Necessary Turns by Liz Abrams-Morley: A Review

            In Necessary Turns, Liz Abrams-Morley offers her skillful and graceful take on the oft-poeticized subject of time:  its harms and[img_assist|nid=6852|title=Necessary Turns|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=101|height=150] balms.  In the interests of full disclosure, I freely admit that Liz Abrams-Morley was a professor of mine during my time in the MFA program at Rosemont College.  She advised my graduate thesis in poetry and has bought me several glasses of wine since that time.  I count Liz Abrams-Morley among the poets and teachers most responsible for the shape and direction of my own writing.  In re-reading the notes in the margins on some of my poems, I frequently mistake her handwriting for my own. 

            We were discussing my thesis project at a Queen Village coffee shop in 2008 when Liz told me about her book, Necessary Turns and its impending Spring 2010 release.  I had been familiar with some of the poems from readings Liz had given as well as from her chapbook, What Winter Reveals.  Familiar as I was, however, with Liz’s poetry, her stories, her character, I found Necessary Turns to be at once an affirmation of all that I know and love about Liz, and an additional, complicating layer that challenged me and revealed her relationship with poetry as well as poetry’s relationship to the rest of her life.

            A blurb from David Wojahn on the back of the book characterizes these as “poems of a writer of a certain age, one who has come to something akin to wisdom.”  This “something akin to wisdom” gleams from unexpected sources and subtly undermines myths of aging and motherhood.  The speaker of the title poem drives an adult son to a train station and sending him off “to his own life.”  Some readers might find in this poem a lament on an empty nest:  “he would travel great distances / and I would travel other distances.”  But this speaker dwells only long enough to see her son off safely before thinking “something about how / holding no ticket meant I / could be going anywhere now,” recognizing loss as prerequisite for opportunity.  Or rather, the moral of the story is: “Change is inevitable, so what are you going to do now?”  I don’t know the Latin, but in these poems, Liz reminds us that the day seizes us, so we might as well seize it back.  And this mutual seizing looks a lot like an embrace in the poems of Necessary Turns. 

            Liz’s persona in these poems comes pretty close to Liz-in-person.  The loss, grief, and frustration about which she writes are buoyed by sincere tenderness and humor.  The losses of parents and a (too-young) nephew — and the various shades of the attendant suffering — cut through the collection sharply, but organically.   She writes about gardens and weeds, pruning and digging, and the new growth that is only possible when spent blooms are removed.  The familiar metaphor is no less apt than it was for Robert Herrick, but while he urged young, unmarried women to “make the most of time” and succumb to sensual pleasures, Liz Abrams-Morley takes the tack suggested in the epigram by Linda Pastan:  “If death is everywhere we look, / at least let’s marry it to beauty.” 

            Complicating the autobiographical quality of these poems is the character of Rose Climbing.  Her real name is Wanda and Liz often jokes about her alter-ego having an alter-ego.  Her voice weaves through the rest of the collection:  Rose / draws ruby blood streams / from inquisitive fingers, / paints her own dry lips / in salty crimson.”  Through this voice which “whatever the weather… bloom[s] again / and again,” Liz punches a hole in her own authorial façade, reminding the reader that voice is a creation, that poems are constructed. 

            Many of Liz’s poems grow out of her life and experience – I recognized moments recorded in poems that I had heard first in conversation.  Many poems even felt too personal, as though I were privy to a greater secret than I had earned.  Liz’s craft and care expose a deep truth and, yes, something very much like wisdom.  She sometimes lets us forget that we are reading poetry; we feel as though we had just caught up with the author over a bottle of wine and a fancy cheese plate.  Then, Rose Climbing, the tough, terse, alter-ego of the alter-ego, reaches out to prick us and remind us – this ease ain’t easy!  Liz Abrams-Morley’s Necessary Turns is carefully wrought from familiar—even universal—tragedies.  She employs familiar images and echoes sentiments with which every writer—possibly every person—grapples, but the fine detail of these poems and the presence of an authorial foil allow this collection to stretch a thin shoot beyond familiarity and into its own sun. 

Courtney Bambrick is the poetry editor of Philadelphia Stories

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