The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood
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Slow Blooming Gratitudes by Sarah W. Bartlett

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Review by Barbara Lawhorn

 

 

 

Sarah W. Bartlett’s Slow Blooming Gratitudes opens with “Milkweed”, a poem that serves as a welcome, an invitation, and a directive about the joyful service of her written work:

I want my words to spread
beauty and use, healing surprise
to calm your breath, your fevered stress,
to purify what circles within

that feeling and thought might open you
to beauty and nurture against bitterness
that would divide; like milkweed,

weave a silken cord connecting
head and heart-yours,
mine and ours. (1)

Bartlett is committed to rendering the world; that which is glorious and painful, all that connects us and makes us feel singular, all that illuminates and bewilders. Her poems orbit around family, and she telescopes out to larger truths, often both lovely and heartbreaking, by turning a microscopic focus on image. In “For Keeps”, readers are forced to reckon with the death of a son, and the vibrant life of their young daughter—all plaited in a way that denies neither the terror of such finality nor the joy of such open wonder.

“May I keep it?” she asks,
brown eyes beseeching
as plump fingers clutch
one hard lump, the last
ashen remain of her older brother
now scattered from ‘his’ rock
at ocean’s edge; her

heart hungering for comfort
in the face of this finality,
the familiar disintegrated
and dispersed; her innocence
seeking solace in our seaside custom
to collect, keep and not
let go. (11)

Bartlett’s poetry and prose has appeared in Adanna, the Aurorean, Minerva Rising, PoemMemoirStory, Mom Egg Review, Ars Medica. Her work has been anthologized, including the award-winning WOMEN ON POETRY. Slow Blooming Gratitudes is her second chapbook with Finishing Line Press. Into the Great Blue: Meditations of Summer was published in 2011. Bartlett’s bio explains, “Language remains the medium for her dual life work: creating communities that support individual transformation and healing, and her own creative writing. She does not know how to live without pen in hand.” For 25 years, she used her writing “in service to planning, marketing and public relations for non profit organizations.” Since 1993, she has been a change agent through Women Writing for (a) Change, and in 2004 was licensed to found Women Writing for (a) Change-Vermont. LLC. “In 2010 she founded writing inside VT, a weekly writing group inside Vermont’s sole women’s prison using the same intentional practices to encourage healing for personal and social change within a supportive community.”

This focus on intentionality and healing is inherent in her poetry, particularly the meditations on sisters, fathers, husbands, and children. Bartlett does not flinch from our bodies’ failings, and how our body’s disintegration can either momentarily shut us down or set us ablaze with love. Bartlett throws open windows in readers’ minds and hearts as she offers us “Hunger” in which a father, wheelchair bound “in shades of scarlet maple/and reckless fuchsia/of late-blooming impatiens” seizes his daughter in an unexpected hug, “…making up for lost time/or anticipating it” (7). Loss is inescapable in this collection of poems, and yet Bartlett’s greatest strength is in recreating the complexity of loss and sharing her mighty will to look toward beauty. Whether it be reconciling the process of a sister’s illness, a husband’s body becoming a new and unknown territory, or the death of a beloved cat, Bartlett turns her gaze, and thus the gaze of readers towards what remains: love.

Slow Blooming Gratitudes
by Sarah W. Bartlett
Finishing Line Press, 2017, $14.95 [paper] ISBN 978163541997
30 pp


Barbara Lawhorn is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. She’s into literacy activism, walking Banjo (the best dog in the history of the universe), running, baking and eating bread, and finding the wild places, within and outside. Her most recent work can be found at The Longleaf Pine, BLYNKT, Nebo: A Literary Magazine, and Naugatuck River Review. Her favorite creative endeavors are her kids, Annaleigh and Jack.

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