A review of Paige Riehl's Suspension
Although Suspension is Paige Riehl’s debut collection, she is an accomplished, award-winning poet. Jude Nutter and Oliver de la Paz selected Riehl as winner of the 2012-2013 Loft Mentor Series in Poetry in Minneapolis. Riehl also won the 2011 Literal Latte Prize for Poetry and was a semifinalist for the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and the 2011 River Styx International Poetry Contest.
A suspension is a temporary stoppage. According to an online thesaurus, the top synonym for suspension is pause. Other synonyms of suspension are adjournment, interruption, postponement, delay, and deferral. The Cambridge dictionary defines suspension as the act of stopping something happening. All of these are pertinent to Riehl’s collection. Some prevalent themes are infertility, which can certainly be a postponement or deferral of dreams, an interruption of assumptions about how one’s life will proceed:
There’s the pregnancy that didn’t last,
the lost baby, as if
we’d set him aside,
a forgotten package on a train.
(Considering the Options)
There are poems about international adoption, where the idea of suspension grows ever larger-the suspension of privacy as a couple fills out paper after paper, the delay during the wait for a child to be available. I see the word and visualize small particles suspended in a liquid, then slowly sinking and settling on the bottom. Isn’t that a terrific metaphor for international adoption? The assimilation of a child into a new family, a new language and culture, a new country, while at the same time attempting to honor and preserve the child’s heritage.
At home, we create our daughter’s history
and worry about her future. Worry her homeland loss.
(Near Chang Mai, Thailand)
Time plays a large role in these poems. The passage of time as family members age, the suspension of time during the application and wait for an international adoption, and even the sense of time standing still while snorkeling over a coral reef, where “the guard warns us not to touch/ the fragile coral, urges restraint.” Further on in this poem is the line “Float carefully in this liminal space.” Could this be another metaphor for pregnancy, especially in a woman whose previous pregnancy did not result in a living baby? Or a couple dreaming of a baby being born in a foreign country, a baby that will one day be theirs? And of course, the feeling of suspension as “I float with the current.” This poem, in so many ways, captures the essence of Riehl’s collection. Snorkeling over a coral reef is beautiful, almost mystical, yet filled with potential danger, both for the reef and to the snorkeler. It’s scary and exhilarating:
This must be what it’s like, the moment right before
what could, what might be,
The book is divided into five numbered sections, with the title poem as a stand-alone, four pages, Section III. Reihl makes effective use of anaphora in this poem; several stanzas begin with the phrase “Here is what lies between us.” This phrase refers to the distance, both geographical and emotional, between the speaker and her to-be-adopted daughter. It concludes:
Here is what really lies between just us,
between our empty arms, our open hearts:
only now, only this waiting.
Riehl’s poems are serious, thoughtful, questioning, sometimes dark, but they lean toward love as the ultimate resolution.
Nina Bennett is the author of Mix Tape, & Sound Effects. Read more about her at www.transcanalwriters.com