Reviews, Vol. 7.4, Dec. 2013
Gold Line Press, 2011
Perfect bound, 34 pp., $13
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Winner of the 2010 Poetry Chapbook Competition hosted by Gold Line Press, Memory Future is a stellar achievement. Heather Aimee O’Neill’s poetry is gifted with a meditative, lyrical quality, and much of her writing achieves a rare clarity and honesty. Organized into three sections—I: “salted up in the memory of you”; II: “the spin of earth that allows us to observe time”; and III: “we think of our lives as linear”—the divisions can be thought of as past, present, and future.
The poems of section I are tightly crafted gems of lyricism. “Hemmed In” captures a moment remembered and all its implications; here, there is the feel of memories past and those not yet made. “Time” is notable for its meditative quality; “Restoration,” for its ability to embrace the temporality of things we deem so important:
Our morning fight was nothing, just
a pocket of rare stolen air. There was
a moment there. Cicadas sing above
our pond—surround me here, foretold, now gone.
O’Neill is a master of endings. The end of “From the Platform” does what too much contemporary (and canonical, for that matter) poetry fails to do—it leaps to that further step that is needed to bring the poem to new depths, and impacts hard, a sucker punch of truth:
[…] you look straight ahead into
the dark lines of the tunnel,
book resting on your lap, eyes
full of the hazel green in your scarf.
You could live without me.
Section II consists of a sonnet cycle titled, “Winter in Spain.” The last line of each of the seven sonnets leads into the first line of the next, and, cleverly, the last line of VII is the first line of I. The sonnets are strong in imagery, and the form mirrors the “Nostalgia that we held so long, at ease” and the incantatory quality of the language.
The poems in section III are charged both with urgency and the lilt of memory. “Summer” is an especially notable example of this, with things remembered,
The bay outside remembers
me hours later, remembers to ghost itself through my hands;
the thick memory of the feeling of water.
and the crackling energy of things yet to come, which hearken back to the memory of water:
I am prepared to flood my own standing village: buildings
shaped with abandoned jars and cadence.
O’Neill’s language sparkles or hits hard or strikes an incantatory tone of something remembered, as it needs to, and the chosen technique always feels spot on. Her poems are visual and meet some of the most demanding challenges a poet can strive for—to allow the reader to “see” through her eyes, and to make her really care. This collection is not one to be missed.