…by Kristina Marie Darling. You can visit the magazine here and order up a hard copy, but in the meantime, since the issue’s not online, I’ve gotten Kristina’s permission to post the review in its entirety below. Thanks, Kristina, and thanks Chiron Review.
Also, because it’s the equinox and fall is our favorite season, Martin and I balanced a couple eggs on their ends after dinner tonight. See?
Okay, anyway, here’s the review:
Chosen by Patty Seyburn as winner of the 2007 Gatewood Prize, Kathleen Rooney’s Oneiromance (an epithalamion) explores the joys, bemusements, and perils of contemporary wedding ceremonies, a subject that proves as entertaining as it philosophical in the hands of this gifted poet. Taking the form of a book-length poem sequence, which follows two sisters through nuptials in Brazil and the American Midwest, Rooney’s work gracefully uses depictions of marriage as a point of entry to questions of individual identity and self-discovery. Suggesting that by knowing another one truly unearths oneself, the poems in Oneiromance (an epithalamion) convey such figurative ideas through skillful pairings of recurring characters and motifs, which serve to illuminate each other as the book unfolds.
Likewise, as Rooney depicts both a Brazilian wedding and a Midwestern one, her poems elegantly employ setting as an metaphor for the commonplace, yet often unfamiliar, experiences that comprise a new marriage. Presenting the exotic vistas of South America alongside the “Prairie state” of Illinois, she subtly suggest that the unremarkable events of one’s everyday life are transformed by inviting another person into them. As the poem sequence progresses, Rooney expresses both the joys and the trepidation of this change, ideas that are gracefully mirrored by the terrain that the speaker of the poem inhabits. A piece entitled “Brazilian Wedding: Dream No. 7,” in which she writes,
… We are fields
before each other, Socorro says. Then
she and the house staff start singing a song.
Clapping along. Beth & I cry, so their hands
grow blurry, like divers’ hands. They are
waving hello. They are saying goodbye. (15)
In passages such as this one, the poet evokes place as an emblem for the changes occurring in the speaker’s life, a comparison that Rooney conveys elegantly through repeated images and motifs. Just as the narrator and her sister, Beth, descend into the unfamiliar landscapes and cultural traditions of Brazil, which populate the first section of the book, they descend further into married life as well, an existence that proves equally untried. By including the image of the “divers’ hands” growing blurry near the end of the poem, Rooney implies that as this strange journey has progressed, the speaker has similarly watched aspects of her former self become indistinct while others emerge more clearly. Skillfully using the narrator’s exterior surroundings to address questions of selfhood and identity, “Brazilian Wedding: Dream No. 7,” like many other poems in the collection, proves as finely crafted as it is contemplative.
Throughout the book, Rooney also depicts her characters’ dreams alongside their waking lives, a pairing that allows for lovely, strange metaphors and elusive images as the book unfolds. Using this recurring motif to evoke the enigmatic, often unknowable, nature of another person’s inner life, the poet subtly suggests the solitude inherent even in marriage. For the speakers of these poems, such isolation proves at once disconcerting and necessary, eventually becoming a refuge in which they may explore and further define their own identities throughout the book. Rooney’s poem, “Brazilian Wedding: Dream No. 3″ exemplifies this trend. She writes, for instance,
G is for groom,
but R is for Rooney & R
is for room. This is not
a western. This is not
a noir. Our grooms don’t
know where we are… (9)
Throughout this excerpt, Rooney’s speaker holds conventional depictions of marriage, such as those found in “a western” or “a noir,” against the reality that she has discovered through her own experiences. Implying through this contrast that, just as the bride finds solitude in her dream life, most don’t fully know the thoughts and reflections that inhabit their partner’s inner lives, the poet conveys this sense of solitude with lyricism and grace. Moreover, as the book progresses, Rooney’s depictions of dreams and waking life compliment and complicate one another, offering readers a complex portrait of the characters’ transition into married existence.
Oneiromance (an epithalamion) is a finely crafted book. Raising thought-provoking questions about matrimony and selfhood through imagistic motifs, Kathleen Rooney’s collection proves to be an extremely promising debut. Highly recommended.