All of It Singing (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
The older poems in All of It Singing are drawn from Linda Gregg’s collections Too Bright to See (1987), Alma (1989), The Sacraments of Desire (1992), Chosen by the Lion (1995), Things and Flesh (1999), and In the Middle Distance (2006). This collection spans a landscape of love, loss, and redemption. Beginning with poems from Too Bright to See, Gregg starts small in “We Manage Most When We Manage Small,” with an image of hair, which “falls before you./ Fragile and momentary, we continue.” In fact, the two lovers in the poem are so vulnerable and ethereal that they are only “Managing as thin light on water” and “love a little, as the mice huddle.” From this small moment, Gregg’s poetry expands.
Through personification, Gregg gives elements of nature a mythical quality, as in her depiction of the sun and the moon in “Different Not Less”: “The sun, bull-black/ and ready to return, holds back so the moon,/ delicate and sweet, may finish her progress.” In this description, the strength of the sun and the translucence of the moon interplay to create a kind of eclipse, coming close but not quite touching, like the lovers in the poem who “look into the night, or death, our loss,/ what is not given.” The speaker describes how she and her lover “see another world alive/ and our wholeness finishing.” This observation of wholeness and detachment from it is also portrayed in “Classicism,” a three-line poem describing how “The nights are very clear in Greece./ When the moon is round we see it completely/ and have no feeling.” In “Whole and Without Blessing,” this wholeness becomes a self-contained autonomy where the speaker renounces her attachment to people and announces her detachment from earthly things: “I proclaim myself whole and without blessing,/ or need to be blessed. A fish of my own/ spirit. I belong to no one. I do not move.” Even the sun that warms her is “indifferent.” In “Safe and Beautiful” from Alma, the moon is personified again, but this time “lying around in pretty satin,” her “hair fixed all careful like a widow,” playing “safe, safe, beautiful and safe,” as if to preserve herself from pain.
The matter-of-fact tone with which the speaker of Gregg’s poems describes her isolation continues in “Summer in a Small Town,” where the speaker explains, “When the men leave me,/ they leave me in a beautiful place.” With this acceptance comes irony, the speaker walking “back across the mown lawn/ loving the smell and the houses/ so completely it leaves my heart empty.” Perhaps it is the familiar smells and sights of summer that comfort this woman after feelings of abandonment and of being “alone no loneliness in the dream in the quiet” that is repeated like a chant in “Alma to Her Sister.” In “New York Address,” there is a marked contrast to this, with the speaker “walking three miles to get home” and wanting to die. Rather than an empty heart, she does not “seem to have a heart at all.” In “Eurydice” Gregg describes the loss after Eurydice and Orpheus have been reunited, only to be separated again forever because Orpheus looked back at her, not trusting that she was there. It is more painful for Eurydice to have had a brief glimpse of Orpheus after resigning herself to being without him: “I did not cry as much in the darkness/ as I will when we part in the dimness.” Orpheus and Eurydice reappear in “The Ninth Dawn” from Chosen by the Lion. The gods are “willing to have/ the lovers destroyed . . . pulsing around their perishing.” This alliteration mimics the heartbeat that is threatened to be silenced because Eurydice “went too far into the woods and after/ lived with the darkness around her forever.” One can hear her voice in “The Terrifying Power of Darkness Is Inseparable from the Redemptive Power of the Sacred”: “If you do this to me, if you/ do this to me, if you take your love away, if you take,/ if you go away, you will make my heart blind in me.”
In poems from this collection, Gregg also confronts middle age, coming “prepared to answer questions, because it said there would be questions.” It is as if the speaker sees herself in “The Shopping-Bag Lady” who has a way of getting money, “Never asking. Sideways and disconcerting” or the women who are “asleep on the floor/ on pieces of cardboard.” The detachment continues with “Dry Grass & Old Color of the Fence & Smooth Hills,” where “All life is beautiful/ at a distance” from the women in a California town with their “mess and canning and babies crying.” Gregg also confronts mortality in her poems depicting the brutality that can exist in nature and relating it to humanity, as in...
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