Amie Whittemore’s debut poetry collection Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press, 2016) names what we know to be true: you can’t outrun your desires. They are ancestral. Bone deep. They grow inside you, and that gives you a choice: harvest them or leave them. Ultimately, Whittemore’s poems seem to argue it’s the harvesting that might reap the most.
Hold on to that harvest motif because it will guide you throughout these poems of family, marriage, divorce, heartbreak, grief, and evolution. Let’s begin with the collection’s second poem “Dream of the Ark,” where the speaker imagines the children she might have:
But what I mean is, I want to unbutton the future
and find a breathing lung. I mean, if we indulge in a dream
of new Hirams and Kathryns, new Edwins and Whitts,
if we kissed open their eyes, inhaled their birthy scent,
would the other dream, of keeping the farm, of replanting orchards,
of raising goats, vanish?
This poem begins an examination that will evolve throughout the book—the dichotomy of desire. Nearly every poem that wrangles this subject is defined by choice: here, it’s the farm or the children. In the poem “Blackberry Season,” it’s the paramour or the speaker’s current romantic partner, “the woman I left, / those small pumpkins that were her breasts.”
It’s not until the third section of the book (and through the post-divorce vantage point), that desire becomes a little messier. In “To My Future Granddaughter,” we get this reflection:
I kissed the man who would have been
your grandfather goodbye—
not for a good reason,
just because I wanted to.
This poem marks a shift in the collection—it’s a direct address, almost entirely voice-driven, and offers up some sincerely good life advice (see also: “No one, not even your mother / with her impeccable sock drawer / truly gives a flying fuck”).
It dovetails with the collection’s other high achievement: its exploration of how the past lives on through us. We are the culmination of choices our ancestors made, and our children will carry the choices we make, too. It’s little wonder that nature plays such a prominent role in this book’s world building and imagery—the great grandmothers, aunts, grandparents, husband, unborn children, foxes, mockingbirds, switchgrass, toads, and persimmons are all part of this great wheel, the seed and bloom, that turns the days and generations over.
For example, take the poem “First Visitation,” where the ghost of Kathryn, Whittemore’s great grandmother, visits:
She makes my womb a swallow’s nest. I break
it in half. She replaces my feet with eagle’s talons.
I cut them off. She turns my heart into a bucket—
this one I’ll take. But I empty it out.
Whittemore explores her personal relationships to illustrate how she grapples with what she’s been given. In this poem, it’s these strange offerings. In “Ten Walls,” her own body: “as if the self could finally be / your body tugged free from an ill-fitting dress.” In “This Empty Bowl,” being alone:
This darkness, a loan.
My body, remembering its debts,
longs for your bright ship, sings,
turn here. Stay, sweet prow.
The losses that touch these poems raze the ground for new growth. In “To My Future Granddaughter,” Whittemore writes, “once I was an idiot tornado, / drilling into earth, treating myself like disaster.” But later on, in “Inventing a Seashell,” we get the glimpse of how heartbreak and family deaths have propelled Whittemore to this moment of shimmering clarity:
Some would advise taking a companion;
I say you’re better off alone. Wade
into thigh-deep waves, feel cold break
against your loins, reminder
you’re a jar of heat and blood.
Walk into kelp’s dark arms,
turn your hands into a bowl.
Then your seashell might arrive,
pure as spoon, hard as the old life.
This is a long way of saying, yes, read this book. Devour it. Its lessons are hard won and necessary, its writing is sharp and inventive, and its big-hearted author deserves your undivided attention.
Ruth Awad is the author of Set to Music a Wildfire, her forthcoming debut poetry collection that won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize from Southern Indiana Review Press. She is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Missouri Review, Sixth Finch, CALYX, Diode, Rattle, Vinyl Poetry, The Adroit Journal, Drunken Boat, Day One, and in the anthologies The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), New Poetry from the Midwest 2014 (New American Press, 2015), and Poets on Growth(Math Paper Press, 2015). She won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest. She’s also the resident blog editor at Agape Editions.