Review by Sarah W. Bartlett
We Became Summer reads like a coming-of-age memoir of a young woman finding herself through time, travel, loss and reflection.
This is Barone’s first full-length poetry collection since having two chapbooks published, Kamikaze Dance (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and Views from the Driveway (Foothills Publishing, 2008), as well as individual poems in numerous anthologies and literary journals.
Before reading this new collection, I was drawn in by three things: the title; the cover’s time-travel collage; and the section headings (Heat, Light, Sounds, Home, Breeze). Who would not be curious to know more, to follow Barone into – and through – her carefully shaped offering of sensation, feeling, and movement?
Barone has managed to condense a full life in these few pages, from the coming-of-age experiences of first love through the sensuality of adventure to the final reconciliation of aloneness, both hers and ours. Her knack for the short poem is evident throughout the collection. Some of those in which she memorializes or addresses individual musicians might be less accessible to a reader unfamiliar with their music. However, her appreciation of varied music – its continuo to her life, if you will – is abundantly clear.
Among the poems that speak most to me are those of relational awareness:
”All we had to do was/wear a sultry scowl
and flash a thumb.
We trusted strangers to take us
anywhere we wanted to go.” (31)…and
“I’m willing to caress another raging ego.
Take on emotional havoc.
Who doesn’t want to believe
this time you’re’ the one?” (27)
The speaker in the poems wishes to live life to the fullest at every stage. She writes,
“I want to live life like
Clifford plays the drums.
Coolly observing the heady scene,
he has a feathery touch.” (46).
Only later does she realize “We had all that we wanted … Unaware we wanted for nothing … We want all that we had.” (65). “Priorities sit on a constantly revolving Lazy Susan./I didn’t realize I had the perfect life.” (67). She gives us the essence of that perfect life in concise moments and images on the page.
Two of her tender parent poems especially touched me. In ‘Echoes of a Hardware Store,’ she recalls her hard-working father thus:
“Traditions ebb; simple joys lose poignancy.
But cherished memories spring up
when I walk the freshly-oiled floors
of an old-fashioned hardware store.” (63)
I know what she means. Every time I smell a chem lab, I see my dad’s head bent over a paper or cocked in concentrated listening to colleague or student. Likewise, in ‘Lessons Learned from Moths,’ I recall my own mother’s love of beautiful clothes and resonate deeply with these lines:
“Moths cunningly coached me to occupy now,
not dwell in
closets lined with past lives
nor focus on nostalgia…” (81)
Variety is certainly the spice of this collection – from riffs on musicians and their music, to wordplay in ‘Orange is my New Black,’ to multiple moments from an Italy seen through a young woman’s eyes. For its poetic succinctness and emotional universality, I perhaps like ‘Last Words’ best of all.
But it is the title poem that sums up both the collection, and the wonderful blend of memory and nostalgia for summer that we all experience as we age:
“Long before we needed protection,
we formed tribes and picked a chief…
… before self-awareness replaced laughter
and possession replaced play.
…before ennui replaced embracing fear of the unknown. (89)
We Became Summer warrants more than a casual read, as the density of each piece carries far more weight than its space on the page suggests.
We Became Summer, by Amy Barone
NYQ Books, 2018; 89 pp, paperback
Sarah W. Bartlett’s Slow-Blooming Gratitudes was a New Women’s Voices Chapbook finalist in 2017 and her second chapbook with Finishing Line Press. Widely published in literary journals and anthologies, she mentors incarcerated women to find their voice through writing for personal growth and change.