My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don’t normally read poetry, but as a follower of Luanne Castle’s blogs where I have enjoyed her writing and her thoughts on genealogy immensely, I decided to take the plunge. Well! I was not disappointed.
The big thing that struck me about Luanne’s chapbook was the ingenious idea of writing about one’s ancestors in poetic form. As a non-family member, it can be difficult to read straight-up family memoir, but Luanne has found a way to make these unknown characters come alive for us, give us a glimpse into their lives and thus remind us of our common humanity. As the avid genealogist she is, it would have been easy to write a prosaic family history of who-did-what-when, but this is so tantalizingly different. Luanne has gotten inside the old photographs and behind the family stories and gives voices to the women and men in her family’s past. She digs up their hopes, their fears, their feelings, exposing them vividly via some event in the family’s past…and the effect is extraordinarily haunting. It is like catching a glimpse of an actual ghost.
Check out this sample describing both the early, chaperoned dates of one couple, to the very end of their lifetime:
Pieter scrubbed before he visited Neeltje on the porch, but the oil smell of herring clung to his skin and hair, to his coat and boots. He left at ten every night. Later, she would press her hands, the ones he held as they sat turned toward each other in the small chairs, to her face and inhale. It had the effect of smelling salts or a burnt feather, reviving her from the dullness she felt when he was not around.
When he felt invisible cold vines cold vines wrap around his ankles and calves, he saw her more clearly than he had in twenty years. His son Karel whispered that he would be seeing Mother soon. Pieter thought he meant the mother he had never known, but then realized it was Neeltje and smiled at the image of her standing before the light.
This is inspiring to me, as I have been struggling to find a more creative way to write family memories on my own blog for some months now. Luanne seems to have found a way to bring one’s family ancestors to life for others. I want to go back and look at Luanne’s genealogical blog again because I have a greater sense of emotional connection and indeed curiosity to these Dutch-American ancestors on whom the poems are based!