Collin Kelley's review of Cecilia Woloch's Late
published by BOA Editions
80 Pages, $13.95
buy the book
Cecilia Woloch's third collection of poems, Late, is arguably her best. After the success of Sacrifice (given a special mention by the Pushcart Prize committee) and her book-length work, Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem, this new collection finds Woloch walking a fine line between melancholy and joy as she grapples with loss and finding love "late" in life.
Late also finds Woloch dabbling in various forms such as pantoums and villanelles, but it is her free verse and prose poems that pack the punch, especially her knack for closing lines. The first poem in the collection, Aubade, offers a hint of the darkness to come in its final line: "There is so much to lose that we haven't lost."
The Bareback Pantoum is a rhythmic gallop through a memory of Woloch's childhood as she and her sister rode horseback with two boys while the woods around her home burned: "the pounding of hooves and the smell of smoke and the sharp/sweat of boys/and the heart saying mine/as we rode toward the flame with the sky in our mouths..."
There is obvious grief at the loss of her father in this book that in another writer's hands might come across and weepy or maudlin, but Woloch simply takes the breath away. "At the end of the world, you would stand beside me, saying, This is my daughter, still. And I would not be afraid to be stepping from that edge into the wind."
In the volume's middle section, Woloch has escaped to Paris where she is meeting a lover and carrying The Passionate Suitcase that comes open in the street outside her hotel. "It spills all the words in the street like coins. The words for desire and regret. I fall out the door on my way to you. The night slams shut. I don't look back."
Woloch is able to inject wry humor in several poems including Proposals, a litany of all the men who have asked for her hand in marriage. "I don't know who they think I am. Do I look like a bride in these rags of wind? Do I look like the angel of home and hearth with this strange green fire in my hands?"
Then there's the sexy East India Grill Villanelle where Woloch's command of slant rhymes makes the Los Angeles eatery come alive as she flirts with a handsome waiter. "His eyes are Hindu blue and when he smiles/I taste the way he'd kiss me, hot and mild."
By the end of the collection, Woloch employs two separate poems to sum up the title of the book. On Faith has the poet reflecting on how people stay together. She thinks of her own parents in "the unmade bed of their marriage" and wondering if she has the faith to stick with her current love. She admits, "faith is hard./When he turns his back to me now, I think:/disappear. I think: not what I want."
Whether she will stay with this new love is unclear, but at the collection's end, the title poem thanks the lover who "lifted me over the garden wall and carried me back to my life."
Woloch has made a name for herself with her teaching and workshops for children and adults all over the country and abroad. She recently set off for another overseas tour to Paris and Poland. It will be interesting to see how these adventures will translate into poetry. If the work is anything like what can be found in Late, it will be worth the wait.
Mr. Kelley is an award-winning playwright, poet, and journalist. His new poetry book, Better To Travel is currently available for order. Visit his site at http://www.collinkelley.com/.
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