These are, generally speaking, nice poems. The style is bare, like a tree in winter, an image the poet conjures up several times through the collection. Winter is a pervasive presence, as are references to flame, ice, wind, sun, sky, moon and other common natural phenomena. The major themes include - as one might expect of a nice poet - love, heartbreak, desire, longing, loneliness, loss.
The fact that much of this debut collection does not defy convention does not mean that it is unpleasing. The narrator’s devotion to her family is poignant. In “Best Laid Plans”, for instance, the narrator depicts the constancy of a mother’s care through the various stages of her children’s lives, including times of adult crisis during which she has little influence. In “Sustenance”, the narrator describes how she made eggs after the death of someone deeply loved, possibly her father, noting that “something/ needed to be broken -/to be spilled.” Other poems express the strength of the marital bond, and the fear of loneliness in middle age. Moving as they are, and never cloying, one can yet conceive of one or two of these poems being distributed, en masse, by Hallmark.
This conventional quality characterizes the language too, despite the fact that it is unpretentious, simple and clear. The poet’s reach frequently extends to the safe rather than the new: a sky is ‘paper-white’, leaves are ‘copper-coloured’, love is ‘something like flame.’ Triedman uses a few unusual but cryptic symbols (‘three copper pennies’, ‘limes’, ‘black birds’) which, appearing as they do out of nowhere, only puzzle the reader. Yet this carelessness is belied by marks of originality - in describing someone’s abstraction, the poet pronounces his mind a ‘bluish thing, twilit’, and declares a house of mourning to be a ‘wayward womb…purpled with dying.’
Indeed, there may be monsters sleeping beneath this poetry’s placid surface. Hints of rebellion suggest a future as a launcher of poetic grenades, should Triedman seek it. The same poet who repeatedly evokes ‘moon’, ‘flame’ and ‘ice’, like a Scrabble player limited to seven letters, celebrates menstrual blood as ‘ropey and rich’, and, in a sexually ecstatic piece, invites her husband to “bury me now/ fill my throat to choking/bespread my body/press down on me like swollen loam…” In a poem which explicitly treats the transgressive nature of poetry, the poet goes further, linking ‘assumptions dropped from mean heights like/melons’ to ‘the soft fuzzed heads of newborn girls’ – a leap which elicits horrified but powerful understanding.
One wants this poet to go further, drop more assumptions, smash other soft things. There are references to emotional ambiguity and mental trauma in a number of poems, but they are not nearly so developed as, for instance, the glowing domestic relations in the ‘Hallmark’ poems. Semitones abound, but recede before they are fully heard.
It is too bad, because Triedman can be brilliant when she attempts to capture something not altogether definite. In “Almost Stung”, for instance, she evokes the darker side of sexuality through the barest suggestion. A twelve-year old girl sits in a tool shed, shucking peas, while just above her sits a buzzing hornets’ nest.
She is 12; she knows. She can in her teeth. They haven’t found her yet, but the sun is hot and she knows they are
Everything here depends on atmosphere, indirect connections and effective symbolism. The girl’s fearful sense of her own physicality is most directly caught with the following, wonderfully oblique, line: “Beneath her arms: the shameful/ seep of perspiration.” Triedman concludes, perfectly, by comparing the girl’s pose to that of someone praying, noting that “the peas slip silently between her/fingers like beads/of a rosary.” There is no actual reference to desire, sex, womanhood, and for all we know this is a poem about shucking peas in a shed. Yet we know it isn’t; we understand. The poem, in its ominous ambiguity, is distinctly anti-Hallmark.
Bathe In It or Sleep shows much promise. Whether that promise is developed or not depends on the poet’s willingness to take more risks, to express the previously unexpressed, to go down the enshadowed byways of her spirit, wherever they might lead.