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Seeing in the Dark
by Kristin Roedell
Tomato Can Press, 2010,
5825 Ann Arbor Ave. NE
Seattle, WA 98105
To order: email
19 poems/41 pages/$8.00 postpaid

Review by Ed Bennett

“Seeing in the Dark” is a collection of poems by Kristin Roedell divided into groups of “meditations”.   I was a bit put off by the connotation of the groupings, expecting dark, plodding language and a background intonation of mea culpas. This is not the case at all. Ms. Roedell’s language is direct and clear giving the reader the impression that the poet is looking straight at you and speaking to the heart.   While her words draw you into the poem she dazzles you with images like:

“...the thickets wear a peignoir
Of gathered silver mist.”

The voice in each of these poems is low key yet hypnotic. The subject matter ranges from Fine Art to everyday life but each line takes one step into a deeper meaning until one finds themselves meditating on the substance of the poem rather than listening to a sermon.  This is an interesting device, rarely used but perfectly executed by Ms. Roedell.

She opens the collection with Cave Paintings.   The subject matter deals with a workshop accident where a miter saw takes the hand of a carpenter. Robert Frost covered similar ground in Out, Out, but where Frost uses the power of his language to describe a tragedy, Ms. Roedell takes the subject further. In a mere 34 lines she invokes bloodthirsty Aztec gods, the Book of Genesis and comes to rest at the Neolithic paintings of cave dwellers using “blood and fat and clay” to leave a hand-print in their art. The poem begs to be read and re-read, each strophe analyzed like a Jungian seeking the true meaning in a stream of archetypes.

With the bar set at such a high level Ms. Roedell continues effortlessly to present each poem with the same skill and artistry. She examines paintings by Da Vinci and Monet with the same intimate detachment of the first poem. Monet to His Wife, While Winding the Sheets is a soliloquy delivered by Monet as he prepares his wife and model for burial. The story of Camille Monet is a sad one and Ms. Roedell’s rendering is empathetic and objective, the words of an observer bidding goodbye to a loved one yet recording each detail of the scene.

There is lightness as well as depth in each introspective moment.   Fifteen and Fifty is a remembrance of prom night filtered through the memory of a fifty year old married woman.   After Hours in Chinatown takes place in a communal bath house where the narrator enters the pool nude and self conscious about her body.   She is approached by an elderly bath attendant whose lathering and rinsing takes on an almost sacramental meaning, ending with the doxology:

“She washed me like a child until
I’d never lied, or misused love.”

Seeing in the Dark is a gem of a collection. It is small enough to be read in a single sitting and to keep at hand for those introspective moments where we need to take a deep dive into our own soul.   After my third reading, even the title took on a different meaning.   The poet was not seeing in the dark; it was the reader who was seeing through the darkness after being prompted by this gifted poet.

Seeing in the Dark should be printed with a warning label.   The back cover praises Ms. Roedell for her “clear, uncluttered lines” and this praise is well deserved.   Yet this is not an easy read unless you are multitasking and cannot give the poems the attention they deserve.   Do yourself a favor when you read this book – shut out all other distraction, sit in a comfortable chair with your phone off the hook and read these poems.   They will entrance you and conjure images and feelings from deep within.   You will find yourself both delighted and relaxed, as if you had been truly meditating on each segment. Kristen Roedell has created a modern version of Marcus Aurelius but you will dance as you reflect, sing as you resonate to her words.

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