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Review – The Clearing by Philip White

The Clearing, the winner of the Walt McDonald First Book prize, is a collection of poetry by Philip White, the majority of which were written to and about his recently deceased wife covering many topics, from the life they shared to the life he finds himself living now.  The way Philip White writes about grief is haunting and beautiful.  It is also disturbingly accessible.  I would not call the majority of these poems sad or tragic, but rather a meditative look at the way grief consumes life.  In his introduction to the book, Robert A Fink says the collection is “about this letting go, about the afterlife – not the life of the dead raised… but the life of the spouse who did not die and now must somehow go on livng….  The Clearing is not a book about dying…. It is a book about living.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Philip White, when he began writing these poems, had recently lost his wife to breast cancer and also his mother and father.  The reader is offered glimpses into the life that White and his wife had and also the life he leads now.  The poems frequently ask questions that have no answer, that everyone confronts at some point.

I was completely sold by the first poem, titled “Cricket.”

…Whose life is this?
And was it the dead who left it, or we?  We close
our eyes and someone vanishes, open them
and another life is there to be seen.

In the poem “They Rise,” White begins with “All things die… all things but grief.”  Philip White writes about this grief beautifully and unforgettably.  I highly recommend this book.