Art Magnified: To Cleave: Poems

Barbara Rockman Situates Poems In Place

Wendy Bustamante
3 min read
to cleave: poems
to cleave: poems by Barbara Rockman (Photo by Clarke Condé)
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A local teacher of poetry has published her work with UNM Press. This particular collection is organized around themes of familial relations. If you have ever read Yeats or Keats, you know what it is like to read a profound description of a simple aspect of nature. The collection of poems in to cleave: poems take a form like that of 19th century British poetry, but feature a different subject—domestic family life. The author tells an intimate story through her poetry about her relationship with her husband, her daughters and their pets. Barbara Rockman tells all about her family’s day trips to parts of New Mexico that local readers will easily recognize. Her poems are identifiable in the sense that they are locally placed as well as the sense that they are about familial relations. Her odes are not to Grecian urns, but rather to the coyote and the ravens. Her poetry will resonate with local New Mexicans regardless of their own knowledge of formal poetry.

The book includes a multitude of poems about the author’s daughters. One is titled “My Hipster.” This title, among others, situates itself among contemporary language. These poems are about current moments in the life of someone living in New Mexico and raising her children here. This collection is, at the same time, poetry on the particularity of her family members and domestic life here in New Mexico more generally. For example, “After Birding at Cochiti Lake” is about an experience shared between the author and her husband, but anyone who has been to Cochiti Lake will easily envision “the sequined mallard” and the “pintail duck” whilst the “Geese cry, reach the apex of sky, disappear as we, in our unfeathered flesh, drop down to sleep.” This poem is in the final chapter, which features many poems about married life and follows the chapters about watching one’s children develop.

The poem that gave me chills is titled “What I married into.” This poem described the feeling of longing for a mother-in-law’s overbearing authority in the kitchen after her death. The description of her mother-in-law’s recipe and her realization that she loved her mother-in-law simply because they loved the same man (her husband) are chilling, and sincerely inspired. I recommend this book to locals, especially. The beauty of our state has been well captured by a scholar from Massachusetts who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M. Further, the beauty of family is portrayed in such a way that any reader should find these poems intelligible and illuminating. The first couple of chapters seem deeply devoted to setting the stage for the later chapters on family. As a whole, the book feels like poetry about family life, but the first chapters set the stage for the kind of place where this family exists. Even the poems about traveling are reflective of the Southwest, such as “Flying Home from the Pacific Coast Rim, I Consider the Rio Grande Rift.” In a sense, this book is a traditional book of poems that paints a portrait of nature with carefully crafted words in verse. Its uniqueness is that it is also a portrait of a particular family and what it means to them to be where they are—in the land of enchantment.

to cleave: poems

by Barbara Rockman

Now available from University of New Mexico Press

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