SIGNAL FIRES by Sy Margaret Baldwin


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Baldwin’s debut poetry collection blooms delicately, with occasional shock flares.

The author splits the book into four numbered sections, grouping her poems loosely into reflections on childhood, adult life, places she’s visited, and world events. However, the sections never close their borders to a variety of other subjects. The purest lyrics pull on the taut, gem-encrusted strings of early awareness: the young self at the beach, keenly observed life in a pond, and the linkages that bind people each to each and threaten to snap. She dedicates the book to her elder sister, so it seems fitting that she notes her sister’s tenuous position “lying among the snares / of insectivorous plants, the strange / and rare sundews” in the meadow of girlhood. “Surely the clear cold eye / of the spring will still connect us,” the speaker insists, knowing that she must leave her sister be, and must give her over, in her growing pains, to the nurturing plant-scape of solitude. Along with this ultra-close focus on reassuring natural patterns, the book also reaches into the dark. A haunting poem called “The Teacup,” for example, depicts a domestic change: a woman accidentally sweeps her cup off the table, and the birds outside the room sound an alarm: they “twitched in and out of the rose trellis / flicking their loosely-hinged tails. / The room became shadowy. / The ghost of her mind began crying.” The scene evokes Lewis Carroll’s Alice at a strange tea party, for the leafy hedge absorbs the wrens and there is “no path back.” But this tiny poem also describes the physical uncertainties of older age, and as it shows only aftermath and disappearance, it swallows itself up. Responses to paintings and photographs round out the collection, and the titles alone say much about their political subjects: “Berlin,” “Voices of Nagasaki,” “Nadya, Stalin’s Wife,” “Chernobyl.” Cameos from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and “Notes of a Lesbian Physics Teacher” muse on the emotional significance of loving companionship and the “dead-nettles,” “dead silence,” and “dead weight” of unarticulated desire.

A fine poetry volume to read aloud in a quiet room.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0989068246
Page count: 122pp
Publisher: Word Project Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2015


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