The Bookbag: Poet explores heritage, connection with father

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2021 2:48:12 PM

“Uncertain Acrobats” by
Rebecca Hart Olander;

CavanKerry Press

Rebecca Hart Olander of Florence is the editor and director of Perugia Press, a writing teacher at Westfield State University and a regularly published poet herself. She’s now published her first full-length collection, “Uncertain Acrobats,” that probes a painful subject: the death of her father, Thomas Seymour Hart, in 2012.

The title, as publisher’s notes put it, refers to the “fumbling for balance” that a dying father and his daughter engage in. The poems themselves offer a rich portrait of Olander’s father as a younger man while also describing the end of his life, her deep sense of loss from his death and how her father’s life intersected with hers.

In “Origins,” Olander describes her father as “Omar Sharif-in-Doctor Zhivago handsome. / He came from acoustic guitar, ponytail, and patched / bell-bottoms. From a first marriage to a girl he loved / that lasted just three years. He got off the school bus / he and my mother were riding with friends toward / Colorado, deciding to go instead to divinity school.”

Olander also traces her ups and downs with her father as she was growing up, spending time with him after he and her mother divorced when she was very young. In “College Cathexis,” she relates that many of her girlfriends seemed to hate their fathers and that she, too, “wanted to burn with righteous fire,” given that fathers “represented patriarchy and restrictions.”

But thinking of her father that way didn’t work, the poet writes: “I fanned my modest disappointments / to try and catch a spark. It didn’t take. / I doused the sputtering flame, / let time transform that old terrain.”

Other poems take readers through the difficult journey engulfing father and daughter when he is stricken with cancer, his life ending in a hospice. In “Husk,” Olander remembers all the things her father had been — writer, teacher, musician, runner and running coach, enthusiastic reader — when at the end “This is what is left / when language leaves / us — the humming, / the seesaw breath / in and out.”

Then comes the difficult work of mourning, remembering, and finally coming to terms with loss. In “My Heaven Would Be Studded With Fathers,” the poet recalls many scenes with her father, including a walk in the woods, and she now senses his presence there: “[M]y father, in the woods / like stars in the ether, spangling / everything in a wash of light.”

Olander’s website is rebeccahartolander.com. She will read from her new collection on Nov. 7, at 2 p.m. in a virtual event sponsored by the Straw Dog Writers’ Guild; contact  brownjaneroy@gmail.com to register. She will also read on Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. in a virtual event sponsored by CavanKerry Press.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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