||A Review of: Pouring Small Fire
by Lynda Grace Philippsen
Pouring Small Fire by Susan Manchester is a work of self-revelation,
something apparent from her first awkward words of dedication:
"To the parade of feelings created by others in me / and to
the infinite shapes of all imagery, / I dedicate this small portion
of who I am becoming." The image of a drunken father staggering
home with his excuses in the opening poem "Eastern Standard"
introduces an intense pain that roots itself deeply in this collection.
Pain of alcoholism, the deaths of parents, an apparent pregnancy
not carried to term, hysterectomy, the loss of vitality to grief,
and the dissolution of self:
part of me washes up everywhere
and the night cannot console me
nothing reaches me
I abandon myself on every shore
I am rarely drawn to purgative poetry: I often feel I'm being invited
to levels of intimacy inappropriate to my relationship to the writer.
And at first the personal nature of Manchester's work was, for me,
like a velvet rope against entry to her rooms of pain. Once inside,
however, her art transcends the personal to reveal the universal.
In fact Manchester's finely crafted lines, burnished images, and
unifying motifs reveal not only grief's lengthening shadows but
also its luminosity. Small windows in these dark rooms open onto
October's colours, abundance, and ripeness. "I Need to Listen
to What She Says" portrays a woman eating a nectarine, its
juice running down her chin. The narrator tells us:
I know only that I should savour what she says, the sound of
her voice telling me anything, her lips puckering like they
must have when she was a young girl. To know her somehow
and not feel alone.