Unpretentious poetry as personal and familial memoir.
The first section of the latest poetry collection by Parnell (Snake Woman and Other Explorations: Finding the Female in Divinity, 2001) memorializes her family and early-20th-century living. With loving but unsentimental reverence, she records the lives and deaths of parents and relatives. Recollections such as a great-aunt's fondness for contacting spirits ("Cora"), and neighborhood kids feasting on her father's garden ("We Called Him Daddy"), celebrate the gentler pace of life that Americans once enjoyed. The essay "Charles" documents matters seldom discussed in the '30s (breasts, bras, even sex) and "James Frances Parnell" explores the perils of blue-collar working conditions. The second section holds love dedications, addressed to various family and friends: children, partner, sibling, et al. In "For Liam and Sadie Claire," Parnell's homespun style drives the tribute she pays to a set of premature twins who did not survive, and "PAEAN: A Song of Celebration: Remembering the Growing-Up Years" navigates equally well within the household subject matter. The latter forms the crux of the book, a simple but important message: much of life's joy lies in the routines of everyday living. But just as in life, this slim volume does contain stumbling blocks. Her own constipation (yes, constipation) awkwardly inspires a summary of Elvis' final moments in "August 16, 1977," and the analogy in "The Poet and the Chocolate Rabbit"--poetry writing is like eating said confection--would have functioned better as a poem. Parnell shows more flair, however, with "Union Station, Washington, D.C.," an amusing poem in which she encounters a flasher, and "Ariel at 60," a plaintive mermaid's lament, each displaying carefully structured phrases and precise language.
A pleasant, charming read that would serve well as a poetry primer for older adults seeking material that isn't intimidating or indecipherable.