The Lifeline Trembles
by Mary Kay Rummel
67 Poems/ 108 Pages/ $15.95
Blue Light Press
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
Poetry is an elevated form of speech using words to create a different perspective of reality. How well this perspective is communicated to the reader is where the poem succeeds or fails. Poets use a series of tools and literary devices to engage the reader to share this view, resulting in a shared vision of a unique and subjective reality.
The question, then, is how does the poet engage a reader when dealing with disparate subjects and events? In most cases, a poet will seek an emotional link with the reader allowing the reader to be immersed in the poet’s vision of the subject. This shared link allows the poet to elicit similar feelings for the subject in the reader and it is across this link that the communication takes place. Using this technique, the poet and reader experience the same emotion. One needs only to look at Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge” and Blake’s “London”. Both are poetic scenes of the great city but Wordsworth’s is a paean to its beauty while Blake’s description is dark and quite pessimistic. Yet, in both instances, the poet sets the mood and controls the emotional pitch throughout the poem.
Aside from establishing an emotional linkage, there are some poets who go beyond the emotion describing their vision of the subject and allowing the reader to join them. This shared vision is where the poet engages, allowing the reader the freedom to become part of the poetic environment. Mary Kay Rummel is such a poet and her latest book, The Lifeline Trembles, carries the reader into a world of almost sacramental beauty. Her poem “Ordinary Time” is an example of this technique. In the Christian calendar, ordinary time is the time in between the seasons of Easter and Christmas. During that time, the gospel readings elicit the journey of Christ through Galilee. In Ms. Rummel’s poem the journey is by a seaside entranced by a “hummingbird aerialist”, a mother duck and her brood, a turtle that become, for her
“everyday mysteries made of the holy
shaking out of murky depths –
a Brahms sextet or the sun burnt woman
sleeping on the beach
next to what she owns.”
Like many of her poems, she begins with a spiritual flourish, “I learned time on my knees/ measured by red rosary beads, /sorrowful mysteries always…” What differentiates this from religious poetry is the sharp turn away from the externals of religion to the realities of Brahms or a sunburnt woman. The reader can accept the spiritual view or not but no matter what the decision, the reality of the image remains.
This same dichotomy of sacred vs. profane is found as well in “The Eyes of the Saints”. Beginning with an admonition to “keep custody” of your eyes by nuns, a group of young sisters walks down the cloister’s hallway with their eyes down, seemingly in obedience to the order. Yet in the shadows of the hallway, some of the nuns communicate with hand signals to set a time to meet and talk. Interestingly, Ms. Rummel uses the term “mudra” to characterize the hand signals. A mudra is a hand signal used in India in both Hindu ritual as well as in classical dance. The tension builds as the nuns walk, one of them (or perhaps many) pondering the cost of their lowered eyes and the avoidance of so much around them. The last stanza brings resolution with
“What’s that ripping sound?
Just my unholy eyes
Learning to open the dark,
To discern each petal of the wood lily,
Delicate wings of the damsel fly.”
Again, the protagonist in the poem takes action – her “unholy” eyes take possession of the dark and open it, casting away the shadows. The eyes of this saint are no longer lowered.
The Lifeline Trembles is more than a book of poems. It is a meditation on life and our ability to touch the Divine as we celebrate the beauty of this natural world. More so, it is a journey with a poet willing to share a unique vision.