Review by Lisa C. Taylor
Lori Desrosiers’ third full-length poetry collection, Keeping Planes in the Air builds a narrative about the ways in which family history plays out in the most mundane of moments. The poet grapples with power and perceived power, like a mother conjuring safety for her children when they fly, praying that the planes would stay aloft. The rational and irrational trade stories as family legends are passed through generations.
The poem, “My Grandmother Shoplifted” tells a story of longing for glitter and trinkets, perhaps as the grandmother’s mental acuity deteriorates. This longing for power, both elusive and compelling echoes throughout the collection.
…” the fake jewelry called her to its shelves
where she caressed each glass ring, each bracelet
then put them in her purse, her pocketbook
or her brassiere…” (p. 16)
In the poem, “the ghost of our intentions”, the poet contemplates the imperfections of language as a parental voice chides it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. Misunderstandings proliferate between peers, parents and children, as human inclination seems to be to assume the worst. This poem addresses the ghost of intention that lingers as people try their best to make language rational and comprehensible, only to fail to get their intended idea across.
“the ghost of our intentions/lingers in peripheral vision/like the flash of light/from a torn retina.” (p. 22)
Like a mother trying to control what she cannot, the idea of powerlessness is present in many of these poems. This is the poetry of a mature writer, one who has experienced a loss of friends, relationships and family members. There is the slow grief of a parent slipping away and the power of a woman liberating herself from a difficult relationship. Every ending brings acceptance of the inevitable march of age and mortality.
“…this poem is about emerging
about finding beauty in imperfection
how skin stretches to accommodate
bones their restless march towards death”
(“about the body” p. 49)
Keeping Planes in the Air is divided into three sections: Presence and Absence, Bodies and Dreams, and Space and Possibilities. Each section anchors itself with historical context, whether familial or random, such as a boy glimpsed on a train playing with the zipper on his backpack. The poems seem to posit that we’re all travelers, bumping into the past or present at unexpected intervals. A memory can be triggered by a sound, a scent, a familiar landscape. The nostalgia in these poems is tinged with melancholy for simpler times, even as the poems question whether the perception of that innocence is edited by the memory’s unreliability.
In the last section, Space and Possibilities, a poem, “Second sleep” captures the essence of a long relationship with tender wistfulness.
There is something conspiratory
about being awake in the dark
in the night together in bed
just sharing thoughts, touching hands,
laughing like long lived couples have always done. (p. 76)
Keeping Planes in the Air recognizes vulnerability and the learning that can come from imperfect or even hurtful relationships. There is an inherent wisdom in the poems, but they are not without humor or whimsy. Like most families, the parade of characters that populate the pages—a father who wears Old Spice, a mother who only cooks two things, a grandmother who brightens her life with stolen baubles, are not unlike most families. The quirks, superstitions and stories are imprinted. It is that richness that Lori Desrosiers puts in her poems, granting a kind of immortality to both the nemeses and saviors of her past. Lori Desrosiers’ latest work reiterates what many inherently realize. All of us carry the learning within, the Space and Possibilities of how we want to be remembered and the stories we tell our friends and our children and grandchildren. Failures are as important as successes, and a life without hardship or loss is not possible. These poems are hopeful, celebrating foibles and failures as well as moments that ultimately define a life well-lived.
Lori Desrosiers’s other poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, Salmon Poetry, 2013, and Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, Salmon Poetry, 2016. She has two chapbooks, Inner Sky (2015) and typing with e.e. cummings (2019), both from Glass Lyre Press. Her poems have appeared in New Millennium Review, Cutthroat, Peacock Journal, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene’s Fountain, New Verse News, Mom Egg Review, and many other journals and anthologies. She was a finalist for the Joy Harjo poetry contest and the New Millennium contest. Her poem “about the body” won the Liakoura poetry award from Glass Lyre Press. She holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She founded and edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry and Wordpeace.co, an online journal dedicated to social justice. She teaches Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University M.F.A. graduate program. Her website is loridesrosierspoetry.com.
Keeping Planes in the Air by Lori Desrosiers
Page Count: 94
Publication Date: Thursday, March 05, 2020
Cover Artwork: Photograph by Jessie Lendennie
Lisa C. Taylor is the author of two collections of short fiction, most recently Impossibly Small Spaces (2018), and four collections of poetry. She is the fiction editor and interviewer for Wordpeace.co. Lisa will have another collection of poetry in late 2021.