That sense of place, history, and domesticity glows throughout these absorbing verses, as Whitacre captures the bittersweet essence of Hicks’ challenging and at times traumatic life. As a child, her pioneer father dragged her mostly unwilling family from Ohio to the Nebraska prairie, and a sense of longing for home and family would follow her for the rest of her life. What stands out most are the little scenes that bring Hicks’ heartache and simple pleasures colorfully to life. In “Christmas Oranges,” she is delighted when her father gives the family a bowl of citrus fruit: “the only ones any of them would eat that year.” The poems follow Hicks as she learns to paint, marries—and later buries—her husband, and eventually grows old.
The book also includes several of Hicks’ oil paintings, which depict the mountains she left behind as a child along with various types of wildlife and forests of evergreen trees jutting toward the sky. Side by side with the paintings, Whitacre’s book serves as a deeply personal yet relatable account of one woman’s life and turn-of-the-century lifestyle—and clearly demonstrates why this talented painter and pioneer stands as someone to remember.
Takeaway: These richly descriptive and affecting poems examine the life of Midwestern landscape painter Jennie Hicks.
Great for fans of: Laura Donnelly, New Poetry from the Midwest.
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Marketing copy: A