Reviewed by Susan Morris

An inspiring and vivid collection of poems about life and love and beauty

The poems in Sugar the Blackberries connect rich, smooth, and powerful expression to offer readers peeks into the soul. Joan Peck Arnold, a self-proclaimed lover of words, invites readers into her metaphorical home, constructed with strong sensory imagery, beautiful cadence, and lots of heart.

The collection is introduced by an essay, “Writing Poetry in Our Eighties and Beyond,” which introduces the author’s journey as a poet and explains her approach to poetry, inspired by Emily Dickinson’s:

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant—

Her line, “my busy mind had scared a first poem out of me at the age of sixty-three,” is a window into the soul of a poet, who writes not for fame or recognition but out of necessity and satisfaction. This collection of poems is accessible to any reader seeking a journey into a poet’s soul.

Sugar the Blackberries merges ambiguity with emotion as it considers the bright freedom of youthful promises and summons the past to capture experiences, regrets, and wisdom. Joan Peck Arnold condenses eighty years of life into poetry that is honest and touching. You know what disappointments are to come and wish the pages told a different story. The first set of poems traverses a lifetime, from dreams and wishes, to lessons and disappointments, wisdom, aging and the afterlife. The second set begins with early loss, how one life ends and another begins, and concludes with how much of life is spent in contemplation.

It’s what they tell us not to do,
Crossing the bridge before we come to it,
Piling more dirt on top of molehills.

Peck invites readers into personal and poignant moments with universal themes and memorable poetics. A thread of tenacity runs through the collection like a grandmother’s warm hand. For anyone who has experienced a cancer diagnosis, this collection offers camaraderie and hope.

Deep in the night of her life
she grabs me with a strength not hers,
entreating, ‘Life is hard, my dear,
so dance.’

Memorable lines fill this thin volume: A son recalls making blackberry pudding with his mother as “a taste of time he’ll never have again.” Two lovers are shown as “a pair of sailboats, floundering downstream.” Afterlife is contemplated with the line “Is the back of the moon edged with circular swirls?” A pacemaker is described with vivid emotional subtext “tucked inside your chest / like a pack of cigarettes, / is the latest titanium device, / designed to last longer than you.”

Sugar the Blackberries makes good on the promise to tell all the truth but tell it slant—the slant in this case being that of an optimist’s view on the heaviest challenges of life.

On a whim we slip and glide and laugh
right through the early January snow:
we want to make a final spin before
the ice arrives—the forecast now is grim—
and so we drive.

Readers will be endeared to Peck’s lighthearted grace and touched when the collection reaches its closing pages. Seldom have I seen a poet so eloquently convey consequential emotion.

Publisher: June Road Press

Genre: Poetry

Print Length: 84 pages

ISBN: 978-1735678306


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