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Winter At A Summer House

March 30, 2022

Winter At a Summer House, by Mary Beth Hines, is an apt title for this collection of poems, which span the entirety of a human life, from “First Born” to “Late Love.” Divided into 6 sections, the poems look fondly back on times past, much the way a summer-loving person looks back on good memories when a seashell or old swimsuit is uncovered in the process of looking for a scarf or boot. The title poem, at the end of the volume, is full of shivering ghosts until one goes out of the house and dives into the ocean, where “she rises/ and plummets on the swells/of the white winter sea.” I got a copy of this book from Poetic Book Tours.

The best poems in this volume are about the sea, and the best one of all is “Scarborough Sail,” with its evocative description of a father playing with his child in the waves:
“I holler and squeal,
keel head over heels
before I crash, scrabble, rally
and rise—taller, brighter,
keener with every try
until I’m clambering over
his creaky shoulders to leap
through quickening sky
into whitecaps, foam splash,
a madcap bowsprit ride.”
Another sea poem, “Marconi Beach” describes “Atlantic’s blue heaves/white caps, churns icy foam” and a swimmer drifting as “beneath him teal shifts/to black. Skates skim sea’s bottom. Paired fins shiver, lift.”

Not all the memories are pleasant ones; but all are revealed through the curtain of lived experience. There’s “Put Out the Light,” for instance, with its quote from Othello giving context to a child’s confusion and an older sister’s blunt explanation: “sometimes grownups kiss. Sometimes they cut.” And there’s “We,” told from the point of view of “Yarrow/and Corn Flower, Burdock and Candlewick,/Lion’s Tooth and Purslane” who see people as “savage when they no longer/needed us” but who “fight back. We strangle their delicate/flowers with our bare-knuckled roots.”

Objects acquire significance in these poems, as when a speaker addresses a tree, saying “March maple gathering snow outside my frost-bleared window,/you have captured my prayers in your winter branches for years.” Or when someone opens a drawer to find “she left/behind shivers/of silky slips amidst old/lady underwear, sachets/of silvery scent, and a cool/cloth breast.” The drawer-opener sees that the “satin-kissed pillows,” left there “required/so little, only, according/to its faded tag, to be hand/washed warm and laid/on a towel to dry.”

“An Old Man in His Chair” shows off all of these methods for examining memory through the veil of experience:
The sea churns. Boats skirt the rocks
in the painting he hung in his little den years ago.
Now, he rides the waves as he files his nails.
Sometimes his children, smiling out
from another frame, join him. Though most days
he conjures their voices and recites, in order,
the beautiful names he gave them.
Then he stretches out in his chair on the smooth
back of a boulder, and lets the sea rush through him.

Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to spend a summer’s day by the sea will feel the pull of these images from memory, requiring you to swim parallel for a while in order to eventually emerge.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2022 6:46 am

    There is just something so enticing about poems about the ocean and water and summer. Thanks for being on the blog tour for this one.

    • March 30, 2022 7:45 pm

      Serena, thank you for coordinating the tour! I’ve really enjoyed learning about these blogs, bloggers, and the other books they have been writing about!

  2. March 30, 2022 8:04 am

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and lovely review, Jeanne. I have been following your blog and really enjoy your writing too!

  3. Deborah Marshall permalink
    March 30, 2022 8:26 am

    A poetry book to which, one will return to reread and reflect. A bittersweet collection of grief & gratitude: some poems summon up our own losses as well as celebrate memories -simultaneously.

  4. March 30, 2022 12:48 pm

    I love that line about the tree capturing her prayers! Gorgeous.

  5. March 30, 2022 3:52 pm

    Love the weeds fighting back!

    • March 30, 2022 7:50 pm

      So glad you enjoyed that one! And so grateful to Jeanne for such a thoughtful review, and to you for sharing your thoughts!

    • March 30, 2022 8:01 pm

      I love the way the weeds are named so that in the poem we can think about them through the decades and get a larger perspective on how narrow our modern definition of “useful” can be when it comes to such plants.


  1. Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines (Dec. 2021-March 2022) |

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