The Language of Tides: New & Selected Poems
by Lois Parker Edstrom
176 poems ~ 233 pages
Publisher: MoonPath Press
ISBN 978-1-936657-64-3
Available through MoonPath PressAmazon, or at web site:

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

“Amethyst” is the coda poem for The Language of Tides: New and Selected Poems, by Lois Parker Edstrom. In this warm excerpt from her closure, Edstrom avers:

          The book is finished, poems tucked
          between covers that signal something
          more: a repository of longings,
          the unveiling of an inner life.
          Now a quiet emptiness descends,
          not depletion, more an awareness
          of waiting, not knowing what will come
          next, or if there is the necessity of a next.

In this seminal collection the poet senses a drawing down of a journey. She selects the best poems from seven previous books. She does this as one circles Ports-of-Call on a map. Those special poems form a repository of longings, which unveil an inner life. These stops are the best of the best. Lois Edstrom invites her readers to join her on voyage, where,

          The task is to get through to the other side,
          where we can hear the deep rhythms that
          connect us with the stars and tides.

          –Inscription to The Language of Tides by Stanley Kunitz

Tides begins with 34 new poems. I call these Edstrom’s “Flagship” poems. They lead the fleet of selected poems. “Choose Me,” is a key poem which sets a tone for what follows:

          I don’t know if I find them
          or they find me. Poems are everywhere,
          just waiting to be noticed.

          Relentless in their persistence,
          their beautiful voices plead,
          Choose me, Choose me.

          They interrupt my sleep, my bath time,
          appointments, time with friends. It seems
          they are intimate companions.

          Open to discussion and compromise,
          they are adamantly protective of the truth.
          If I hesitate, they disappear, hidden
          in the folds of memory.

          I want to honor them, give them the time
          and space they deserve, these worthy
          messengers of art and awe-struck
          admirers of nature.

          Sometimes they sing, and that I cannot
          ignore: lyrics that float through the air,
          rhythms that beat in sync with my heart.

The Language of Tides contains selections from: What Brings Us to Water, 2010; What’s to Be Done With Beauty, (Ekphrastic poems) 2012; Night Beyond Black, 2016; Glint, 2019; Road Signs and Hobo Marks, 2020; The Lesson of Plums, 2020; and Almanac of Quiet Days, 2021.

Throughout her impressive literary life, Edstrom’s work has displayed craftsmanship and poetic sensibility. Her diction is crisp and accessible as exemplified by, “When Asked Why I Write Poetry”:

          I say, because the sea urchin, cracked
          and forgotten, reveals glistening
          cathedral arches;

          because crows sorrowing
          on the fence for a brother
          felled by a farmer’s shot
          teach the meaning of black,

          and from waves, I learn
          of rattle and release;

          because the dragonfly that rests
          with its wings open compels me
          to speak of vulnerability,

          and the marjoram in my garden
          beads itself into spicy splendor;

          because my hands
          take on utilitarian beauty
          wringing out a washcloth;

          because each step is praise
          to movement;

          because the one-pound fawn
          cut from its dead mother’s stomach

          and the scent of a single violet
          crushed underfoot is drenched

The poet invites readers to share her world. That “world” may be the fragrance of honeysuckle “muscled through the open window,” or “a husk of oatmeal” found “between the pages” of her mother’s Betty Crocker Cookbook, “long after she’s gone.” It may be how gardens give us wisdom for life; or the pressure of unrelenting grief. Her poems cut a wide swath. They sizzle with life.

An accomplished ekphrastic poet, Edstrom proves da Vinci’s dictum: Painters write poetry without words; poets paint pictures with words. Artistic works treated include: Grant Wood’s, American Gothic; The Dinner Horn, by Winslow Homer; Georgia O’Keefe’s, Green Apple on Black Plate; Still Life, by Frido Kahlo and Fredrick Frieseke’s Hollyhocks. Works by Claude Monet, George Seurat, and photographs by husband Mel and son Bryan, become unearthed poetic gems.

Edstrom has a way of lifting loneliness, as in “This Moment of Grace:”

          Alone on the street of a small town,
          I walk toward the light of a bakery

          where young people work late
          shaping stollen for Christmas tables,

          and the full moon hangs its silence
          in my heart. The crisp winter night

          arranges thoughts scattered like stars
          into sharp focus, a perfect moment

          that will ripen to memory.
          Who can say what makes it so?

          Like an authentic image captured
          when the subject is unaware,

          I see my life without smudges,
          Blurs, or margins, and in that instant

          I understand. I have always
          felt well loved.

Note: Stollen is German-style fruit cake.

In an age of social and political change, often accompanied by harsh words, Edstrom’s compassionate poems go on smooth as salve. Road Signs and Hobo Marks is about hobos who lived and worked through the Great Depression, (1929-1940). This period also featured profound social change. Through artistry supported by impeccable period research, Edstrom sheds new light on the era itself and on those remarkable folk known as “Hobos.”

There is no section within The Language of Tides that triumphs over any other. Edstrom’s work is its own “language,” evidenced by “The Geometry of Faith,” selected from The Lesson of Plums:

          In dreams I see rich tapestries shot
          with golden bread: rose, green, and silver

          arabesque patterns, galvanic charm
          that glides out of sleep into the sunrise

          of consciousness and rises like a dove
          not of this world–bliss, unexplained

          except for the subconscious truth of beauty
          and who am I to question?

          Later, on public television, I chance
          upon familiar kaleidoscopic images,

          breath-taking magnificence: Mandelbrot’s Set–
          budding, branching, complex geometry

          that masters chaos—sunflowers, leaves,
          shells, zebras, snowflakes, cauliflower,

          geckos, brains, arranged in like patterns,
          self-similarity, internal consistence.

          Some call it the thumbprint of God,
          a design that links all and goes on forever.

And thus we witness the unveiling of a life.


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