Poetry. The title of Karren Alenier's new collection, HOW WE HOLD ON, seems especially timely, appearing at the end of a year of pandemic dislocations. But though Covid does make an appearance here, her themes are far broader, timeless and universal: how we love, how we deal with loss, how we find our place in the world, how we relate to family and heritage, all topics to which she attends.
In the poem "Homecoming" Alenier writes of the Greek word parea, for which there is no exact English equivalent, a term for a group of friends who delight in one another's company, for the joy of sharing experiences: "how / most importantly we can love / and help each other through / celebration / and sorrow." In a very real sense, this collection is her invitation for us to join her parea, and to share in her celebrations and her sorrows. She writes poignantly of her father and especially her "partygirl mother" who attempted to make "girl talk...with a daughter who read books she did not understand." They and other family people the first two sections of the book.
The third section, "when it drops you gonna feel it" takes place largely on Jamaica, a place dear to her and her late husband Jim (to whom the book is dedicated), for which reason it also has pride of place on the cover of the book. In the final section, many poems are letters written to her "Zayda Isaac," a great-grandfather who died in the previous pandemic of 1918, to whom she was introduced through keepsakes, eyeglasses and letters, "things a loving widow showed / a fiveyearold me," with whom she now reaches a new understanding: "and now 2020 / year of perfect vision a new pandemic this / widow me /sees." In the title poem, reflecting on the things her late mother and husband chose to keep closed away in chests, she writes, "in my chest an aging heart brims / with blood both beautiful and swift." That blood courses through these pages, and they brim with life—with its celebration, and with its sorrow.
Karren LaLonde Alenier is author of eight poetry collections-most recently HOW WE HOLD ON (Broadstone Books, 2021). Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, her jazz opera with composer Bill Banfield, premiered June 2005 in New York by Encompass New Opera Theatre.