ALBANY POETRY EXAMINER
A POETIC MEMOIR
In Jan Dederick’s poetic memoir, HAMMER IT INTO HORSESHOES, the seismic event of her father’s death when she was only thirteen becomes a connecting link to the well formatted, moving collection of lyric free verse, narrative poems. The beguiling title and format draw our attention to her use of an earthquake as a metaphor for the shocking experience and the challenges it posed for her and for her siblings.
The Prologue sets the scene in the Catskills and hints at the tragedy to come by allusions to waking up from a comfortable life and to the story of Rip Van Winkle and his twenty year sleep. It gives us a taste of the specific images to come, Snake autumn maples/sobbed vermillion tears. Jan accomplishes all of this in a mere twenty-three lines through her use of compression.
The first section, FAULT LINE, suggests that her life was built on shifting ground. She introduces us to her Irish ancestors, one a blacksmith who moved to America where he lost his wife. As the Blacksmith’s tears sizzled on an anvil his way of dealing with his loss became:
Hammer the grief into horseshoes, something useful.
Fashion it into finials, something beautiful.,
words that are depicted in the title and the cover. This section contains some sayings in Irish brogue as well as many allusions to events of past and current times: While chimneys at Auschwitz and Birkenau/belch greasy smog into Chopin’s sky/. words which prick our memories and take us into the moment with her. Here we find poems which intimately describe her siblings and a few under the heading, Tremors, wherein unexpected references to her dad abruptly bring him to the forefront like a premonition. Then the last good night kiss: ’night, Dad. ‘night Sweetie.
Part two, EARTHQUAKE, includes The Big Eight-Oh which describes events around her father’s death, the mass, and the funeral. She relates her pain to a childhood incident where a schoolmate socked her so hard she wondered would breath ever return to how she felt when viewing him in the coffin, I can’t breathe/until you do.
Part three, AFTERSHOCKS is a metaphor for the feelings that Jan experienced long after her father’s burial. Several poems speak of gifts people gave her in an attempt to assuage her grief, a relationship with a school friend who shared their daddlessnes, her high school teacher, Sister Rose, who encouraged and taught her how to write poetry, Brahms, whose Requiem expressed how she felt: feel what I feel, speaks what/ has me chocked, throws a music bridge, to/cross over rattle-snaked/canyon of grief to find my soul/crouching beside a black pool. The section ends with her poem, “Fifty Years Later, I Meet My-13-Year-Old Self at the Open Coffin,” where she comes to terms with her sorrow.
In the last part DIGGING OUT: What We Remember Now is a recollection of her father’s death, from the viewpoints of the author, friends, siblings, and the community where four hundred people filled the church.
Poetic devices abound in these poems: compression – specific images to evoke the total picture, alliteration: casseroles roll in like caissons which introduce rhythm, allusions to people and historic events: Emily Dickenson, Bernadette, River Styx, Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the 1918 flu epidemic, similes: That blow of you laid out there,/like the time I fell from top bunk, /concussion, the pain, that swelling/ the ruthless throb., the use of Irish dialect that charms, repetition such as in Dreaming, where each first line begins with: he’s back, he’s back, he’s back, he’s back, and the use of haiku in Local Girl Abrades, all add up to a moving elegy from a skillful poet. I recommend this book.
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if in your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Bio: Jan Dederick is a complementary & alternative medicine practitioner, specializing in problems at the physical/emotional interface and stress-the physical/emotional interface and stress-related ailments. She has been writing seriously for several years, since launching her two children. She reads at venues around the East Bay, is one of the hosts at Poetry Express in Berkeley. She has published 2 chapbooks, and has received several prizes in local poetry competitions. She is hoping to get organized enough to submit more of her work to publishers, periodicals and publishers before too long.