This compelling and incisive poetic journey from Petrie, author of Listen to the Trees
and co-author of Typewriter Rodeo
, explores “midlife” as a physical, emotional, philosophical, and artistic state that exists between the poles of hope and regret. The speaker in these poems oscillates in perspective between those poles throughout the collection, but no easy resolution is ever reached; instead, the tension caused by this binary creates a broadened spiritual and existential awareness that itself results in a kind of knowing peace. In “Rain,” the speaker writes, “the rain is coming down // Let it wash or drown you— // Your choice.”
Many of the poems in Petrie’s collection relay the experience of a downtrodden, heartbroken, lonely person. “And Then It’s Done,” for example, begins as a letter to the speaker’s children offering advice, but the poet builds to this jolting declaration: “I never had kids.” Yet for all the unsettled feelings that Petrie’s collection explores, there is an equal and opposing presence of hope. “Pour-Over Coffee” uses the pour-over process as a metaphor for aging. “This is a liquid art” the speaker advises, “do not rush,” and once the “sweet symbiosis” is reached, “they call it the bloom— this waking moment, right now — when the favor reaches // its peak.”
In Cracked & Broken, time is both a destructive and creative force; it breaks what it fortifies and fortifies what it breaks. Drawing inspiration from many poets, including Mary Oliver, Alan Watts, plus Frost and Wordsworth, Petrie uses poetry to develop an illuminating and consistently surprising exploration of aging that diverges from stereotypes, urging readers toward the discovery that middle age is where one’s identity can flourish in a way it never could in youth. For Petrie, the difference between the body creaking with weakness and “creaking with freedom” has everything to do with what he chooses to hear.
Takeaway: Bittersweet and illuminating poems exploring middle age.
Comparable Titles: Donald Hall’s “Affirmation”, Margaret Atwood’s “Dearly”.
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