“Bobish” by Magdalena Ball

I’ll say that from the start, this book impressed me, mainly for what it doesn’t have. There are no Forewords, Introductions, Letters from the Author, or any of those crutches writers use to explain what they’re afraid their art does not communicate. This is art that stands on its own.

The book is an interesting genre, a biography coaxed out of the mists of time and re-imagined in the only appropriate medium, poetry. It is a narrative, told not in facts and events but in feelings and senses.

The most important poetic technique the writer uses is imagery. The childish picture that hangs on the tenement wall speaks to the artistic eye the poet has inherited from her great-grandmother. This more than makes up for the dearth of factual information she has about her subject, because facts are only facts, and her poetic images burn themselves into our memories, swirling and repeating in the mist of feelings that surround us as we read. This is not poetry to be analyzed and understood. It is a story to be experienced, to let the lines wash over you.

This author knows the effect of variety. The refreshing beauty of a songbird’s memory in the dark filth of the sweatshop. The scanty facts listed in a page of square paragraphs immersed among the leaves of tea and poetry. Moments of sunlight and warm colour in the drab, cold sepia of immigrant life.

Too much poetic technique these days is used to hide the fact that the poem has little to say. The poetry in Bobish is used to put flesh on the bones of a tattered skeleton, to create the solid image of a shrouded life. At the end, the reader likes to believe that one great success of this poor woman was the passing along of her artistry to the soul of her great-granddaughter, who has returned it to her through this book.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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