El Paso Times Review of my book, Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal


Through the grieving process, step by step and poem by poem

March 21, 2015

El Paso Times

Donna J. Snyder’s new work, “Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal” (Chimbarazu Press), is a work about intimate desolation and poignant recovery.

The poems document Snyder’s travel through the hard processes of grieving after the passing of her beloved, the renowned El Paso artist Mario Colin.

Much as in her first collection, “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 knack for a good turn of phrase that invites the reader to step inside her journey.

Snyder does not overwhelm, but rather coaxes one along with melodic wording, vivid imagery and religious symbolism.

In her poem “Lamentation”:

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.

In “We got married on Día 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. In “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” is 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 as a fan.

Lawrence Barrett is an El Paso poet and musician.

Poemas ante el Catafalco:  Grief and Renewal Cover art is

Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal
Cover art is “Angel in Decline,” by Victor Hernández

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