The poems in Elizabeth Merry’s collection, Minus One: The Story of a Life, are rich and nuanced with the fluidity of time and memory. I found myself rereading a number of them, each time with a new layer of meaning revealed. Minus One is the poetry of paradox: death in life visible in every falling leaf and glance in the mirror.
As I reflect on my experience of reading this collection, I am struck by the power of its raw, honest emotion–yet the poems themselves are very finely crafted. The word choice is precise– often unexpectedly so–and each linebreak comes at just the right moment. I particularly appreciated the freshness of language and metaphor. In the title poem, for example, losing the first member of one’s immediate family becomes “My magic circle broken.” In “Words,” “Sudden shocks of grief / Or joy unwind us.” The desire to escape from the world and live a cloistered life becomes “ . . . peace, pale apple green, serene / Soft poultice on the quick of life.”
Haiku and photographs interspersed throughout the book offer brief, vivid glimpses into the natural world, each echoing a particular state of mind. The natural world as metaphor is further explored in two companion poems: “Seascapes” and “Landscapes.” Even with the anger and unpredictably of the sea, the freedom it represents is preferable to being “Street-locked and bereft” in an inland place, where “This bland wind has / no taste, no smell.”
The title poem, about the first death in the speaker’s immediate family, asks the question, “How much of you is me / Stretching to close the circle?” This question recurs in different forms as the collection progresses–and by the end, I couldn’t help but wonder: with each loss of a close family member, do we become more of ourselves or less?
One of my favorite poems in the collection is “The Red Petticoat,” in which the speaker describes her mother’s delight at receiving a red petticoat from America. The ending stanza left me thinking, I would like to know this woman:
Long left that room, that house
The woman has gathered her years
Carefully, tucked them primly away
Scented and folded neatly
Facing the rest
With a lifted chin
A grin and a new hat
The glow of the red petticoat
About her still.
Another standout is “Frances,” about the death of a younger sibling, “Gone out of turn before me / Our childhood memories / All lop-sided now.” These three lines express my own experience of losing my younger brother in a way I never could. And isn’t this why we read poetry?
The Poet’s World
From Inspiration to Publication
The poems were written over many years and at some point I realised they were (mostly) about my life. The idea of putting them together into a collection came next, and I enjoyed the process of putting the poems in the right order to make a true progression through life, and then adding in the haikus and photographs. (It’s a pity the photographs in the book are black and white – they look a million times better in colour.) The cover is a photograph I took outside my apartment one very foggy night. I was advised to get a cover done professionally but I particularly like this picture so I decided to go with it. Uploading the cover and contents on line (KDP) caused me a few headaches but I learned a lot throughout the process. The good thing about self-publishing is this: you can edit your work whenever you like, so if I write any more decent poems I can add them in. There are many advantages to self-publishing, especially not having to wait, and wait, and wait for a publisher to get back to you. I have also published a collection of short stories, We All Die in the End, and two novels for children, so I feel very experienced now!