“If there was a light / fading / it was always mine.”
Donna Spruijt-Metz, the author of the chapbook, Slippery Surfaces, offers “General Release from the Beginning of the World.”— a full length collection of poems that delve into the complexities of hauntings and the search for answers from a higher power. Spruijt-Metz deftly explores the complexities of memory, healing, and the divine, delving into the profound connection between the present moment and beyond. The themes of the collection are stitched equally with wit, tenderness, and the grace of longing, providing a fresh take on the metaphysical tradition for the modern era. Spruijt-Metz questions the very concepts that she wrestles with by employing biblical allusions and drawing inspiration from scriptures, particularly the Psalms. A number of the poems in this collection are matched with reflective images, which has the effect of staying with the reader long after the last page has been turned. The author retains a unique voice that speaks to the challenging doubleness of truth—the kind that can both break and heal the heart—through several captivating forms of the poems.
Spruijt-Metz’s collection of poems is a voyage through numerous modes of expression and “I Need the Long March” (pg.1) serves as a powerful launching point into this exploratory quest. The poem captures a vivid and evocative image of a grandmother’s tenacity in the face of war, knitting swans as steadfast guides for the long march ahead. The use of metaphors and symbols in this poem is potent, as the pearls match the grandmother’s skin on which coins and jewelry are sewn like her dress. Spruijt-Metz’s writing is experimental, pushing the bounds of conventional genres, enabling her to create a singular and extraordinarily moving narrative. Two of my favorite lines in this poem are: “so I set to knitting her a whole skein of swans in flawless V formation” and “when my fear for her life was bigger than my love I released her to the steppes and flew above it all.” These lines capture the depth of love and the selfless sacrifice made by the speaker for their grandmother. The language and imagery used in this poem are striking and powerful. The use of the metaphor of the swans in V formation provides a sense of unity, direction, and determination, while the coins and jewelry sewn into the dress symbolize protection and luck. The language is lyrical and poetic, with phrases like “steadfast guides for the long march” and “above it all, above the war, grasslands, snowfields.” The imagery of the steppes, small horses, and gray wolves adds a layer of realism to the poem, while also providing a sense of the vastness and harshness of the environment. Overall, the language and imagery in this poem work together to create a vivid and evocative portrayal of a grandmother’s journey through war. This poem is a powerful introduction to what promises to be an engaging collection.
In “The Wait,”(pg.51) the poet uses a conversational style and addresses God in the first person, highlighting the speaker’s struggle to understand his nature and name. The poem’s structure is free verse which reflects the speaker’s candidness with God. The poem’s imagery is dark, referring to God in a style of expression that represents the speaker’s confusion and lack of clarity. The line “Here, I made this nest, full of half-truths, I am learning to wait for YOU” implies that the speaker is trying to find a relationship with God but is having difficulty doing so.
The speaker’s bodily and emotional feelings are described in “Soundtrack”(pg.52) using rich, sensory imagery. The poem begins with a reference to touch that is physical before soon shifting to the speaker’s internal senses, including the sound of moving blood, which stands for the body’s constant and unyielding presence. The free verse form of this poem’s structure and its straightforward language effectively express the speaker’s urgency and vulnerability. The phrase “the weight of your forearm / after sex, my sleeping / trapped beneath it, and numb” hints at the complexity of intimacy while simultaneously evoking a sense of comfort and discomfort.
“For My Next Trick, I Will Imagine His Death” (pg.63) is a personal reflection on the speaker’s father’s death and their relationship. The poem’s structure, which alternates between lengthy and short lines, conveys a sense of bewilderment and disarray that mirrors the speaker’s range of feelings. The poet uses concrete and specific imagery to describe the events leading up to the father’s death, such as the father’s favorite restaurant, the Thunderbird car, and the pills. The line “I approach it / like a lame deer—wary / and wounded— ” represents the speaker’s hesitation and emotional pain.
“Water-blind” (pg.43) is a poem that reflects on the speaker’s relationship with God and the struggle to trust and accept divine will. The poem’s language is both poetic and abstract, evoking a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty. The use of the biblical reference to Psalm 81 adds to the poem’s religious undertones. The line “this fractured / testimony to YOU—my only / home—within me and yet / strange to me” highlights the speaker’s paradoxical relationship with God.
The poet’s ability to create powerful, passionate poems that explore themes of loss, grief, and healing is on full display in this collection of poems. The collection’s organization is purposefully sloppy, with the poetry presented in no strict order. The collection’s main themes and motifs, however, connect the poetry thematically. The poems frequently have a confessional approach, drawing on the poet’s own experiences to examine universal emotions.
The poet uses some very powerful words and imagery. The poems frequently have a lot of metaphor and sensory detail, which immerses the reader in the world of the poet and helps them relate to the feelings expressed. For instance, in “Panim el Panim,” the speaker’s inner anguish is vividly and ominously portrayed by the picture of shame as a Janus-faced mother. In “Doppler Effect,”(pg.24) the pearl is used as a metaphor for pain, and this works especially well to communicate the idea that beauty may come from agony.
This body of work has a strong emotional impact. The poems examine difficult feelings and situations that many readers may identify with, like the agony of losing a loved one, the quest for understanding, and the battle with shame. The poet’s laudable ability to be open and truthful in her writing gives this book a raw and real feel that should appeal to readers.
To sum up, although the poems featured in this book have different forms, tenors, and themes, they all center on the investigation of the personal and spiritual— revealing fascinating moments of contemplation on the divine. The collection’s key qualities are found in its ability to skillfully convey nuanced, subtle, and refined complex emotions. The poet masterfully conveys these complex emotions with great elegance through the use of vivid and sensory imagery, creating a close connection with the reader. The collection’s complexity and richness are further enhanced by its underpinning themes of religion and mortality.