Review: Big Silences in a Year of Rain by Doris Ferleger

The poems in Doris Ferleger’s first collection, Big Silences in a Year of Rain bear a level of seriousness, responsibility and impact—and a heavy dose of insight. They dwell on memories and moments, usually painful ones, with both an astuteness and humanity that will prove rewarding to the reader. Professionally, Ferleger is a psychologist, so it’s probably no coincidence that many of the poems in this collection deal with suffering, loss, anticipation of loss and the methods of coping with all of the above.

Many of the poems, particularly those in the first section, deal directly or indirectly with the poet’s heritage as the child of Holocaust survivors.

In “Victory” she writes:

My father considered

himself a success

when he found his children

still breathing. Each night

another victory over Hitler.

I learned early

to pretend I was sleeping,

to not be a burden.

In this collection we find a mix of narratives and lyrics, family histories, odes and elegies. She’s a deeply engaging writer, both of the world and people around her and of the perceived reader. While many contemporary poets seem to hold the reader almost in contempt, as if the act of communicating is a sort-of afterthought to the poem, Ferleger’s poems are meant to be affective. That’s something I like in Jack Gilbert, in Mark Strand and Betsy Sholl; and it’s something I especially like here.

Ferleger is not afraid of opening up, of revealing more about her life in a short poem than many people will reveal to friends they’ve known for years. That doesn’t make these confessional poems, truth for shock appeal. No, in these pages the poet’s spiraling toward truths comes across as a way of life, or, more likely, a way of dealing with life.

From “To Try Again”

Almost unbearable, this body,

unbearable the weight of this

snow cover

thick as a lover’s absence

on a spring day

when you have lost

the one you have slept

and eaten with longer

than three childhoods,

There are many times the reader feels invited into a family conversation, but these are heavier conversations than most families probably have at the dinner table. These are the moments that seem at once oppressive and also extraordinarily generous.

From “Scared”

Last night our son spoke to me

in a bristly tone but it didn’t

scrape me down this time. I just

said whoa, like that, a big whoa

came out of me in one short punching

breath. He stopped, even nodded.

My mouth felt like it could

blow away rock coral.

This poet is knows how to charge her language with emotion, but not sentimentality. Her imagery can be spiritual and concrete and compassionate, and clearly lived. This is not the book of a passive observer, and she chooses her words carefully to communicate that intensity. In “Oh Sages” Ferleger describes a scene in which a woman falls, dying, into the poet’s arms:

as she fell into my arms,

and she let go the last

particles of her supper,

leaving me there

to hold her bones, fat, flesh

the soul always leaves

to the care of failures?

One thought on “Review: Big Silences in a Year of Rain by Doris Ferleger

  1. Pingback: 10 Favorite Poetry Books from 2011 Plus Something Else « PoetCore

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