Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #8, Fall 2002]

Walnut from Waterloo
By Sue De Kelver
Marsh River Editions, 2002

Reviewed by Kris Rued-Clark

"Like a child with a fist/ full of wild weeds/ I bring you poems." These opening lines introduce us to a chapbook that speaks of growing up in the baby boom decades of 20th century America. Sue De Kelver first shows us a Catholic girl coming of age in the Midwest in the 1960s. Then we see her as an adult, tending her garden, growing a friendship, and bearing witness to the cycles of birth and death as mirrored every season in her garden.

De Kelver delights in wordplay and practices it with a keen ear. She reveals a sense of humor, the soul of a rebel. The perfection with which she captures childhood memories elicits chuckles of recognition, followed by nostalgic musings. These titles suggest the range of emotions dwelling within them: "Sister Mary Something," "My First Delicious Taste of Mortal Sin," and "Eat Your Heart Out, Thomas." Yes, you can go home again, she declares.

She jars us out of complacency with playful twists. In "First Holy Communion Dress," showing us snapshots of her girlhood, she describes pious poses taken by parents when the real person is sneaking off in jeans. At the end, De Kelver triumphantly breaks free of the bonds of others' definition of self, into her own selfhood.

"Extinction," in which she describes a niece trying to complete a matched family of toy dinosaurs, becomes a metaphor for the disappearance of the traditional, intact, "four-person family."

She makes us long with her for an escape from "February's dungeon," and she speaks of carrying a butane lighter "to ward off the icicle demons/ tormenting my southern bones/ a talisman against blizzards."

Here is a woman who is familiar with the realm of enchantment, yet remains firmly rooted where she has planted herself. To stay grounded in her flights of fancy, she anchors herself with rocks in her pocket when she visits her herb garden on windy days.

De Kelver brings a gardener's sensibility to the growing and gathering of poems. These are the crop of a master gardener, tending her plot with love and an elfin sense of wonder. Each word has been selected as carefully as a gardener chooses seeds from the catalogs that bloom every January. She instills within us a feeling of poignancy at the inevitability of adventure, looking forward to what the next season will bring. We are rewarded with a harvest as bountiful as any gardener could wish. Succulent, juicy, and satisfying, these words will enrich and nourish. Dig in -- there's much to savor here, and the poems stand up well to repeated readings.


Walnut from Waterloo by Sue De Kelver is available from Marsh River Editions, M233 Marsh Road, Marshfield, WI 54449.


Kristine Rued-Clark works in radio as a commercial copywriter. She is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Marshfield Area Poetry Society. She has a poem forthcoming in the Wisconsin Poets' Calendar. Her book reviews have also appeared in Free Verse.

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