“Walking the Labyrinth” by Pamela Wax

Poetry as therapy is a common genre. Those in mourning who wish to take control of their loss often do so by talking about it or writing it down. This seems to be a therapeutic way of dealing with guilt and sorrow, and if it works for them, it is not for us to judge.

However, when they publish their works and send them out for review, they must be held up to the usual standards. Their attraction to an audience must go beyond the voyeuristic observation of another’s pain.

What is the quality and style of the writing? What kind of emotional contact do they make with the reader? What techniques do they use to arouse our emotions, and how successful are they?

So now we turn to the Labyrinth. As a self-professed “emerging poet,” this writer has wisely chosen to stick to prose writing in a poetic framework. At this stage of her career, rhyme and rhythm would just get in the way. So, in this volume we have the poetry of ideas. It is written smoothly and clearly, although without a great range of emotion. This is a mourner who expresses her grief in a manner in keeping with her position as a rabbi; with decorum and self-consciousness.

In doing so, she reveals a great deal of herself and inevitably invites judgement from the reader. When we read the poem “Ethical Will” where the poet bemoans that her mother died without giving her the roadmap of how to live her life, we are tempted to suggest that perhaps, as an adult, it is better to figure things out for oneself, though in the decorous world of this book, we are far too polite to say so. We simply appreciate the sharing of our common humanity.

In a pleasant change from the norm, these poems are mostly easy to understand. This poet uses interesting ideas and startling connections to entertain us, not obscurity and puzzlement.

Diving into the complexity of her ideas, we look for, not only what the author means to say, but for what she does not mean to say. Reading between the lines, one takes away a different set of ideas than perhaps the poet intended. As a member of the clergy, she observes closely the intertwining of relationships between family members and leaks them out to us in side comments and oblique references. This makes it a book about a family, not just a person.

Thematically, the experience of reading this book and others like it leads me to an unhappy conclusion. Writing poetry as a form of grieving has somewhat the same effect as lying awake for hours with your mind going around and around on the same regrets and wishes. I would like to see, just once, a book of poems about grief that demonstrates progression, a changing of attitude over time. Perhaps even some sort of acceptance. But I guess that happens in a different part of the grieving process.

During the writing of this book, we see a woman going around and around in the whorls of her private labyrinth, and for the moment, she has not found a way out.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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