Chance & Choice (NWVS # 129)
by Alice Bolstridge
In an age of postmodern solipsism, Alice Bolstridge’s poems are comfort food. Which doesn’t make them easy or slight—far from it. Hers is a complex and steady vision of nature and human beings as they really are, not as seen through the lens of (male) abstract myths. These poems range from the simple pleasure of drinking from an artesian well to Wilhelm Reich, to Mammoth Cave, to cosmic vision, as in the poem “Milky Way”: radiant/energy whirl dew through/the air, warm milk swirl/through flesh, nipple to mouth,/and blood, Ishmael watching a lance/cut the teats of a nursing whale. Relationships—lovers, friends, mother and son, artist and art—are met at eye level, and the eye is compassionate and true. In Bolstridge’s poems, man may think he’s the measure of all things, but it is woman who measures the world. These are poems that can be carried with you.
– James Cousins, Poet, Professor and Curator of the Elliston Poetry Collection at the University of Cincinnati, and author of The Whole Truth and other books of poetry
In this wise and searching collection, Alice Bolstridge illuminates crucial connections between the animal, the human, and the cosmic; in poem after poem, she makes clear that every living thing—tulip, robin, infant—is vulnerable to accident and attack, but each also stands to spend its bright moment basking, enjoying its “brief sweet taste / of nectar”—if it will. The speaker of these poems makes herself kin to weasels and wildcats, to elephants mourning their dead, and to
mythic figures by whose triumphs and failures we come to understand our own struggles, our own joys. When Bolstridge declares, in the title poem, that we are “Animals // all, hanging on the cross of life and death / together,” I hear this as lament and invitation. We can’t choose any fate but the one we share, the book suggests, but we can choose to be for one another faithful companions on this short, painful, beautiful journey—and we should.
– Melissa Crowe, author of Girl, Giant and editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal
What a shame that so many of us lose our sense of wonder as we age. We grow jaded, and the world around us too easily becomes invisible. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened to Alice Bolstridge. Her poems see and hear and touch this world with a freshness of impression that shows the spirit of someone who marvels at the mysteries we encounter every day. Her sharp eye, deft hand and acute ear offer powerful poems about life, birth, and where we find ourselves. They touch us, and they renew enthusiasm for living enough to make us want to see something again. Bolstridge gives us a refreshed sense of wonder, and that is very powerful indeed.
– Eckhard Gerdes, an American novelist, editor, and author of 23 SKIDOO! 23 FORM-FITTING POEMS
Alice Bolstridge masterfully combines the universal with the very personal in “Chance & Choice.” Readers are transported to another realm where sensations of the fragile natural world, our own lucid dreams and tragedies deeply resonate; at the same time we can be inspired by the profound skill with which our poet presents her unique and marvelous perspective.
– Carla M. Wilson