Oh, Bones, Let Us Make Peace Now: A review of Rooms and Closets

Review by Wendy Taylor Carlisle

Rooms and Closets, by Janice Soderling. JDS Wrangles väg 28, 2020.

The prologue to Rooms and Closets contains a quote by James Fenton:

It is not what you have written down.
It is what you have forgotten,
what you must forget.

Here, a combination of lyrics and prose poetry, form and free verse, sets about reclaiming that forgetting. Soderling, a prize-winning poet who was born in the U.S., but emigrated to Sweden as a young woman, is well-known for her translations as well as her original prose and poetry. In this slim volume she has given us 37 poems, a lifetime’s worth of hope and grief.

The book begins by announcing one of its themes in “Perennial.” That pain from the past:

…has a deep taproot.
You think it is weeded out,
then it rears up green and clinging.

as opposed to Happiness, those "Dry leaves in the underbrush."

"Tell me" the poet asks, "the details of one joyous day." Then sums up her poem’s thesis in its final tercet:

Pain can recite every particular.
Hardy, bitter virulent,
it remembers and feeds on itself.

However, this book is not simply a poet’s hypernesia. In a long prose poem, “A House of Many Rooms,” the reader finds that those rooms are the many human selves, joyful as well as sad, ecstatic as well as brutalized:

Outside the window, a bird is singing its heart out to mark its territory: mine, mine, mine. There is the brief, piercing cry of a women on the edge of orgasm.

The poems roll out before us, filled with indelible characters, such as the “Pegasus Man”:

…bursting with force vital.
He was always looking in the wrong direction
Notice how he turns his back on the encroaching forest,

Here, we can see what may be in store for the man, this:

ladies’ man
with his winged red horse ready between his legs.

And when we find him again, in the prose poem, “Adultery,” the forecast has become reality:

One day he was cock-of-the-walk, full of jokes and juice, strumming his guitar, waxing the big fins on his red Chevy, knowing another woman in the biblical sense. The next day woebegone, collapsing like a library on fire….

Other engaging and terrible characters appear. Mom glares over the Sunday chicken she slaughtered herself; the touchdown king, with his job at the furniture factory and his pinball, burgers and beer, is introduced in “Where Babies Come From,” a prose poem in 12 chapters. That poem set us up for the saga of a child-woman’s shotgun marriage, her impoverished life and the ultimate loss of her own children, traced in an exquisite sestina, “Sestina for Lost Children,” that begins:

I am no longer confident of truth.
I only know that in the dark of night
naming her own child dead, she slyly rose
and took my child to claim it for herself.
It was my child and never was her child.
The night was blind. Only the moon was out.

and ends:

My day remains my night; my child, her child.
Did she best love herself when she arose
or love the child? Out of old lies comes truth.

As the book begins, fear is pervasive, almost another character: "Now let me tell you about fear. It is like undressing in a field of nettles."" But despite unrest and terror and ache, which are something like a love-song, in the poem “Nashville,” the remainder of the book has lovely moments. Along with the frustration of “Talking to Demeter Late at Night,” comes this beauty:

I want my stolen daughters back:

their pretty lips wound close around the pomegranate;
their winsome tongues still rolling shifty seeds.

And, at last, the book finds hope in “Unnamed,” a poem in three quatrains:

That sound you hear at midnight,

Its rattle is a promise.
It refuses to be gone
It moved in and came to stay.
You will not die alone.

Rooms and Closets is a book of disappearances of children, native land, lives again and again consumed, even the poet vanishing, as in “The Fox,” where she "looks back at where she has been. / Then she is gone." It is also a book of disguises, alterations in states of being, of journeying, of finding a way out and a way in again. The final quarter of the book begins in “Stockholm” a city of stone staircases and frozen sun, the poet’s new home, and ends as memory slips to understanding and, finally, forgiveness.

This section contains a sly description of a life in “Explaining, Somewhere in the Sahara.” But whose life is this? We are not told. Here as elsewhere, the poems exist in the mysteries of their making. Soderling, in a prologue for “The Little Mermaid Gets Real,” (Poemleon: A Journal of Poetry) offers this truth: "a poem is about someone you don't know, but know all too well. It is telling the truth by lying… It is an excellent disguise."

Rooms and Closets describes a difficult life. The reader will never know if it tells the truth by lying. Readers do not need to know. Soderling gives us the one necessary truth, the truth of her work, and leaves the reader with the image of the poet as:

a speckled thrush, settled on a charred limb to sing,
and the promise,
I will comfort your little sighs as best I can
…Oh, bones, let us make peace now. ("Ossuary")


Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books, most recently, The Mercy of Traffic, 2020 winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award, and On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo, and five chapbooks. For more information, www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com.


Wendy Taylor Carlisle
          Review of Rooms and Closets (by Janice Soderling)"


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Gina Occhiogrosso: I am a painter whose work is composed not only through the application of wet color on a surface, but through processes of disassembly and realignment, and the incorporation of common, everyday materials like thread and yarn. These activities and elements allow me to explore anxiety, loss, humor and heroic femininity. The hallowed and often masculinized tradition of painting is subverted in my work through a repeated process of cutting and then sewing painted surfaces together to develop new forms, dynamic connections and illusions of depth. Where these freshly stitched edges join, there is a seam, which has both linear and sculptural qualities. The seam acts as a geometric disrupter of curvy ellipses and other organic forms that are carefully rendered and then carved up with alternating precision and chance. The ghost of those cut edges has its own subtle presence. I am interested in developing a surface that’s full of the suggestive qualities that abstraction can create. The stitched paintings supply this through the deliberate recalibration of shapes and their relationships to one another.

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