The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

The Night She Slept With A Bear by Holly Anderson

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Review by Katrinka Moore

– To read Holly Anderson’s The Night She Slept with a Bear is to plunge into a beautiful and harsh world, fully lived in. These interwoven poems weave chaos into a coherence that you sense rather than analyze. While each story, each fragment, draws you in, it’s the way the parts mesh with the visual design and the music that makes reading Bear an experience worth delving into. A line from “Sheherezade v. 2,” describing another book, could apply to this one: “It almost looks like the little stories are chasing the idea of a narrative embedded within the physical behavior of this book.”

But here the pieces are not “little” stories (even when they’re short) because all parts are layers in an unruly whole. In the opening section, “The Theory of Everything,” a narrator’s tale is interrupted with footnotes and sidebars and interspersed with mesostics. A line in the main story—“She snuffles. She snores lightly. Jiggles her brake foot once in awhile.”—leaps to a sidebar called “Recipe for Returning” that gives directions:

Drive an old green Buick across a frozen strait with stolen bottles of Bordeaux, a sack of rice, a sack of beans, slabs of smoked lake fish and a box of books. Find a cabin. Don’t get out of bed for a month.

And this parallels the action in “Time to Drive” in the second section:

She drives at creep across the groaning ice to sleep all alone and emptied in a one room peeled log cabin.

Meanwhile your subconscious is picking up the art in the background on the pages—crank shafts, universal joints, sheets of ice. Listen to the songs. After reading a few times I put on the CD and had a visceral shock at how the music reflected what I was feeling. Turn the page (I’m back in the middle of “The Theory of Everything” now) and there’s a mesostic built around the word KHAOS:

slapped wide awaKe by the glistered
gift of randomness
a gyring Headlong fall into blood fields
blooming plAtinum. deckled
lightning spins then cOnstellates
in veined handS orbiting a black tarred road.

Bear is simultaneously earthy and mystical. There’s rough weather, stupendous natural beauty, hard drinking, lots of lust and love. And then there’s the Bear himself, sexy and sensitive, who writes mesostics based on the Secret Language of Flowers:

did you know that water lily equals purity of heart or that honeysuckle equals generous and devoted affection? Lupine symbolizes voraciousness and gooseberry connotes anticipation.

Nature—both human and landscape—and the role of memory are the underlying forces throughout. “Signe” tells about childhood visits to an aunt’s rural cabin.
Bedsheets hung to dry, slung high on a line strung from the red cabin to her wood pile to the sauna on the shivery river. Water sings stories. Wood is always speaking. … There’s never been deeper sleep than on that screened porch when all was still ahead and shimmering.

This is memory, yearning even, but not disappointment. Anderson celebrates life in all its howling messiness, harmony and cacophony driving together cross-country “on the fumes of the last fill-up.”

The Night She Slept with a Bear
by Holly Anderson
Music by Chris Brokaw, Design by Susan Archie
Publication Studio 2012 $25 soft cover and CD

Katrinka Moore is the author of Thief (BLazeVOX) and This is Not a Story (Finishing Line).


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