Review by Ejiro Edward
“I’ve stopped taking pictures of my surviving children. I take pictures of the snow, and what the snow covers”.
from Family therapy
The author of Church Ladies, Renee Emerson has released yet another engrossing masterpiece to the world. In the poetry collection of The Commonplace Misfortune of Everyday Plants, she shares with the reader what it is to be a mother that deals with the death of her child. She compares the death of her child to that of another living organism which is the plant. Throughout the book we see her mastery and proficiency of plants as she intertwines them into the phases of her children’s life, encapsulating the seasons and the tragedy that occurs during them.
Like in all processes of planting, we see how the collection opens with the poet persona trying to plant a seed into existence and compares it to the state of health of the child who is in the hospital. Emerson does not restrain in expressing loss but paints in the mind of the reader and allows us to enter into the journey that is her life. Death is written in such a subtle manner, you would gasp when you discover it. We see this when she talks about how humans will not bet on any plant that is dying, “some of us will take pity, but most won’t put money down on anything likely to die.” (pg12). The page which is endearing mirrors the everyday life of people who are about their daily activities. The plant which is given at discount may or may not be bought due to its withering, definitely captures man’s economic inclination to not be at loss.
What makes this work a masterpiece is the way Emerson throws words into life and creates vivid imagery in the mind of the reader in poems like ‘Ode to the daffodil’ (pg13) “you confront me arrogantly/ tufts of green threatening flower / I’ll see you dusted with snow.”and in ‘Spring Felling’ (pg18) “we walk everyday, test them in our own voices, just to see what comes back when called”. The agony of the poet is further portrayed when she says that it seems that good things seem to happen to others and not her, she compares the death of her child to a plant that is uprooted in the poem ‘Warm Winter, Arkansas’ “torn at the root of them, like your life last year”. We see clearly that grief doesn’t go away, it becomes a part of our life.
The theme of loss, grief and finally acceptance at the end of the poem flows through this collection. Admittedly the poet confesses to the neglect of her plant due to her lassitude. She is grateful that the individual has given her a plant that would survive when placed under the right conditions in which photosynthesis occurs. We see this in the poem “Gift plant” (pg4). We see the poem asking us at the end of it all what do we do when we feel like bowing out of life. In the poem ‘Putting out what you may put away’ a imagery which imprints in the mind of the reader the theme of resignation is seen in these lines “A crib and changing table are quietly dismantled/ there will be no sister this year”. She hopes that even her other children come to the realization as she lets them invest their time into what she knows will not grow.
This poetry collection charts out the will to keep living even when the weight of loss is unbearable. In retrospect, there is a sense of surrender to what life is and how humans progress from despondency into optimism. The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.
Ejiro Elizabeth Edward is the winner of Antoa poetry contest 2021. She is also recently the Winner of the Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Review. She has been published on magazines such as Hoax publication,Reckoning magazine, Native skin, Lolwe amongst many others. She is a two time nominee pushcart nominee . She is the convener of Benin art and book festival. She looks forward to pursuing her MFA.