Review by Samantha Duncan
– So often, the conversation in the modern era of raising families revolves around excess. From the extensive list of “necessities” for newborns to parenting advice books, to toddler play groups and activity classes, to the endless slew of childrearing techniques, some of the simpler pleasures and takeaways one experiences when they start a family easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of family life in the twenty-first century. Rose Auslander’s chapbooks, Folding Water and Hints, are a refreshing reminder of the wisdom and memories domestic life gives to us.
Water is ever present in most of the poems in Folding Water, weaving its way— as puddles, as storms, as ice, as means of travel—through the nostalgia of family meals, childhood lessons, and experiences in different geographic places. Auslander takes readers on trains, down roads, and through waves, landing every so often in a domestic household setting, and she threads these poems together with narratives of everyday life. “Travel Advisory” gives some overall advice for journeys, through places and generations:
Everything will be clean.
There is water.
Waves of it, and you can surf
in the middle of the ocean
that is everywhere.
In this stanza is the promise of a clean slate on which to build a family, or perhaps the comfort of an already established, familiar family. The poems that follow illustrate this reassurance. Family history blooms in poems like “Tsunami Warnings,” about a grandmother sharing stories of her life, and “NaCl,” which recounts a childhood cross-country move. Bits of parental wisdom also shine through, as in the title piece about Auslander’s father, who insisted, “there was always a right way and a wrong way / to do everything.”
Other poems venture into parenthood itself. “Baby Steps” is a short and powerful poem about Auslander’s daughter walking to pre-school in the first stanza and returning in the second stanza as a grown woman, visually illustrating how fast one’s children grow up. “So I Hold” poeticizes the daily rigors of domesticity—the constant worry that one is not doing a good enough job as a parent. In the midst of running the household, Auslander’s grandmother wiggles into her thoughts, and she apologizes to her ghost “for forgetting to make the bed.”Water flows through these travels and families, both past and present, whether it’s there to keep them company or warn them. “Marzipan Rain” sums this up with standout images of rain imprinting itself on memories, “of the ornaments on our wedding cake” and, “cabs softening / to the pale yellow of whipped butter.” It goes on to proclaim:
And when we breathe,
it’s not the sugary-butter of cake,
it’s the bouquet of the first rain
in a freshly-planted garden
Where Folding Water showcases the memories found in family life and history, Hints very succinctly illustrates the wisdom discovered in domesticity and relationships. Its opening poem, “To Stop A Leak,” is more of a demand than a suggestion: “find where the water / is coming from. / Drink it,” setting an assertive tone for the collection. A series of short poems offer guidance through life alone and with others, organized into four categories: At Home; Together; On the Road; and When It’s Over.
The poems in Hints are clever and sharp, offering reminders to actively seek fulfillment and embrace life down to the smallest of details, like the feel of clean laundry dried outdoors and the importance of dreams about home. The latter two sections of the chapbook focus on the self as an entity separate and even travelling away from family, harkening back to the movement and travel themes in Folding Water. “When You Are Lost” aptly suggests a method for finding oneself: “draw a map / radiating out / from yourself.” The lengths of these poems and their focused language make Hints a compelling and cohesive chapbook on how to approach domestic life as it comes together and falls apart.
From the clutter of everyday life, Auslander poignantly explores the simplicity of memory, nostalgia, and enlightenment that’s most important about familial bonds: domesticity, travel, and sense of self. Readers will find themselves relating to and taking meaningful reminders from these two chapbooks.
By Rose Auslander
Finishing Line Press, 2013
By Rose Auslander
Folded Word, 2014
Samantha Duncan is the author of the chapbooks One Never Eats Four (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Moon Law (Wild Age Press, 2012). She is Executive Editor at ELJ Publications and a reader for Gigantic Sequins. She lives in Houston.