Review by Connie Stadler (unpublished)
In “Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal” Donna Snyder takes us on a journey of profound interior discovery reminiscent of Baudelaire’s “Fleur du Mal.” Each poem is a study of the infinity in emotional nuance that shades and inhabits the most profound of human loss and the depths to which the soul must travel to begin to find new groundings—the ineffable rationale for continuance. While the impact of death is an arena that attracts many writers, few have explored its intimacies with such fierce courage and such exceptional artistry.
A quintessential poem in this collection is “To Titian’s Ariadne”, repeated here in its entirety.
My body twists and turns in naked sorrow,
my love gone on his strange and lonesome journey,
I am left exposed, undraped,
grasping scarves around my fleshiness,
silken shields red and blue.
Vulnerable to passion and dissolution.
Exposed alike to beasts and the naked sky.
My red hair is a noose about my neck.
I am eager for the grave.
The senses compel me
to lose my abandoned flesh to pleasure.
Oblivion lurks on cat feet in the wild dark.
From the very first line we are garroted by the confronting image, as we move through a composition with all the simple elegance of a Neruda ode, we enter a maelstrom of color, texture, frenzy and a desperation that will not be soothed. Snyder’s cat carries the potency of Eliot’s scavenging marauder. It is there, an image as incontrovertible as the newly inhabited grave of the loved.
But what of the return? After immersion in the cadences to the very gods who have stolen beloved friends and a lifelong companion, we reach the final pages wondering – how will she bring us back? Is there a way back? What is the path to the “riot of rebirth”?
As we go slowly through each work, we learn there are many tributaries; feasts of intellect; renewal accomplished cell by singularly stirred cell. It is borne out of the deepest recesses of conscience and by every tremor that speaks to need and the slowly returning recognition that there is — whether we want it or not – a division between darkness and light. The incandescence of passion takes us out of the beloved’s coffin with a screaming rage— demanding air, brutal light, all, all will not be stilled.
In one of her final poems of the collection, Snyder – known by many in art circles as “La Maestra” – opens a window into the soul of the survivor.
“I am a piece of tissue-people will use me until I disintegrate into nothingness. I am dirty dishes—I always need attention. I am un veterano—disordered by my post-traumatic sensibilities. I am Job—punished and tested beyond comprehension. I am King David because I am blessed by God.
I am a poem because I incite with words and create images in your mind. I am a grocery list—nothing more than a collection of needs. I am like trouble—I never seem to disappear for good. I am like the internet—connected to sentient beings across the world. I am like my clients—I need peace with dignity and grace.”
In the wake of this shared time we are all veteranos; all embracing the search of needs; all seeking a scintilla of dignity and grace, and coming away with a renewed and beautifully hued appreciation for the path we each must travel.
Constance Stadler is a political anthropologist who has written and co-written six compilations of poetry. She has been recognized as a two time finalist for the Pushcart Prize and has also been recognized as a finalist for the international Erbacce prize. She has served as editor of a number of journals including Calliope Nerve and Eviscerator Heaven and teaches writing workshops across the country.