Staring Too Closely

Book Review by George Longenecker

With masterful poetry and poignant imagery, Erika Nichols-Frazer dares to write powerfully personal verse. In “Warming Up” her wood fire is an extended metaphor for the pain of an ectopic pregnancy. She says “I don’t have words for how it hurts,” yet her words make pain alive for the reader:

      I hunch into myself, become as small as I can, try to get warm.
      The fire’s being chewed out from the inside too.

She says in “Post-Op,” “I come from women who know how to hurt, / how to bear weight far greater than their own.” In “Mother’s Day, 2013” she writes of the personal pain of a day far from perfect. In her doubt and weeping she shows us love and forgiveness at their best.

     My heart breaks every day

     On my way back to work from my second visit of the day
     I see a sign outside a flower shop that says

     Mother’s Day Is Coming
     Is Your Mother Special? Buy Her Flowers!

     And cry so hard I have to pull over.

In “Deer Season” she ponders her ambivalence about the annual hunting ritual. “A body hangs, hooked, from the neighbors shed/ A flash of red and bone-shiny insides/…A reminder that I do not belong here.”

“The List” was written before the latest war, about the 2014 school massacre in Pakistan, yet it could be any of the many wars and school shootings so far this century. Good poets focus on personal tragedy, and leave analysis to news media. The list tells it all. However, it might have been good to have a brief footnote about the place and date of this horrific event.

      148 names are tacked to the wall
      in lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

      148 names too fresh for headstones
      memorialized only on a sheet of paper
      daring the crowd of parents to look.

These are personal poems about mind, body and loved ones. These are views from the poet’s window but also of a prescient world view. Erika Nichols-Frazer has done well on her journey to master poetry and her inner self. These poems are consistently well- crafted. Let the poet have the final word in her title poem, “Staring Too Closely:”

      Pilfer pockets for leftover time.
      In the hours escorting dawn to doorstep,
      the low frequency tremors hum in new light,
      claiming to be as they appear,
      their scent foreign to the morning.

~George Longenecker,

Poetry Society of Vermont Past President

Staring Too Closely cover

Staring Too Closely
Erika Nichols-Frazer
Main Street Rag (2023) poetry
ISBN 978-1-59948-970-4 54 pages, $14 (+ shipping)

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