Her Joy Becomes
by Andrea Potos
57 poems ~ 141 pages
Price: $18.00
Publisher: Fernwood Press
ISBN: 9781594980244
To order: www.fernwoodpress.com

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

I was raised in a small central Illinois community. The town had just one church populated by many sincere believers. We studied the Bible faithfully each week. Four words continually surfaced as we studied. These words were: Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy. I was intrigued by these words then and continue to this day. As I matured emotionally and intellectually, I realized a startling truth: No one could adequately define what these words mean in real time. It is my conviction that if one spends a lifetime trying to understand them, and in the end, fails to complete the task, he would not have wasted his time. However, upon reading the poems in Andrea Potos’s latest collection, Her Joy Becomes, my heart began to palpitate. “This poet is on to something,” I thought. Within her lines these “abstract” terms began to breathe the fresh air of discovery.

My purpose in this review is to serve up a portion of the spiritual banquet that lives within Andrea Potos's lines.

I use the term “spiritual” with caution. Neither the poet nor your reviewer is interested in “selling” religious belief per se. Rather, we grant the premise that matters of the “spirit” are available to all who possess open hearts.

Her Joy Becomes is organized as Part One and Part Two. Part One features poems about intimate family relationships. “Trying to Teach My Mother to Crochet,” is about a loving daughter’s ministry to her mother, terminally ill with cancer.

          though the cancer had already set in both lungs
          and her treatment begun. I never considered
          how she might want to live her last months or years

I recalled memories of my own Mother who succumbed to cancer.

In “The Mammogram Technician Asked if I Wanted to Take a Look,” I relived holding my wife’s hand as her doctor explained what her mammogram meant:

          Profile of a motherland–
          sloping hill and veins bold
          with blood ore,
          rivers of light criss-
          crossing and coursing
          from view, I prayed
          my eyes were true–
          I saw no errant stone.

There was something special about that moment, what word shall I use to describe it?

In poem after poem, Potos, captures subtly textured moments. She brings readers with her as she sings a “Small Ode to Laundry on the Line,” In “Sleep Skills,” the poet realizes she is aging and recalls her YaYa, up and dressed before dawn, already setting to work kneading flour and water in a porcelain bowl. She muses about the sleep skills infants and teenagers mindlessly have. Is there a word for such matters of the heart?

Part Two moves seamlessly into a much different feeling. From nuclear family, Potos engages another family: her family of fellow poets and visual artists. Poets featured include: John Keats, all three Brontë sisters, John Donne, Louisa May Alcott, and Emily Dickinson. Among famous painters, Potos, responds tenderly to Winslow Homer’s classic, Apple Picking:

Apple Picking, (1836-1910) by Winslow Homer, is in the public domain.

          Apple Picking

          I imagine them sisters
          ordered by their mother
          to head to the orchard,
          gather the ingredients
          for this week’s pies and staples
          to survive the endless
          winter ahead.
          Their faces are burred,
          their woven baskets tipped to receive.
          They stand unmoving, blue
          and coral sunbonnets
          taken over by light,
          as if the sun has finally
          claimed its one and true home.

Clearly, Andrea Potos feels a poetic debt to her poet and painter forebears. For example, “Before Beginning to Write, I Call Out”:

          Charlotte, Emily, Anne,
          incanting their names to the air,

          my old sisters, I like to pretend,
          considering myself the youngest one

          left behind in another century with
          fathoms left to learn, my stockinged feet

          propped on the fireplace fender as theirs
          always were. While they go about their lives now

          worlds and worlds ahead of me,
          I close my eyes as if

          I might inhale even one
          waylaid atom of their breath.

This tenderness of heart, this sense of indebtedness to those who came before, is mirrored in poems of maturity and depth of feeling. I felt in the presence of Keats. In his home where ink blots covered over some of his notes. Upon reading John Donne she felt something:

          In the center of my chest, a kindling
          there in the hollow,

          as if a match had just
          been struck, or the blinds
          snapped up on a sealed room

There is a song with a memorable lyric: “Love is where you find it.” I wonder, if the same might be said of Joy? I may never run joy into a carefully designed corner … but if I do not, the fault will not lie with Andrea Potos’s, Her Joy Becomes.


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