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A Poetess and Her Innermost Being

August 7, 2013

One would be looking forward to more poems from Mary Herbert in future. She has a fertile pen, capable of highlighting the sensitivity of nature and the tribulations of our time. A pen, many would like to possess.

An Inventory of Fragile Knowledge by Mary Kennan Herbert
Ginninderra Press
Pages: 44
Review by: Amitendu Palit

Book Review: An Inventory of Fragile Knowledge By Mary Kennan HerbertThe first thing mentionable about this collection of poems is its title. There could hardly have been a more apt name. The phrase is from one of the poems in the collection (“Collecting colors”) and expresses the spirit of the work appropriately. “An Inventory of Fragile Knowledge” is a delicate experience.

It deals with ideas that were once held as beliefs but were later discarded as illusions. In life, realizations keep on changing, leaving us confused and lost.

Herbert hones in on fragile edifices, the time that we live in, the thoughts that we share, and the bridges built and destroyed. The book has an unnerving air about it as it journeys through various emotions, exploring insecurities and vacuums.

Based in New York, Herbert left her career in publishing to take up teaching in college. As a poet, she has been particularly prolific in the last five years, contributing extensively to journals all over the world. The present collection is one of the shortest one can come across.

There are only fourteen poems, written over a span of three years, from 1995 to 1998. Though short, it’s highly compact, a perfect example of economy of expression. There’s quite a bit of prose in the poetry. Unlike a few other similar attempts, which only succeed in killing the poetry, Herbert stylizes well, using prose to reinforce her poetry.

Poetry, arguably, is one of the most personal expressions. Herbert does justice to this reputation. She translates feelings into words in a candid, forthright manner. Moving effortlessly in the crowd of memories, she recollects the wounds from the past, relives traumas, and looks tentatively at the future. Her verses portray both despair and hope.

Often she displays a remarkable ability to cut through the apparently insignificant and ignite emotions, like in “A beautiful bowl”, and “The education of poets”. Sometimes, like every other poet, she takes off on flights of fancy, for a sky only her own. And she pens “Pretending to be a poet” or “Collecting colors” where overlapping images flood into the inventory of fragile knowledge.

One would be looking forward to more poems from Mary Herbert in future. She has a fertile pen, capable of highlighting the sensitivity of nature and the tribulations of our time. A pen, many would like to possess.

About the Poetess:

Mary Kennan Herbert teaches writing and literature at colleges in New York City. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals in print and on the web, in eleven different countries. Her first two books of poetry were published in 1998 and 1999 by Ginninderra Press in Australia, and her third collection will be published January 2001 by Meadow Geese Press in Massachusetts.

Read other writings by Amitendu Palit

The Dark Evening (Short Story)

The House at the Corner (Short Story)

Rahul and his T-shirt (Short Story)

Grass (Poem)

A Strange Darkness (Poem)

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