Splinter of Glass
Soul Solitude Press, 2016
Few people realize that poetry has just as many genres as its cousin fiction. There is lyric poetry, spoken-word, epic, rhyming, light verse, as well as a coterie of aesthetic movements and schools (confessional, new formalism). What this creates is a vast pool from which a would-be poet can draw not inspiration but style. Readers expect and embrace this even if they are not fully aware of it.
So when poetry lovers and readers look for a collection, they find themselves expecting quite a bit. An awareness of one’s expectations is necessary not just for pleasure but to afford critical enjoyment. It is always vital to come to literature on its own terms cognizant of your own tics and assumptions so that as a reader you can braid your reading with what the work is attempting.
Arlene Watson’s posthumous collection of poems Splinters of Glass is a deeply personal work that can best be understood as inspirational poetry. But Watson’s style is discursive. She writes brief poems that almost entirely lack any metaphor or image choosing instead to focus on the raw feeling being expressed. It is for this reason her work can be called ‘authentic,’ but readers looking for flowery language or deft stylistic moves will be disappointed. Watson wasn’t a professional poet and her collection possesses none of the traits distinguishing literary poetry, which is a roundabout way to say that her poems are accessible and heartfelt.
Perhaps my favorite poem and the strongest in the collection is The Outsider, a work that could easily stand as a translation of a Hellenistic classic, an English Romantic lyric, a San Francisco Beat poet’s musing, or any contemporary confessional anthologized poem:
I marvel that no one notices
I daily move among them
And am accepted
I do my given tasks
I work, I talk, I laugh–
And no one knows
I watch them from my vantage point
And with great caring wonder
At their stupidities–
How they waster their time
They think they have forever
Or perhaps, they do not think at all
They crowd into the marketplace
Hawking their wares
I am no part of them
They have nothing I want
But I hope all goes well with them.
In very plain language, Watson presents a removed voice enamored with looking. The judgments made in this observational verse imply the speaker’s own sense of place, of fitting in (or not) with the lives around her. It is at once an immigrant poem, a poem of city alienation, a celebration of the public, and a modest chastisement.
What makes Watson’s work worth reading is that it is open to the reader to make of her work what s/he can. While one could easily dismiss the poems as too personal, an active and engaging reader will be able to find the subtle psychology and emotion in the works. As a brief collection of poems published as a poetic memoir or in memoria tribute, one needs to come to these poems with an open mind looking to engage the earnestness of their emotions.
Arleen Klass Watson was born August 27, 1922, in Ohio. Arleen fell in love with the New York stage and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and performed in many Off Broadway plays. Her roommate was Lauren Bacall.
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