Book Review

This Blind Journey: New Poems by Barbara Cranford. New York, NY: Manhattan Group Publishers, 2009. $15.

Reviewed by Linda Aschbrenner

Barbara Cranford’s seventh book, This Blind Journey, has an ironic title, for
throughout the nine chapters and 113 pages Cranford sees, names, celebrates,
explores, and contemplates her journey. Our journeys may be blind, but
Cranford’s observations along the way are insightful; she’s an exemplary tour

In the first chapter, “In Any Kind of Weather,” Cranford shares the seasons
from her Central Wisconsin woods. Having lived with nature for decades,
Cranford, like Lorine Niedecker, writes about what is before her. Through
short lyric poems as well as two full pages of haiku, Cranford provides
sensory details, giving us sight, sounds, smells, and textures. Long Wisconsin
winters are frequently portrayed, but in “Ice,” Cranford looks to “hepatica,
bloodroot, crocus,/ arbutus, lilacs, lupine, lilies,/ bee balm, daisies,
asters,/ and roses, roses, roses...” (4) Yes, affirmation, but more. The
naming is important. We are in the hands of a poet who observes, names, knows.
Another fine observation from this same chapter, “For the first time this
year/ the sun fingers the sugar bowl.” (7) Indeed, throughout the book,
Cranford writes from observation with poetic vision, a close attention to the
sound of words, and sometimes, with a jab of humor.

Since Cranford has conducted poetry workshops in her home for nearly a
decade, it is not surprising to find a chapter in this book devoted to the
subject of the writing of poems and to the workshop setting. How do we find an
idea for a poem? With rhyme and imaginative verbs, Cranford writes, “a crow
rakes the silence/ a hawk drops on his prey/ wind scours my mind bare/
meaningful words disappear/ longing for an image/ I seize the first that sails
past/ on the freshening air ...” (35)

Other groupings in this book, ekphrastic poems, poems about cures, poems
about people here, dear, departed, mythical: friends, family, gods. What is it
like to lose a beloved husband? Cranford explores the stages of grief and the
coming to terms with an altered life. Here is a surprising image in “Grieving”:
“Eventually you understand/ this stifling, ill-fitting overcoat/ you cannot
remove/ has become,/ is, you. . .”  (105)

Cranford delves inward, contrasts changes in “Revelation.” In the telling,
she employs simile, metaphor, rhyme, assonance, alliteration, a musical meter,
and brilliant verbs. (Note the playful, apt line enjambment with “mix
metaphors.”) “Oak hard, clear as pond ice,/ independent and decisive, I was/ a
solitary snapper in my dark pool./ Firm in action, I embraced fact,/ focus and
strength of purpose.// Now I am stunned to learn/ I also hunger, stutter,
forget, mix/ metaphors, drop easy burdens;/ my lifelong shell has cracked,/
opened me to chance.” (94)

One appreciates Cranford’s creative spirit and witnessing. While we are
all on blind journeys, it takes a poet with Cranford’s imagination and skill
to show us what we’ve missed. Her poem “Epitaph” (96) is a fine conclusion to
any journey.

She never really felt prepared,
but did as it seemed she must
while decades, seasons,
and finally her days came and went.
She hoped for little enough, but
when moments presented themselves,
she picked a hatful of ripe cherries,
or snatched a spray of spirea
from a foaming garden hedge,
or found a lucky clover leaf,
stroked a weary dachshund,
or tarried for double rainbows.

She consigned old skis and bikes to trash,
remembered friends and forgot lovers,
gathered up scattered ideas,
endured broken bones and promises,
and woke one morning in another place,
wondering what comes next.

Linda Aschbrenner has an undergraduate degree in English and an MS degree is library science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For eleven years she edited and published the poetry journal Free Verse (now Verse Wisconsin). In 2001 Aschbrenner founded Marsh River Editions, a publisher of poetry chapbooks. Her own poetry, essays, and short stories have appeared in a number of publications. She was awarded the Christopher Latham Sholes Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers for her support of Wisconsin writers.