Review by Lori A. May
Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems For You
By Diana M. Raab
Plain View Press
Perfect Bound, 96 pages
Link to purchase
Most poets will all too happily speak of influential voices, mentors, and inspirational books. Raab has taken it one step further in Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems For You, a book that is nothing less than a tribute. The French author’s famous diaries provided an education for Raab, one that created a personal connection between two poets who never actually met. Yet, the words and language of Nin have the power to transcend time, place, and even mortality, so Raab has discovered.
Raab opens this collection with a personal letter to Nin. As readers around the world have played voyeur with Nin’s diaries, we now have the privilege of observing yet another personal discourse, from a modern poet pinpointing parallels in poetics. Just as Nin’s life is revealed through her diaries, Raab tells Nin, “my poetry was born in my journal and tells the story of my life.”
It is a journey through life we experience, through the narration of childhood and curiosities, into years of reflection and appreciation for cyclical rejuvenation. Such is the case with “Composted,” a poem that speaks to the life cycle of fruits, but more so perhaps the cycle of love:
On the speckled Formica counter
of my childhood home, a yellow
strainer sat in the corner
under the window collecting
remnants of organics—coffee grinds,
orange peels, apple cores, grapefruit rings.
Every Monday my mother dumped
them onto the pile in the back right
corner of the yard, forgotten for months
until the soil was born and then tossed
into the spring’s new tomato bed, whose fruit
the following summer made its way
back onto the kitchen counter,
in a new form—round, red, and juicy.
In such simple experiences and recollections, Raab is able to expound the cyclical nature of life and all its beauties. The resurrection of nutrition—and love—through time and patience results in a bounty of pleasure. Composted fruits, yes. But this is representative of life’s experiences and small moments that pass us by, only to be remembered later in life, renewed in their significance and contribution to our life experience as a whole.
This is perhaps indicative of the poet’s philosophy, as further explored in a later poem, “There’s a Story in Everything:”
Wherever you turn—above your head,
behind your back, under your ass,
you’ll find a story.
Life, in its many tiny moments that culminate into experience, is full of detail. There are stories everywhere. There are stories behind every thing, every moment, every encounter. Raab shares moments from her own life story, dedicating her memories in poetic tribute to one of the world’s most treasured diarists.
In the preface, Raab credits Nin for teaching her “the intrinsic value of the written word; intrinsic, not as so many pennies a page or as literary acclaim, but as one’s own words delivering comfort in the days ahead.” Sharing a parallel love and dedication to journaling, both Nin and Raab began the art at a young age, enjoying the personal release of expression for no other reason than personal pleasure. As the preface suggests, the act of writing should be viewed as art itself, not judged by publication or other public forms. Yet, Nin’s diaries are public. So is Raab’s tribute. We are grateful for both.
Lori A. May is the Founding Editor of Poets’ Quarterly. Visit her website at www.loriamay.com.