Reviews, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009
Illustrations by Rebecca Schumejda, Hosho McCreesh, & Sara Tea
Verve Bath Press, 2009
Staple-bound, 35 pp.
Review by Cynthia Reeser
The Map of Our Garden by Rebecca Schumejda is a hand-designed work of art in its printed form. The poems themselves are a centrally themed collection based on the metaphor of garden as family. The book opens with a quote from Buddha, which comments on the nature of family and compares it with a garden (i.e., families take work, like gardens, whose weeds choke out the wanted life if not tended to).
Sometimes, in the family that is central to the work (assumed autobiographical), old troubles hide like forgotten roots under the surface. Schumejda’s writing aptly captures these ideas with its progression and movement, as with “Weeding,” a poem that strikes at the heart of emotions and tenuous situations. Here, the poem begins with weeding, then moves into its central metaphor, then into realization: the essential formula that comprises the structural basis for most of the pieces.
As can be expected, there are tender moments, moments of honesty, and those of fear marking the poems. Some, like “Runaway Women” and “Some Kind of Squash” speak to transformation (which has been known to happen from time to time in families, especially where children are concerned). Others, like “Plastic Beach,” are rooted in domesticity, like all the poems; but here is a particular example of what is missing in this collection: the acknowledgement of this particular family’s place in the context of other families. The family at the center of this piece is too central, lacking a universal connection to other families, except in the broadest stretch of implication. From “Plastic Beach”:
I conclude that
in the economy of life,
you don’t need much
to be happy:
A few good tricks,
and a little whiskey
in your morning coffee.
The metaphor is obviously relative to this family in particular, to this speaker in particular. I cannot help but sense that, while these “simple” things may not seem like much to the speaker, there is a blatant lack of acknowledgement to how much she really has in relation to other families. The home, the garden, peace, friends, and of course, family―it is obvious―mean a great deal to her, but what of other families who have none of these luxuries, whose gardens have gone to seed beyond their control―an all-too-common scenario in contemporary family life.
This point aside, while Schumejda’s collection tends to be formulaic, her poems most often offer a strong sense of movement and metaphor that get to the sometimes intangible dynamics that are hidden beneath the surface of relationships, touching on the potential of the family garden to germinate both weeds and bounty.