On the Threshold

The word threshold means a door or opening, but it can also mean, in a more abstract way, the beginning of something new or different.  To start out a book review with a definition seems like a strategy that my undergraduate students would use with their essays, but in the case of Jennifer Richter’s book, Threshold, it works.  Threshold is a poetry collection that explores the boundaries between childlessness and motherhood, sickness and health, life and death, but every poem embraces each “threshold” with a lyrical tenderness that avoids sentimentality that often comes with many of these abstract themes.

Recovery from physical pain and illness  is a central theme in this book, and a theme that weaves its way in and out of most of the poems.  In “You Are Time to Wake Up” the narrator speaks in second person about illness: “You have been sick for years.  You have been sick since Monday. Your/son confuses weeks and months, forgets the names of days.  You are his/measure of time sliding by.  He’s old enough to know the one you were/before.”  In the prose poem simply titled “Recovery” the narrator explains:  “Health means Nowhere to hide. For weeks you will fear the phone, the/calendar, the life that, for seasons, sustained your pain.  Your children/will grab your hands and run you through the rooms you’ve missed; your/husband will pat the sheets next to him and wait.”  

Still, there are other thresholds as well.  In some poems, the poet wrestles with the distance that grows between people.  In “Persephone Returns” the classical myth is used as metaphor for this distance:  “Each time Persephone returns, there is more of him in her.  In/every sheet, he’s here: his shadow moving between them.”    In other poems, the poet wrestles with motherhood.  In a particular delightful (and somewhat humorous) piece, “Brought to Life”, a mother is putting her daughter to bed:  “Did you know people sometimes use their tongues to kiss?  she asks.  It’s/bedtime, she’s lying on her bed like Snow White you just read about, her/still lips red and waiting for the prince.  When you’re not shocked — the/second you grin That’s true — your daughter wants to try it. She’s almost/eight.  You’ve seen the boys at recess pick her first.”

Threshold is Jennifer Richter’s first book, and it’s a clear winner.  This poet is one to watch, and as with many first books I have read this year, I will be looking forward to her future work.

1 Comment »

  1. foleysquared Said:

    Great review, Karen!

{ RSS feed for comments on this post} · { TrackBack URI }

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: