Review by Steve Slemenda
Shortly after Eleanor Berry’s most recent volume of poetry, No Constant Hues was published last year, I commented to her that I was reading the poems slowly, one at a time, relishing and digesting each as a richly flavorful confection. The poems in Hues beg for slow savoring. Berry is a writer of exceptional observation and insight, which she renders into dense and complex gems.
Hues runs through several themes familiar to her work: Marriage, family, cycles of life and death, art, perceptive narratives of life’s small and wondrous moments. Yet it is her awe and reverence for the natural world that is always forefront, whether in marveling at the intricacies of a flower petal or the vastness of a starry desert sky.
Berry and her husband Richard are longtime residents of secluded land far up the Santiam Canyon, where they raise llamas, garden, living attuned to the rhythms of seasons, celebrating the natural world.
One senses that for Berry, as with many fine poets, the wonder and even veneration of the organic world extends to language itself. She is a masterful crafter of the word, the phrase, the line—the marriage of sounds, the nuances of rhythm, the shaping of stanza, the deft and light touch of tropes.
As blackberry canes sag with clusters of swollen/purple globules—with the same wild excess, rocks/tumble down the slopes, into heaps against tree trunks//into piles along the sides of steep cow paths,/roll singly out across the flat pastures below./There they are, like unforeseen troubles, old sorrows/
Such lines beg to be read aloud, to oneself, for the sheer pleasure of hearing and feeling the words formed and expressed—to breathe and taste the lush language.
A writer of free verse, Berry also explores a range of poetic forms, many represented in Hues, among them sonnet, ghazal, prose poetry, even an abecedarius. Her poems are part sculpture, part music, each a little feast offering worthy of close, slow attentiveness in the marriage of form and content.
Eleanor Berry has established herself as one of the best poets the Pacific Northwest has to offer. No Constant Hues is the work of a mature poet in both its content and form, which for Berry are as inseparable as the dancer and the dance (a nod to Yeats).
New, each umbel lay open
to the sky, a circle of white pages around
a central spot of purple. Now they curl
in upon themselves, but still
keep casting off their bristly seeds,
poems importuning audience, insistent
on lodging in minds that will carry them
to far roadsides, sow them in distant fields.
Steve Slemenda is retired from teaching English at Chemeketa Community College. He is a member of the Silverton Poetry Association and the Mid-Valley Poetry Society. He cites Cole Porter and Vin Scully among his earliest poetic influences.