#Bookreview: Minus One

Image of green table, poetry book, and red peony

My Review

The image is the cover of Elizabeth Merry's poetry collection, Minus One: The Story of a Life.
Click on the book cover to purchase from Amazon.

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

Image is of Elizabeth Merry wearing a hat and standing in front of a painting of a bridge.
Elizabeth Merry

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!

119 thoughts on “#Bookreview: Minus One

    1. Thank you, Diana. I have to say, I’m so glad to have the internet to communicate my experience of the books I’ve enjoyed. Otherwise I would have to go running through the streets waving the book aloft and yelling to all and sundry, “You must read this book!”

      Liked by 2 people

  1. This sounds like such a beautiful collection of verse…love the sound of ‘pale apple green’. So much imagery reflected here….a lovely read, I am certain, with rich stories to tell. It seems as if much is dovetailed here…nature, life events, a lifetime of moments captured in words. Great review!!! Spellbinding details…but, not too much!) 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Your thought – “And isn’t this why we read poetry?” YES!!! There are things said in with a poet’s breath that capture the longing, the joy and expectation of what we feel. A wonderful review, Liz – as always.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Liz, I add my kudos and respect to you for your beautiful review of what looks to be an unusually wonderful book of poetry. I have limited space in my little apartment, but I think I’m going to have to make room for this one! In the meantime, it was luscious to read your prose, as always.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Not a natural poetry reader blogging has been my main introduction to poetry…I loved this review as it posed an interesting question and I was struck how your love of poetry, Liz was so apparent …Great review 🙂 x

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I have learned how much I enjoy poetry since I entered the blogging community these past two years. Liz, you brought to mind how I will ‘reread a number of them, each time with a new layer of meaning revealed.’ A goosebump moment “…do we become more of ourselves or less?” I especially appreciate your sentence “And isn’t this why we read poetry?” I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Merry’s description. Thank you for sharing, Liz.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. A deeply emotional collection of poems, from what I can tell. They really hit home with you, in particular about the passing of your younger brother. You’re right, that is what poetry is meant to do. Thank you for the introduction to Elizabeth, one very talented writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I agree The Red Petticoat is moving. I believe many as they reach the twilight years, have a version of their own red petticoat tucked away in memory and still held close to the heart. Mine was a pastel colored summer dress that could never quite be replaced. Can still feel how carefree I felt wearing it…Lovely review

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you’re right about each of us having our own red petticoat. One of mine is a painting of seagulls my grandmother did for me when I was a todder because I was so taken by them. Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s such a delight to meet a new poet, and I’m enticed to Elizabeth’s collection by this splendid review, Liz! I fully agree with Elizabeth’s attitude to self-publishing too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks, dear Liz, for sharing this review. We are actually not readers of poetry nevertheless these poems sound interesting.
    Wishing you a happy day
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Liz – I enjoyed the review and how you gave us snippets of the book and snippets of you.

    also, regarding what you noted – I think we “become more of ourselves…”

    Lastly, I think that many of us who write a lot could possibly be insured by the way Elizabeth Merry compiled her works written over the years to make a wonderful book.
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hi Liz, what a lovely and beautiful review you’ve done for Minus One: the Story of Life. I love how you gave examples of the lines that show the richness of the poems. Congratulations to Elizabeth.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I enjoyed your story. The web of intrigue carried all the way through.
    Was this the sentence…
    Sitting in the stalled car, the water only inches from his face, he felt as though he had been pushed into the deep end of a swimming pool, suddenly realizing when he hit the water and it slammed into his nose and forced his eyelids open to confront the blue and green and white choking him that he did not know how to swim.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fab review! I like that there are photos in the book, as well as poems.
    The poem you cited is lovely!
    I like what Elizabeth Merry said about how the book ended up being.
    Thank you Liz!

    Liked by 2 people

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