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No Need of Sympathy (American Poets Continuum)

by Fleda Brown

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No Need of Sympathy is an exceptionally wide-ranging poetry collection, touching on contemporary science, physics, family, politics, and the natures of poetry and reality. These poems, the eighth collection by Fleda Brown, ask huge questions; they zero in like a microscope on what's here, at hand. They are spoken with humility, great humor, curiosity, and a deep love of living.
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Poetry has a tendency to intimidate me, maybe because I often wonder, "Am I really 'getting' this stuff?" It's probably a carryover from all those badly taught English classes in which, as students, we were forced to find the "meaning" of each poem. Remember? Fleda Brown was an English professor for many years, and I'll bet she didn't do that to her students. But there is something about Brown's newest collection, NO NEED OF SYMPATHY, that keeps me coming back to ponder these poems (or "pomes," as we used to call them as kids) over and over again, and each time they seem to mean a little more. And I think, maybe I AM 'getting' them, or at least partially.

There's this odd one in here called "The Kayak and the Eiffel Tower" that I've read over and over again, with its image of Brown in her kayak, as it "slides trough the water and the paddle / goes on one side and then the other ..." And there are these flashing half-remembered fragments of memory from when she was very small, walking with her mother, "the sidewalk rough / the way a child remembers the sidewalk: closer / than it will ever be again ..." And she wonders about these vague memory flashes as she paddles, of her mother's anger, maybe at her father's infidelity "his postcard ... from that woman in the Philippines, back when / he was a soldier ..." A memory so hazy, so questionable "it was like the Eiffel tower, all filigree / and lace ..."

It reads the way a dream feels. I read this poem one night just before sleep, and I actually dreamed of the Eiffel tower that night, part of a confusing collage of images from my own life past and present, as dreams so often are. Powerful stuff, dreams and poems.

Particularly resonant in these times is the poem, "Here, In Silence, Are Eight More," beginning with "Night after night the photos of dead soldiers / go by on the News Hour like playing cards while we drink / our wine ..." The war poets Owen, Brooke and Sassoon are invoked, as well as the children's book, unnamed, but obviously MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS.

"... Our soldier floats like a duck. Like a night flight
casket. In the photo his eyes straight forward, being all
they can be ... One snapshot in time ..."

That army recruiting slogan, "Be all you can be," coupled here with a casket, and a photo of a heartbreakingly young face, "His death rests / like a quarter in the pocket, a sure thing ..." This is a poem that makes me weep - or rage: against the military machine and an indifferent populace that tacitly condone such senseless carnage.

Another poem which moved me nearly to tears, probably because my own late mother is still so much on my mind, is "Building a Cathedral," which begins with Gaudi's unfinished cathedral in Barcelona, but quickly moves to the poet's own father, 92, filling his days with pointless activity, because nothing "matters to my father anymore, which I notice is a frequent / condition of extreme age ..." She sees overtones of Becket's WAITING FOR GODOT in her father's life. "... On the phone / he tells me he'd rather be dead if it wouldn't hurt ..." My own mother once told me the exact same thing just a few weeks before she died, alone, at 96. Yes, so very many people who have watched aged parents decline and die will recognize themselves here. And will probably weep.

There are so many wonderfully thoughtful - beautiful - pieces here: a collection of very personal sonnets to her grandchildren ("The Grandmother Sonnets"), homages to old family photos ("Photo of Us on the Cottage Front Porch"), remembering desperate, deceitful students "whose grandmothers die / and die again, just before holidays." ("Michigan"). Or, "Child labor" which "is desperately sought by both the manufacturers / and the starving children. Morality is another one of those words." In "Memorial Day" Brown muses about the terrible fragility of life and the randomness of death.

But I better stop. There are close to fifty poems here, and they all are simply wonderful. And I think they've taught me something, and it's this: there is never just one correct "meaning" for any poem worth its salt. There will be, in fact, as many meanings as there are readers. Fleda Brown's poems have their own lives. They are pieces from not just her life, but from all of our lives. They are timeless. NO NEED OF SYMPATHY takes its title from the poet Robert Creeley, who wrote: "Poetry stands in no need of any sympathy, or even goodwill." Brown's poems here bear this out. Highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Aug 4, 2013 |
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No Need of Sympathy is an exceptionally wide-ranging poetry collection, touching on contemporary science, physics, family, politics, and the natures of poetry and reality. These poems, the eighth collection by Fleda Brown, ask huge questions; they zero in like a microscope on what's here, at hand. They are spoken with humility, great humor, curiosity, and a deep love of living.

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