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Bookshelf

 

The Coronary Garden
by Ann Townsend
ISBN:
1-932511-10-5 (cloth)
1-932511-09-1 (paper)
Pages: 88

In "Love Poem, Unwritten," Ann Townsend identifies a physical abnormality of the poet's heart as a figure for human love: fragile, vulnerable creatures, our very imperfection opens us to connection and grace. The Coronary Garden is a collection braiding love and mortality, and through these quietly powerful poems Townsend announces her presence as a serious voice in contemporary poetry.

In subjects as varied as babies, saints, sex, illness, and the natural world, Townsend locates mystery and gives it to the reader. Her images surprise and delight: "His hands, specked and freckled / like an Irish trout"; "The bird's yellow bars flame on the wind, / slice a circle from the air"; "The sun nurses the grass / to its greenness." But such figures are not merely perceptual; they imply a way of seeing that extends a moral dimension into the nonhuman world. The poems are modest in their recognition of human limits, daring in their assertion of the reach of individual vision.

As we are enlivened by Townsend's perceptions, we are also stirred and provoked by her elisions: these poems know what to leave out. In the sly sexuality of the poem "Your Body's Weight Upon Me," for example, the heat generated by Townsend's details--the sweater pushed aside, her "whitest skin," the flowers wrapped in butcher paper--is balanced by the greater heat of what's left unsaid.

For W. H. Auden, poetry was the "clear expression of mixed feelings." Ann Townsend's poems embody this axiom, letting us relearn the lessons of the heart, in the midst of change and transformation.