The Collect of the Day by Jeanie Tomasko. Bent Paddle Press, 2017.
Reviewed by Mary Riley
Grief breaks the world open. Since poetry is renowned for its ability to communicate powerful feelings with an economy of words, it is not surprising that grief is the subject of many poems. In her chapbook, The Collect of the Day, Jeanie Tomasko explores the inevitability of loss and her experience of grief at the death of her friend and colleague, fellow poet Shelly L. Hall, to whom the chapbook is dedicated.
Tomasko insightfully (as well as, perhaps, intuitively) patterns her poems after portions of a daily prayer cycle (e.g., The Daily or Divine Office in the Christian West; the Horologion in the Christian East) to emphasize the cyclical nature of time which, in human experience, contains both life and death. Her language is stripped down to the bare essentials, showing both hope and despair in the face of profound loss. In the poem “The Collect of the Day” (p. 9), the speaker tells us:
Part of you is a bell ringing, a soft fire, a song
of water. Part of you wants wings.
But what hope do I have, I ask them.
And I show them my feet bound to earth … my heart made of lead.
In addition, Tomasko employs images from the natural world and a percussive musicality to illustrate the ebb and flow of hours, days, and weeks during difficult circumstances. In the poem “A Litany of Thanksgiving” (p. 22), the speaker aphoristically relates:
As to Poetry: trust your body then
As to Bones: how small the face of the dying becomes
As to Birds: still, they sing, now, now they have no idea
As to Mercy: practice …
Similarly, in the poem “Sixth Day: Morning Prayer” (p. 8), the speaker intones:
… holy the broken way the morning rain holy is love’s pain
holy the crag the god the steep god the rugged god
holy the torn feathers the ragged sandhill the plaintive call
holy the sound of a throat in the wild …
Many of Tomasko’s poems are deeply psalmodic without becoming overly plaintive or rankly platitudinous.
Woven throughout the poems comprising this chapbook are reflections on the transience of life, dealing with aftershocks of grief, and the loci of loss in the body (chest, heart, sternum, breastbone). In some ways, the repetition of certain words across the chapbook’s poems mimics the wave-like, non-linear process of experiencing grief. Through her poetry, Tomasko illustrates a world shot through with beauty, even in tandem with the sorrow and bereavement common to anyone—meaning everyone—who has or will experience the loss of a loved one. The chapbook is also nicely designed, making it an attractive addition to the poetry reader’s bookshelf.