My Life on Little River
by Phibby Venable
48 poems, 68 pages, $12.00
Quill and Parchment Press
2357 Merrywod Drive Suite A Los Angeles, CA 90046
Reviewed by Ed Bennett
Water has been a part of poetic imagery since pre Homeric times. The palpable
movement of a river lends itself to the passage of time and its rich aquatic
life has become a symbol of regeneration or rebirth. Phibby Venable's collection
of poems, My life on Little River has elements of all of these facets of
aquatic imagery but she takes it further, allowing Little River to be a
character and to pose a continuum of time and place. The River and the
characters in each poem are related through the river and through their common
experiences of love, disappointment and the beauty of their surroundings.
While I have been reading Ms. Venable's work for the past year, it has been as
discrete poems, each a separate story, each a discrete creative gem. This is the
first time I've seen her work collected and themed and the effect is no less
exciting. A lesser poet would have lumped the poems together with some thought
to the placement with their eye toward two or three anchor poems with the rest
placed around them. This is not the case with My Life on Little River. The
placement is somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology
but instead of interleaving the stories of the characters, Ms. Venable
interleaves the emotions of the characters against the backdrop of the ever
present, ever changing river.
The title poem for this collection, My Life on Little River sets both the
character of the river and the tone of the poems that follow. Lovingly, a
relationship is set between narrator and the River:
"Everything I hold dear, Little River,
you have tossed
in a bowl of yellow,
or laced in blue greens and gray,
as softly as the fish eggs, "
And yet there is also a foreshadowing of the pain and disappointments of life
with the ending lines:
"My words drop into your clay banks,
red with my wounds.
Your rain voice leads me to sleep."
The relationships between characters is stark and honest, as with One Night
Stand where the narrator is making love with a loud fan rasping in the
background. One is led to believe that this is simply another description of a
chance occurrence acting on the narrator until the final lines
"Having heard nothing else so far, I clung,
to the constancy of deafness, like a redemption,
but mumbled something back, you could not hear,
just to keep you in the game."
Do not expect a moral to her poems or a happy ending, for that matter. Life goes
on with each emotion played in front of the curtains.
In The Boat That Ran Away there are again two characters in a relationship and
the river's actions expose the friction between them. The boat slips its
moorings and drifts away and the narrator is blamed for picking a poor site for
the tie up. The boat is later found by the manager of the boat rental, because
he "had a reputation for being responsible". The narrator blames herself for
losing the boat and the accompanying blame excoriation yet discloses her truer
feeling that there was irresponsibility for the relationship. There is a layered
effect in this self examination and throughout the collection the reader is
given a long look at the action and its consequences followed by a deeper truth
that the narrator is aware of.
Not every relationship is failing, however. In You Are My Red Sky the narrator
sings a morning canticle to her lover who is an Apollo - like creature to her
"I search you for a hero and a priest....
You are my exploration of red heat.
You are the morning fire at early light."
Surely, this is what lovers should sing to one another and there is no stark
disclosure of imperfection.
My Life on Little River reads like a collage of experience connected to the
geography and the emotional inspiration of Little River. As mentioned, the
coherence around both the character, actions and discoveries of Little River
bind this collection of poems into a creative work rarely found in "nature
poetry". Mary Oliver has said with no little chagrin that people refer to her as
a Nature Poet while she sees herself as a Poet. Readers might try to do the same
with this work, pigeon holing it into a convenient subject heading. This would
be inadvisable. The poems in My Life On Little River deal with a universe of
actions and emotions bordered by the river. It is a complex amalgam of love,
hurt, dreams and a pure affection for the people and the creatures that inhabit
this universe. Most importantly, Ms. Venable uses the River as a lens for all of
us to look through, finding truth in the large and small things in God's
creation. This is no mean feat.
Editor's Note: This collecton of poetry is the first in a series of
"by subscription" poetry books from Quill and Parchment Press. My Life on
Little River will be printed in a limited edition. Please order right away to reserve
a copy and to ensure that we can continue to support our poets.
Causes Phibby Venable Supports
Child Abuse, Violence Against Women, Elderly Abuse, Animal Rescue, and the
Virginia Water Project. (norfolk)