Of course this dirt traveled
Mean, the girl thinks, working
With these words from "Why Books?", the lead off poem of Left Standing, Ona Gritz sets the frametale for her first book of poetry.
Gritz is a writer best known for her work in children's books. She is also the winner of the 2007 Inglis House Poetry contest on poetry of disability with her poem "First Anniversary." Left Standing, however, is not about Gritz's disability but, as the original title of the above poem states, "One Writer's Beginnings."
Like many recent books of poetry, Left Standing is not a random collection of best poems, but a series of poems that, taken as a whole form a narrative. The title of the book comes from a poem by Linda Pastan and refers to the climax of the story, the death of the poet's father and her realization that she is now on her own in the world. Structurally the book is divided into two parts, the first half focusing on her mother's life, the second on her father's. The relationship among the members of the family and her relationship with each of her parents form the subjects of the poems.In "At a Friend's House" the poet Gritz allows the reader to see the relationship of her parents while the child Ona begins to discover the world beyond the dynamics of her family:
There are things to be learned at a friend's house.
When her friend's parents show affection towards each other, the disconnect between her world and that of others deepens:
They were flirting! I nudged my friend
Several of the poems in the first half of the book deal with her mother's illness, hospitalization, hospice and eventual death. Gritz's down to earth, unpretentious use of language is perfect for the description of her mother lying in the coffin.
The second half of the book in some ways mirrors the first half - memories of the author's relationship with her father, the inability of the members of the family to show affection for each other and her father's eventual death. The poems in which Gritz describe her father seem somewhat less certain than those of her mother, whose personality she seems to have more insight into. In one of the more intriguing poems of the book, "In Rockaway" the writer explores her own incipient sense of her sexuality and relationship with men. Two poems cast her father in the role of the traditional paternal figure who needs to warn his teenage daughter about men. Against this obligatory fatherly advice, however, she says,
I am still that girl who can't explain
My father lay beside his father
Anger searing, she chose to have her body charred.
I gathered my things
It is only after her father's death and "Til Death" that the reader discovers in "Infant Older Brother" that the brother she refers to had died in infancy. With this revelation, the reader now knows that the speaker of the poems is "left alone."
There are few books of poetry that one picks up and reads straight through because they could not put it down, but Left Standing is one of them. Despite its apparent simplicity, it is a book that rewards rereading because more is learned each time. For beginning writers who feel that poetry can only be successful through the use of $50 words and extra-textual literary allusions, this collection should be mandatory reading. Without pretense, fanfare or emotional self-indulgence, Gritz shows you what poetry can do.Left Standing is part of the New Women's Voices Series and is available from Finishing Line Press.