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Recommendation: Constance Merritt’s Blessings and Inclemencies

Constance Merritt’s poems in Blessing and Inclemencies strive to find identity in an abstract and confusing world.  Existential by nature, Merritt’s poems explore human character and purpose, with no single poem providing concrete answers, but rather each poem acting as a sequence and often responding to the theme of the previous poem.  Philosophical, yet touching on a range of emotions, Merritt presents a complex world through complex poems.  Several poems are almost riddle-like, posing questions to the reader, while others present stream-of-conscious inner monologues from the author.  Her choice of forms is also complex, employing sonnet form, various metrical variations and rhyming patterns.   


Merritt observes through telling, rather than showing the reader her message, omitting any concrete images—this could be due to the fact that Merritt is almost completely blind—which makes her poetry especially intriguing!  When certain general poetry relays its messages through detail of imagery and metaphors within the imagery itself, here is a poet who can transcend the material world and focus on the world of ideas and speculation.  The result is that her poetry particularly requires close reading—at first I found Merritt’s poems a bit difficult to “get into” because she doesn’t hand the reader clear images.  She makes us work harder—and I often had to re-read her poems a few times to have an understanding of what they are about.  Yet, the more I read, the better I enjoy and appreciate her poems!  Several interesting lines selected from poems throughout the collection include:


“There is life without us; there is song.

We learn to sing that we too might belong.” (p. 4, II)


“…Yet how can we

Be sure this noise we make is human, is

Not deeply rooted in the beast? Maybe

These words are just baroque versions of bark and hiss.” (p. 8, VI)


“Nightly in your prayers remember the late cartographer, lost

In his long labors to raise the continent of absence.” (p. 22, “Lines for the Cartographer, Lost”)


“Only the heart that fathoms its own darkness

Can witness the truth…” (p. 39, III)


“Though earth be poisoned, the very sky in tatters,

Demeter keeps the harvest; she brings the spring;

I map new stars; command myself to sing.” (p. 42, VI)


“A book for the blank bone-house hours

When time weighs heavy on our hands

And chaff like us is burnt away

By sun or borne aloft on winds.


Long use has left the binding weak;

Disuse has left it brittle.


Either way, it is the same.” (p. 59, “Coda”)


These lines suggest a void in human identity and purpose found throughout the collection, and present Merritt’s reaction—often her method of coping in a world that appears more tainted than pure.  I highly recommend Constance Merritt’s Blessings and Inclemencies for an insightful and unique reading experience.


– Ellen Ferrante