Betty Jane Clem’s Hope That Heals: Reflections on a Life Journey is a chronological poetic expedition through the author’s life, from age 9 to the present, when she is in her 70s.
Many of the poems contemplate the grace and transience of the natural world. The lovely “The Blue Heron” begins: “Strutting across a meadow/ He gazes out at life.” It ends three stanzas later with: “He flies off in one swift move,/ a memory long to stay.” In “Rooted,” Clem depicts trees as dignified elders: “Observe grand maples and cypress,/ Standing guard at the border,/ Grown old in years of sun and rain,/ Pruned, fed, and watered.” Such poems ask us to slow down and appreciate other living things in our environment.
Clem skillfully uses kinetic imagery to make an overly-familiar poetic topic—the sunrise—seem fresh and surprising, as when she describes the effect of weather patterns on color: “The jet stream slices the gray space/ between orange and pink.”
Unfortunately, the author’s poems about relationships are less engaging because the language is less specific. “Confrontation” begins generically: “When pain becomes too much,/ we turn off our feelings,” “Friends” begins equally blandly: “Friends will become important again,/ in a new adult way.” As with these poems, much of the collection lacks the vivid imagery, lyricism, and specificity of more accomplished work. Too often, Clem uses abstract words that might appeal to the intellect, but fail to resonate on an emotional level. For example, “Commitments” begins: “Life is pale without commitments,/ Commitments call us forth/ from isolation to connection,/ from mediocrity to integrity…” Such work is more prose-like than poetic and misses the mark.
Hope That Heals is born of the wisdom of age and a life thoughtfully lived. More attention to poetic devices, however, would help bring this work alive.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.