Rachel Slotnick’s In Lieu of Flowers is a series of epistle like poems that address ideas of memory, time, and the nuances that pervade both concepts. Woven between the poems and poetic prose are poignant illustrations, collages, and graffiti that capture perfectly the essence, the sadness, and the pragmatism with which Slotnick takes on the world in her collection.
Each section of the book is addressed to a different person: Fisherman, Mathematician, and Musician. Further, each address is a calling not only to the named person, but to a specific idea attached to that person. In Dear Fisherman, Slotnick particularly addresses the subject of her father: a man in love with the sea, a man handicapped by a shark, a man with a wooden stump for an arm. After his experiences in youth, her father “became a shark hunter, and he hated all trees for daring to resemble him.” As shown in this example, Slotnick has a knack for capturing language at its most vulnerable and apt entry points and twisting it to fit the exact mood and mode of her poetry.
She uses this section to explore ideas of life, and passing through life, as it slowly slips through your fingers like water. “At the edges of the fishbowl,” Slotnick describes the last moments she spends with her father, moments in a hospital, moments in which she can see his life slipping away as well as the life the two have yet to live together. Each slipping further, he towards death, and she towards a life without her father. “I realized we both knew we were headed somewhere strange,” Slotnick remarks as she watches her father leaving her.
As in the early section, Dear Mathematician also addresses the concept of death and the passage of time. This address, though, is made to Slotnick’s grandfather, a man so in love, that without his wife, his life, became a living landmark of her memory. “Memory is a strange father,” says Slotnick. “It’s funny how you tend to remember sweetly,” trying your best to ignore the harshness of life, the pain in memory. At its end, Dear Mathematician also confronts death with the passing of Slotnick’s grandfather, and though sad in its content and in its form, Slotnick somehow portrays the reality of death with a sincerity rather than an edge toward the depressive.
The book ends with Dear Musician, which could almost be a calling to the author herself as an artist in love and in hate with her art.
Throughout all three sections, Slotnick draws through the theme of flowers. Flowers that grow in nature, funereal flowers, and flowers for the beginnings of something like love. Each series of poems in itself could be seen as in lieu of flowers – something given to the people addressed besides flowers – something potentially more, or something equally as, meaningful and significant as flowers.
A beautifully and artfully composed collection of both poetry and unique images, In Lieu of Flowers is Slotnick’s first book of poetry and is a masterpiece of a first book.
Published by Tortoise Books, you can purchase In Lieu of Flowers on Amazon.
Read more poetry book reviews at Centered on Books.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.