Every woman confronts the idea of age in her own way, by counting the years that breed wisdom, or acknowledging the history passed down from her foremothers. Linda Pastan’s new collection, Traveling Light (W.W. Norton, $24.95), seeks to examine the lightness of aging and the weight of the experiences we keep with us. Many of her poems are still-life capsules or associative moments, often whimsical, as Pastan tries to redefine herself and examine her place in life. In “Any Woman,” she boldly claims, “Age has nothing to do with me.” Still, there’s a longing to relive or reverse time, if only for the pleasure of re-experiencing everyday moments. These poems want to move against time but also have the capacity to enjoy being within it, if only to bake bread, share it with family, compose a poem. “In the end,” Pastan writes, “we are no more than our own stories.”
Rachel Barenblat’s 70 faces: Torah Poems (Phoenicia Publishing, $13.95) also wrestles with the question of memory but from within the collective traditions of the Torah. The title of the project comes from a passage of Bemidbar Rabbah, “There are seventy faces to Torah: Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” Barenblat turns through the old characters and narratives of the Torah as though she is holding a prism in light: her modes are distinctly personal and shine with her understanding of life as a woman, rabbi, wife and mother. She places herself in the predominately male tradition of midrash (exegetical stories that seek to understand scripture), and she asserts her own voice in this rich lineage. What unfolds is a set of poems, one for each Torah portion, that speaks to body, ritual, complex familial relationships, and the very act of writing. In “God and I,” Barenblat imagines the difficult interior landscapes of the forefathers, including the act of Isaac’s near-sacrifice that marks the Jewish faith. In another poem, she uses the commandment that a man must wear tefillin to engage in a discussion of the body: “If my body is mine / my vows are binding. / The tefillin on my arm, / my silver wedding ring.”
Merle Feld, in Finding Words (URJ Press, $14.95), churns through memory and language, how we communicate, and what’s at stake in our relationships. With age, the voice develops a different approach to language: “Now at 57 I feel a need / to confess to my dearest / women friends the sins / of long gone days and minutes.” Confessional and elegiac modes take precedence in this collection.
Adrienne Rich’s poetry and criticism span 60 years. Her newest collection, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (W.W. Norton, $24.95) examines with poise and vision our service or servitude to language, to authority, under the weight of our cultural and political history. Alongside considerations of slavery and class, Rich’s poems cut through the polyphonic soundscape with an awareness of gender and femininity. “Winterface” is divided into two sections, “hers” and “his,” but maintains its connection to something profoundly universal. This latest collection from Rich affirms her place as a witness to our times. As she writes in “Powers of Recuperation,” “A woman of the citizen party… / is writing history backward.”
Marina Blitshteyn is a poet and writing instructor at Columbia University. Her poetry chapbook, Russian for Lovers, was published by Argos Books in 2011.