Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Donna J. Snyder

Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal    
Donna J. Snyder
Chimbarazu Press
$16, 77 pages

We're kicking off National Poetry Month here at Texas Book Lover with El Paso poet Donna J. Snyder's Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal. This collection was born of Snyder's healing process following the deaths of several individuals who were very close to her, including her father and her husband. Poemas is divided into two parts, Grief and Renewal, which allow us the privilege of experiencing a small part of her very personal journey.

Poemas begins with grief of loss. As Snyder writes in "The day the artist died," (in memory of her husband, the artist Marío Colín):
How will She love herself
without his devotion?
 And that's the crux of the problem, yes? How to continue without. Snyder writes in the preface that the unexpected death of her husband triggered renewed grief over her father's death. This is from "Feather of death" (in memory of Roy K. Snyder):
It's one more time around the bitter wheel
Dust shimmers with remembered strength
A dying lion shudders
clambers over doomed swans
thrusts a naked head into memory's wildest moments
Crimson berries gather in the house of the heart
Four chambers shut one after another
Strength remembered
Personal loss also prompted Snyder to write about loss on a larger scale: so-called acts of God (or Mother Nature - pick your poison), political turmoil, environmental degradation, the endless exploitation of the border and its inhabitants, and "...the meaningless abyss of a zero sum game." "The Sunday news," "A wave of a thousand bodies" and "A neon desert the only sea" are particularly powerful examples of loss writ global.

Donna K. Snyder
As you'd expect, many of the poems in Part One are elegies and laments. But moving into Part Two the forms begin to expand, like the poet herself as she begins to heal. From "Comfort":
I have on sturdy shoes and good cotton socks.
I find comfort in the memory of your voice.
I see you along every path.
Your presence comes upon me like balm.
Memory slowly transforms from a source of pain to a source of joy and can be celebrated again. This is from "We got married on Día de los Muertos":
We got married on Día de los Muertos,
followed the marigold path backwards,
holding hands & running toward ghosts
we'd always tried to flee.
                                           We clung to each other like tattoos,
                                           calaveras dancing in wedding clothes.
Until finally Snyder is strong enough again to offer some wisdom to the rest of us in "Prepare to ululate":
Stare the beast in the face, there in the mirror.
the mirth grow into a cackle.
Cast the spell.
Use ALL CAPS for emphasis.
The subtle grace of the crone
at the core of the principle of beauty.
Prepare to ululate.
As the legendary Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D., notes in his foreword, "If confession is good for the soul, then reflection is good for the grief of loss. There may be no greater grief than the grief of loss. But the grief is vitiated by legor de langue and its lexicon of memory."


  1. Thank you for this review of my book, and the sensitive reading of my poetry. Reading your words brought tears to my eyes, yet again.

  2. To add to my comment above, I appreciate all the links you included to such things as a picture of my deceased husband, Mario Colín, painting a mural that was used in the Eel Paso Times when they announced historias death, as well s links to the biographical information on Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, to the definition of Catafalco, and to my blog. Your thoroughness is really a gift.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Donna. I appreciate them. I am fond of links. :-)

  3. I have been reading Donna for about 8 years now. Her work is wonderful to the extent that I have come not just to count her a friend, but to love her spirit. I am very thrilled to add her recent publications to my library.

    1. Thank you, dear Anonymous reader. I'm so pleased that you have my books and that you make such generous and kind comments here.