Few publishers risk investing in first-time books by poets, but The Ester Republic Press has taken that risk with its very first book, "Cake: Selected Poems" by Doreen Fitzgerald. They chose well.
Fitzgerald has lived in Alaska since 1980. This collection of sixty-seven poems represents work drawn from a lifetime of experiences in the Midwest and Alaska. It is arranged chronologically, beginning with a poem about childhood set in Michigan in 1944 and continuing through "Mother Marries at Seventy-Three." "Solace," an elegy for a granddaughter, is perfection in its sparseness.
"Cake: Selected Poems"
By Doreen Fitzgerald. The Ester
Paperback. 76 pages. $12.
Born in 1940, Fitzgerald is an alumna of Michigan State University, where she graduated in 1993 with a master's degree in English, and where nationally known poet Diane Wakoski mentored her master's thesis. She attended Purdue University, graduating in 1975 with a degree in sociology. She has won awards for journalism and nonfiction writing. Currently she works as an editor and science writer for the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
This readable collection includes a wide range of subjects, from childhood memories of a boy who grew up to die in Vietnam to the tracks of a vole in the snow. Fitzgerald observes carefully and chooses her words with care. She is a virtuoso with "real scorchers" and dust, scarred tables and sleazy all-night diners, blue jays and compost, long drives and jazz guitar, crowded garages and stuffed rattlesnakes and gladiolas planted by the roadside. One of the longest poems, "Planning Ahead," is an amusing yet poignant catalog of grave goods that her husband wants buried with him "for the long haul." The catalog includes lures with particular numbers, a really good fishing reel, dog bones to treat the sled dogs he is sure will meet him in the afterlife, an inflatable bimbo and shirts bearing slogans like "Shit Happens" and "Live to Ride."
Fitzgerald really gets rolling in poems like "Jack + Judy," where similes pile up like sourdough flapjacks on a breakfast plate. She is as enviably comfortable writing about tending bar as she is writing about gardening.
Most of these poems are in free verse form, although the book closes with a sonnet and Fitzgerald shows she can render musical lines with such deceptively simple works as "June":
Solstice runs toward us,
Her feet and shoulders bare,
The smoke of wildfire tangled
In her golden hair.
She runs a steady circle,
I bend and crawl and lean,
Making up the garden,
Holding close the green.
Some of the poems in this collection previously appeared in "The Ester Republic," "Prairie Schooner," and "Seven Signs." The collection could have been a little stronger if some of the weaker poems, like "Teeth," had been weeded out of the bed. Overall, however, it works well - down to the visual pun afforded by the frosted wedge of chocolate cake on the front cover in contrast to the plate of crumbs on the back.