers reach the end of the book, such youthful dalliances have given way to full-grown passion and marriage. “Ivory on Ivory” explores how nuptials bring not only lovers but kin together: “My family. / Your family. / … Our family. / Rainbow-colored relatives / wishing us well.” Thus does Stepp guide readers from birth to adulthood in a scant hundred pages of verse. Throughout, the poet’s language is simple and direct; Stepp wastes few words, and her verse is free of affect and flowery ostentation. A reader only wishes that she let her lines stretch out a bit. Few get much beyond three or four words, and this decision occasionally makes promising passages feel jerky and abrupt.
Even in short bursts, these poems exploring the life cycle offer much to treasure.