Gentling the Bones, by Katherine E. Young
Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, Kentucky, 2007
A Review by Whitney M. Smith
Skillfully aware of the past and its continual influence upon the present, Katherine E. Young has created a moving series of poems in which she revisits ghosts and old friends alike. In her second book of poetry, Gentling the Bones, Young establishes and analyzes movement through time, recognizing change as more than just "the difference between silver/ and gray" as in "Grandma at Ninety," but also as a personal journey through small towns, private devastation, relationships with family, and drifting lovers. Through all of this change, however, there still remains an overwhelming desire to reconnect with the past as well as with her own Southern roots, ultimately revealing "more than one way of seeing things." Thanks in-part to this revelation, and the unavoidable yearning by the reader to bathe in Young's artistry, her words transform into a series of epiphanies available to any purveyor of detailed simplicity and personal history.
"By Way of a Prologue" introduces Young's extremely cognizant portrayal of origin as "the archetype, a tale that is/ told of our ancestors." The lyricism with which this tale is told, reaches far beyond any surface, through the "unused rooms," past the "tarnished shaving brushes,/ moldy pillows, [and] plastic flowers" that can be found in "Grandma's House," and clings to the roots of existence discovered along the way.
It is from these very roots that Young delicately extracts "the leavings of generations" as in "Burning Down the Slave Quarters" and the reality of "Voyagers" which is "as rich a mystery/ as courtship among kings, as alphabets,/ the flight of planes." Such rich verses, though revealing, actually provide fuel for continual discovery, the reader acutely aware of the complexity of roots and of origin. Young's ability to capture the profundity of life also shines through, exuding such ease of pen and heart that no room remains for questions of emotive authenticity or reader motivation.
By focusing on historical and personal truths and their portrayal with grace-filled honesty, it is appropriate that Young would choose to close her volume of soul-lit discoveries with the following poem, leaving the reader wondering exactly what it is they know:
What I Know– for Buddy pg. 24
Some know the winding of clocks,
the whir of gears and whine of weights,
the click and grind of Fortune's great wheel.
Some know the twining of wires,
the spark and moan of careless couplings
trailing white ash from their loose-limbed embrace.
You know the tilling of fields,
sleet in spring and hail at harvest,
the care and feeding, the husbanding of things.
I know the forcing of a word,
roots enmeshed, scent of loveliness
wrenched-heedless-from its milk-white throat.
Whitney Smith Is a graduate of Shepherd University in West Virginia. Her specialty is critical theory and literature.
She currently lives and works in Vermont.