Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
Poetry of a Life is a hard-hitting poetry collection by Sharon Romero that covers such topics as the ups and downs of life, faith, spirituality, relationships, and even trauma.
Now, let's get this out of the way first: first impressions are very important, but they aren't everything. This book started up as creaky, grinding, and rusty as an El Camino that's been sitting in a garage under a tarp for decades to preserve its good looks. In other words, this book had a very slow and concerning start that doesn't reflect the overall good quality of the rest of it. This book is very bottom heavy. You generally want your biggest, strongest, hardest-hitting content near the front. It's what grabs the readers. Almost all of the best poems in this book are closer to the back.
But, boy, did we love those later poems!
Something you'll immediately notice about the poet's style is that she loves to use the repetition of phrases. It's far and away her favorite technique. We're curious who or what inspired her to adopt this style and if it was something she learned or just developed spontaneously. There are several different variations of this technique, one of the most common being what's known as anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of lines of poetry. We see this particular technique used in “You Got to Be Good” in which the title phrase is used in almost machine-gun fashion from line to line. Another example is “Who's that gorgeous girl?” repeated in machine-gun fashion, again, from line to line with emphasis.
“You & I” is a poem that uses a wrinkle of this technique with the phrases “You are my...” and “I am your...” starting different, contrasting parts of the same line separated by a semi-colon.
Romero actually seems to favor the epistrophe variation of poetic repetition. Epistrophe is the use of repetition at the end of lines of poetry. For example, in “Why You and Me” the title phrase is repeated about every 2-4 lines. Likewise, in “Women without Notice” the title phrase is repeated at least five times at the end of a series of statements.
Now, with that said, the anaphora and epistrophe poems tend to be some of the weaker ones in this collection, although they are great case-studies for poetry students. The truth of the matter is, they're an example of something that actually becomes cloying in a work of literature. When you are exposed to the same things over and over again, you become desensitized and less amused by them. That's just the truth of it. It's like that with anything. If you have characters who have near-death experiences in every single chapter, you're going to catch on as a reader that the character probably isn't dying anytime soon, thus ruining the suspense and specialness of the work. Likewise, if you have anaphora and epistrophe as your bread, butter, and crutch in over half your poems, it's going to come across as a bit gimmicky and contrived after a while. You generally want your poems to flow. You don't want them to stop and go. You don't want them to hit a breakwater or a dam, you want them to flow freely down a slope and into greener pastures. Ideally, you want one thing to lead to another thing and then another thing. Instead, what usually happens with these repetitive techniques is that, well, they become repetitive. You keep going around in a circle.
Well, with that out of the way, let's get to what we really loved. Once this book got past the lovey dovey, mushy stuff, the repetition, and the social commentary (things which are all standard in every poetry book ever written), it really picked up. One of the very best poems in this entire collection—one that hit like a brick—was “Someone Else Doesn't Replace Someone Else.” Yes, it employed a lot of the same repetition techniques we'd seen earlier, but it punched home such a familiar feeling: the feeling of replacing or being replaced—the profound feeling of loss and wondering where you're going to go from here. That was truly something special. Many of us know someone who has lost a loved one, then went on to remarry, adopt, or move on to “someone else” in one way or another. It's a very uncomfortable, unsettling thing, but it almost seems natural and commonplace. This poem reminds us that just because we move on with someone new, it doesn't mean we've forgotten, replaced, or stopped loving that special loved one from our past. Instead, it's almost like writing a new book. It's separate from the old with its own specialness and uniqueness.
Another extraordinary poem is “Time Travel”--written with a combination of three and four line stanzas. This is another hard-hitting poem that generates a ton of emotion and empathy for the sole reason that it's something we've all considered from one time or another: what if we could go back and change the past? What if we'd chosen differently? Treated that person differently? Warned them or ourselves that something awful would happen?
Last but not least, there's the phenomenal poem titled “Shiver and Shake.” This might be the best, most tactful portrayal of post-war PTSD we've ever read, or at least one of the most accurate portrayals. We are or know people who suffer from post-war PTSD, and this is exactly what it feels like. You will often have dreams of being attacked, assaulted, or otherwise in conflict, then wake up clutching or ready to fight the person near or next to you. You sometimes feel cold and anxious, unable to rest without feeling like something might happen or that some unseen enemy might “get” you when you're vulnerable. You shiver and shake.
So, overall, we can definitely recommend this book of poetry!
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