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Preserves
ISBN: 0972975136

By Nancy Takacs
Review by: Shaun Moffitt

12/01/04

I admit I sometimes feel like Russell Baker when I read contemporary poetry; he said, “I gave up on new poetry myself thirty years ago, when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens on a hostile world." So, I am very pleasantly surprised when I get the infrequent collection of poems like Nancy Takacs’ Preserves, which is full of personal lyric poetry that has meaning and depth and is readable. Yeah!

“End of September” is a beautiful evocation of a young girl’s memory of having an older neighbor man expose himself to her. I say “beautiful” because it has the fuzzy emotional quality of a memory but the exacting physical detail that stays with us all our lives. The two were sitting on a dock, both drawing pictures, and the poem ends with the speaker’s recognition she

didn’t know much
about an older man’s
desire for a strange young girl.
I drew barges and tugs,
not imagining their cargo.
They pushed on, far from me.

One of the ways I evaluate poetry is by the quality of truth it seems to get at, and I see much truth in this poem. I can easily remember experiences from my childhood that were cloaked in mystery to me at the time, and then looking back on them as an adult, they reawaken the child self, unaware of the world shaping her with each moment.

Many of Takacs’ poems have this form and quality—memories from childhood that are revisited and reshaped. “Witchery” describes the speaker and her mother making crabapple jelly (many of the poems in this collection are about fruits of the earth and the earth itself). Her mother tells her

she thought it was
much easier than this, making jelly.
Our lined-up jars look like hummingbird feeders.

The mother appears mentally disturbed, and the daughter is taking over the task of teaching in this scene, and she thinks,

I still hold against her her history: "tearing my tie-dyed skirt in half, never/ sticking up for me.” Life comes full circle. Shapes shift and roles reverse and a bond is created in the making of the jelly, “letting sweetness come down / to us, taking in our full bowls.”

Nature and family are the main subject matter for the poems—birds, fruits, flowers, daughters, mothers, sons. “Saving My Son’s Neck” is another of Takacs’ poems that does wonderfully what poems should do: evoke a feeling without naming it, shine a light into a mystery and illuminate it for us. The mystery here is one any mother is familiar with: longing for and being wary about the connection to make with a child, especially a teenage son. She remembers times spent with her son when he was younger:

I picture the bones, thin but strong
like shells we once gathered
on a Jersey beach: keeled
and pearled, which he abandoned
in a cigar box in our fruit room,
where my husband finds them
once a year, and brings them up
so he and I can sit at the kitchen table
rattling them, holding them to the light.

At sixteen, her son is like most teenagers, moving away from the parental connection, becoming more silent, becoming an adult.

I highly recommend this book—for those who read a lot of poetry and for those who don’t read any. As a lifelong reader and writer of poetry, I admire Nancy Takacs’ skill and honesty in creating poems that reveal the mystery, pain, and beauty of our lives. I wish more contemporary poetry was like this.

To buy the book, and read a few more poems, click here

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