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Full and Plum-Colored Velvet

May 7, 2021

By the time I got to the end of the title poem of Anne Graue’s volume Full and Plum-Colored Velvet I was as completely seduced as the speaker of the poem is, overwhelmed with the experience of her “first real boyfriend” so that she “was in that trance, that place/where no one could tell me different.” It is the boyfriend’s voice that pursues her, coming across a telephone line like “full and/plum-colored velvet, and my ear/filled up with promises.” Even with the perspective of age, that voice still pursues the speaker. Even though “I heard he spent some time in jail,” she says “he is born again on Facebook.”

I have to confess that at first I wasn’t excited about reading the poems in this volume because the first five came at me like baby boomer reminiscences always do, full of nostalgia for a time I just missed. The experience of habitually rejecting those feelings and then finding that I share the feelings of the speaker in the title poem made me realize that the a few of the memories that have shaped my experience of the present are rooted in a time when I wanted to do whatever the older kids did. The speaker’s boyfriend was 17 and they were in Kansas, while the poem takes me back to 14 and the rural Missouri boys I found so alluring then, especially their voices, like Barry Manilow singing “but I sent you away, oh Mandy.”

These are very personal poems, and the magic the poet creates is that she makes her experience so available you’ll feel it too, as if it were your own. This happened to me with almost every poem; I recognized myself and my childhood friends in “Little Ghosts,” when “all soft drinks/were Cokes, all cans were tin” and they found the shells of the “summer bugs….on trees, their feet dry, grasping/bark, appearing to climb where they were, little ghosts/of what they’d been.” The poet captures a memory of the feeling of summer, when “we shed our school lives from our selves, flew toward/all of our senses at once” so well that she seems to be describing my own memories.

Yes, that’s it, that’s what it was like, is what I kept thinking as I read more of the poems. Even a question in a poem about a mother feeling confused, combining memory and desire, probably moving towards senility, feels like a variation on a theme, the mother I knew who said the people in an unlit house must “have put the dark lights on” becoming a mother who wonders “how many cups of flour are in one day?”

Whatever amusement I’ve felt before about the kitsch appeal of yard flamingos turns into awareness that they are “peering down,/always down, at nothing but grass and dirt/and the insects they cannot bend low enough/to eat.” And then the poet pulls the camera back for me, so I can see that
“they will exist forever standing
or thrown across heaps in landfills—the planet
of pink flamingos, an alien visitor might say. They
must have worshipped these birds that move
forward never looking at the horizon.”

Throughout the volume, very personal feelings, feelings I wouldn’t have thought I would share with anyone, come across in a way that feels like my own experience, even though they’re rooted in particulars I don’t share, as in the poem “Drinking Coffee in Occupied Cyprus.” One of the poems about being 19, “A World Divided,” reminds me of a poem I wrote at 19 that was published in the college literary magazine. And one that starts out with “expectations are too high in summer” reminds me of Larkin’s “Mother, Summer, I” with the lines “too often summer days appear/Emblems of perfect happiness/I can’t confront.”

Have you ever been seduced by a volume of poetry? It’s a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful to Anne Graue for sending me a copy of Full and Plum-Colored Velvet and inviting me to plunge into its world so deep that for a while I didn’t want to come out.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2021 6:23 am

    I adore collections that can do this…seduce you. This sounds lovely, though I don’t have that Baby Boomer experience…it sounds like these personal feelings and nostalgia could cross generational lines (as arbitrary as they are).

    • May 11, 2021 10:45 am

      Yes, that’s what I was trying to say, that although I’ve never been a part of the baby boomer generation and REALLY hate being lumped in with them, the experiences are so universal that eventually they overcame even that level of initial animosity!

  2. May 10, 2021 8:10 pm

    This sounds like a really lovely collection! (And growing up in Tennessee, all soft drinks are “Cokes.”) 🙂

    • May 11, 2021 10:47 am

      Yes, all soft drinks are cokes. Around here they call it “pop,” a name which I guess should make it seem less attractive and that’s a good thing since it’s not good for us?

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