Review: Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal; by Donna J. Snyder; Chimbarazu Press; NY; 2014; $16.00. Reviewed by Lawrence Barrett
Donna J. Snyder’s new work, Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal, is a work about intimate desolation, and, poignant recovery. Snyder travels through the hard processes of grieving due to the passing of her beloved, Mario Colin, renowned El Paso artist and local legend. Much like her first work, I Am South, Snyder uses straightforward imagery and unpretentious phrasing to drive her work from start to finish. It is the power of this simplicity and a knack for a good turn of phrase that invites the reader to step inside her journey of Grief and Renewal and experience a sensitivity of expression that exists solely in the travail of somber aftermath. Snyder does not overwhelm but rather coaxes one along with melodic wording, vivid imagery and religious symbolism:
I am the stigmata in Jesus’ hands & feet,
Purple flesh a cup for putrefaction.
I am the green odor emanating from his god’s wounds.
Jesus has delivered his painful flesh and ravished spirit
Into the faithful arms of Morfeo.
Sleep is his only friend,
Oblivion his only love.
I am the despair that compels his hand
To mutilate his own flesh.
I am the mutilated flesh.
I am the sad blood singing him to sleep.
I am the sad blood.
I am the blood on Jesus’ hands.
I am the lonely earth
Beneath his feet.
In each poem Snyder subtly shifts between the mystical and the commonplace; between the abstract and the detailed; between shifting moments of anxiety and rebirth in what seems like an effortless and seamless flow. “We got married on Dia de los Muertos,” Snyder superbly blends all her elements:
We got married on Day of the Dead,
We clung to each other like tattoos,
Calaveras dancing in wedding clothes.
Roses hung across the breast of death.
The smell of dampness dissipated.
Darkness became light.
Each poem is a complete work of art that can stand alone. Snyder has also mastered the short poem, streaming her imageries, line by line, like counterpoint melodies playing off each other; very haiku-like.
Green is a fine way
A mockingbird sings through the humid evening,
The smell of oleander dizzies the dancers into silence.
There is a magic door in a leaf-crept wall, green with portent.
Only the gravest ill can justify such anguish.
The way to the other side is through the ancient door.
Green is a fine way to end one’s days.
At times Grief and Renewal reads like a poetic novella, bringing the reader, poem by poem, along a sequential journey of healing. Snyder’s new work is risky in its edginess with the use of such dark thematic material. Again, nothing is overplayed. If poets, traditionally, have one, or perhaps even two, defining works, Grief and Renewal certainly ranks as a seminal work for Snyder. Her first work, I Am South, has an earthy quality and a professional feel to it. I Am South a good and competent work. However, Grief and Renewal packs a hard punch and flirts with greatness. After reading Grief and Renewal, well, count me a fan.