By Steven Ostrowski
In her new book of poems, Wild, Again, Bertha Rogers proves to be a master of the poetry of deep embodiment. There is a transmogrifying power in her poems, poems through which the poet enables the attentive reader to occupy and experience the deep beingness of many forms of other. These poems embrace, tremblingly at times, the beauty, the danger and the risk of that which is wild. The volume is courageous, frank, tough, gorgeous. Reading these poems, I felt immersed in the daily, hidden-in-plain-sight yet profound mysteries of living beings and non-living things. Inevitably, I discovered that I’d delved a good depth into my own wild mysteries. Which is to say, one of the enduring powers of art is that it takes us both out of our small, mundane selves and more deeply into our more essential, natural and spiritual selves. Bertha Rogers’ poems make me feel like a participant in something immense; they offer glimpses into visible and hidden structures of life.
Rogers’ range of explored forms of other runs from human beings to black bears, from wild foxes to domestic cats, from great hawks to the tree limbs on which they perch. In these poems, embodiment is realized on many levels: the physical, certainly, but also the spiritual, the emotional and the psychical. Mind you, the poems are decidedly not sentimental, and nothing about the way their meanings ramify feels forced. Many of the poems can read like top flight nature documentaries elevated to the level of high art by Rogers’ finely-honed craft, exquisite language, and quirky sensibility. Her powers of observation and description naturally evoke resonances of larger, deeper realms of life.
“The Pear Tree” takes us through a narrator’s arduous process of planting a sapling. Even as she plants, she imagines the taste of the succulent fruit to come. Alas, the rocky soil is not conducive to succulence and so “this site wants five seasons before / it allows the tree fruit,” and then, when at last fruit does appear, it comes not as the narrator had “visioned,” that is, perfect and luscious, but instead in the form of “mottled, mildewed, misshapen eggs.” Only deer will eat the fallen “mush.” The long, patient project is, in the end, a failure. Watching from her porch, the narrator recalls “all the other children you failed / every garden you let go.”
“Winter Night,” a poem of a mere seventeen lines, serves well as an exemplar of Rogers’ project of evocation and embodiment. In this poet’s hands, an ordinary winter night, one of countless ordinary winter nights, becomes an almost holy, but simultaneously ominous, event. Outside, deer “exchange deep looks / near the iced creek,” while hawks “register / wayward moons.” We hear stones “talking to the wind, / voices low and obstinate.” Inside the house, where one person is laying a fire while another lights a cookstove, “the curtains / close themselves against / the weighted, willful winter.” By capturing this moment in time—the interior of a household and its wilder outdoor environs—the poet allows (forces?) the reader to identify not only with the human beings engaged in the conscious business of feeding and warming themselves, that is, consciously surviving, but also with the creatures who dwell in the icy wild outside, living their own instinctive survival-focused existences. Rogers is not employing mere personification here; she is working out the more difficult and ultimately more satisfying business of inhabitation, of deep embodiment.
Stunning images abound in Wild, Again. I offer here a small taste from the abundance of them. In “Copper Beech Trees in Winter,” the “feathered, fingered twigs” are like “pens / writing winter’s aggregate history” and branches hang on “against blizzard breath.” In “Season,” after blossoming in summer, a cauliflower plant “blew up to yellow and / lost her name to autumn’s hurled leaves.” Soon enough “winter happened” and snow drifts lay “austere yet blooming in cold’s / cramped fingers.” In the poem “Summer Solstice,” the summer night “lay on everything, / its deeps / pricked only by lightening bugs.” When someone suddenly spots a fox, “… the Northern Lights / leapt, / like white fear / all over the sky.” One never goes more than a line or two in a Rogers’ poem without encountering imagery that startles, enchants, disturbs, or delights.
Want a genuinely transformative poetic reading experience? Want to feel your consciousness expand, penetrate, and embody the existence of other animate and inanimate beings and objects, to touch wildness? Want to do this while under the spell of gorgeous, powerful language and exquisitely crafted imagery? Get yourself a copy of Bertha Rogers’ Wild, Again.
by Bertha Rogers
Salmon Poetry €12.00
Steven Ostrowski is a poet, fiction writer, and painter. His work appears widely in literary journals, magazines and anthologies. He is the author of five chapbooks–four of poems and one of stories. He and his son Ben Ostrowski are the authors of a full-length collaboration called Penultimate Human Constellation published in 2018 by Tolsun Books. Steven’s chapbook, After the Tate Modern, won the 2017 Atlantic Road Prize and is published by Island Verse Editions. He teaches at Central Connecticut State University.