Like many writers, Joan Norman Cook attempts to transmute the substance of personal hardship into poetry and prose. “There has been darkness in my life,” she states on the book’s back cover. Stanzas and Stuff, a collection of 14 poems, an adage, and one short story, explores a range of reactions for multiple (fictionalized, according to the copyright page) traumatic experiences, including debilitating illness (Alzheimer’s), giving a child up for adoption, and domestic violence.
Some of the author’s work expresses a forthright anger. Her poem, “Life Jacket,” for instance, plunges the reader into a fiery response to her partner’s infidelity. “So you thought you’d take our love for a ride/With some sublime yet spoilt child…” Other poems relate existential musings about God and nature, a longing for escapism (“pastures of what could have been”), and a pithy irony. Most have a rhyming pattern, although the author also experiments with the prose poem form in her religious parable, “The Return.”
Unfortunately, the author’s work often delivers strained lines, such as, “You want to hear ‘I wish you the best’/But that would really test my PMS,” which trivialize the import of her message. And convoluted syntax sometimes obscures meaning (“Strained sunlight is dancing/ Upon mottled greenwood,/ While the ripples whisper their secrets/ To a multicoloured pebble refraction.”)
Her short story, “Looking for Normal,” deals with abusive relationships and the struggle to regain wholeness in the aftermath. Unfortunately, the narrative lacks the details to ground readers in a fully realized world. In addition, some of the plot is confusing: On one page, the narrator, Pamela, is apparently both visiting her daughter’s grave and, at the same time, seeing her daughter walking toward her.
Cook’s writing overall is heartfelt, and she has some important things to say. But the pieces here require more attention to craft and detail in order to resonate with readers.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.