Lynne Hjelmgaard
The Ring

Book Reviews

Published by Shearsman Books

Incarnations of the Wild

Born in New York City in 1951 Lynne Hjelmgaard moved to Denmark in 1971. There she studied art and taught Creative Art to children before becoming a fulltime sailor. As a result of crossing the Atlantic with her husband she wrote her first chapbook in 2002 Distance Through the Water (I want Press, France). Now her new book-length sequence of poems, The Ring, follows the wanderings of a young widow as she moves from city to city in an attempt at to achieve emotional reparation.

There is a lightness of touch to these itinerant poems filled with smells and sounds, particularly of the sea: “the howl in the rigging”, the smell of “a sea dried sheet”. Nostalgia is conjured through an intense concentration on things:

“You bought woven saddle bags from Afghanistan
Containing one pair of pants, a toothbrush,
Two hard bound diaries with pages coming out and one pair of
There was an Afghan coat you sold in the desert
And the dirty pots you threw out of your kitchen window.
(They were too hard to clean)”
(When we first met)

Other dreamlike poems evoke something of the monochromatic northern tones of a Vilehlm Hammershøi painted interior.

“the easiest path
to the sea
is through the wild roses
the peeling lounge chairs
on the terrace, lavender
where the deer sleeps in the morning.”

Essentially meditations on how loss changes love, these poems move from the lyrical: “Now I turn my pillow/to face the sliced moon” and” I remember you were/in Denmark hanging laundry up / I hear your clogs in the hall” to pragmatic instructions on how to avoid morbid self-pity: “You shall not think that you are special. / Join a group.” (Copenhagen Widow)

Throughout the voice is colloquial and spare avoiding the traps of emotional hysteria that all too often overwhelms the poems of loss by Sharon Olds. A restless peripatetic motion runs through the sequence constantly questioning what constitutes belonging and home. It is as if to stay too long in anyone place would involve facing too much reality, too great a confrontation with grief. Poems list things to do in each city visited: “Attend local poetic events./ Schmooze incessantly” (London). “Walk until tiredness and / hunger overwhelm you.” (Rome). “Go back / to get in touch / with familiar street smells: / the bread moist / fruit, him.” (Paris) “get a tattoo?” (Berlin). Grief, we are told, is the price we pay for love but ideas about love and life gradually shift and change as the protagonist observes an older widow friend who “cycles around Paris / in high heels, has a Cuban Tango partner / who comes up to her chin.”

“In the end is my beginning”. Finally, through her physical and emotional wanderings, the poet is able to see the world differently, embrace change and ask honestly and poignantly that most fundamental of questions as she finally takes off her wedding ring: “What do I want?”

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011

Images maybe subject to copyright


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