Scott Whitaker Reviews
Shannon Connor Winward’s
(From VOLUME 9, ISSUE 6 // THE BROADKILL REVIEW – November 2015)
Shannon Connor Winward’s Undoing Winter, from Finishing Line Press, explores the relationship between self, myth and history. And for Winward, the past and the self are the wet earth, and the dead. Winward identifies the chthonic impulses that pull on our psyche. Family, the unexpected pain of loving children, these are but some of the themes lying in the winter setting of Winward’s chapbook. And it’s frightening. Thrilling, even.
Perhaps it’s the October chill in the air, and the pull of my imagination towards dark places, but Undoing Winter begins wielding dense and eloquent Dionysian tropes, the kind of musical mythic notes one hears in Plath, Sexton, and Bishop–on occasion, and in more contemporary artists such as Sharon Olds, Jean Feraca, and Beth Bachman. The iconic image of wet rich earth, so tied up with death and sex, is a primal murmur through Winter. And Winward becomes the throat for oracle, wearing a mask, and invoking poetic theatre.
The title poem “Undoing Winter” opens “I went into ground for you. I faced the guardians/of the gates of hell./I gave away my jeweled bracelets/ and marched naked to the cat-calls of the dead/ all to rescue your sorry ass/ and here you are,/ huddled on your mildewed throne/ speechless as a shrug.” The high and low registers of her voice contrast, a kind of static. The music of the “huddled…” and “speechless…” characterize the musical cadence of the poem.
Sonically, most of the chapbook echoes the title poem, they are poems of incantation, for lack of a better word. A catharsis, yes, but also transformative. The latter more important than the former. There is love and solace in her work, and levity, but for the most part Winter is an incantation, a purring engine of anger, desire, and loss.
“I Visit Your Heart” a speculative gem, hums with the kind of glamor a beautiful predator purrs from a long graceful throat. “Your heart on ice is useless to you,/ so while you were sleeping/I had them cut it out, encase it in plastic/ and set it on a platform/ with a plaque that reads: choices.” The heart later becomes a “trophy valentine”, the physical remains of what had been a relationship, a “paperweight.”
What makes Undoing Winter dazzle is the sensuousness of its language. Poetry is, on some level, supposed to be sexy, dark, and dangerous. There are few character hooks in the book, and Winward plays her cards close to her chest, so we don’t have any idea if she is writing about real or imagined events or people. The emotional landscapes of the poems could as easily be from memory or from imagination. Winward does a poet’s’ job and makes the unpoetic dangers of life poetic and mystic, joining in the broad and great opus that is American letters.