When Barbara Crooker handed me her new book of poems, "Gold," I flipped through the pages as she was talking to me. Then I realized that I didn't hear a thing she said. I couldn't stop reading. That's an endorsement.
Crooker will read poems and sign copies of "Gold," 7 - 8:30 p.m. Sept. 18, Allentown Public Library, 12th and Hamilton streets, Allentown. Cake will be served.
"Gold" is Crooker's fourth book in eight years, which is an almost impossible feat in a field in which it's difficult to get published in even small literary journals. Read just one of her poems and it's easy to see why her poetry, a lyric-narrative hybrid, stands out.
The poems in "Gold" are about losing one's mother. "All women are daughters," Crooker says, "And all women are granddaughters. The poems in 'Gold' are about those relationships that all women have."
Crooker's mother, Isabelle, died five years ago and it was the impetus for writing these poems. She was close to her mother and watching her in the last act of her life wasn't easy. "You feel helpless," Crooker says, "But you can write about it."
Crooker, of Upper Mac-ungie Township, came to write poetry in a roundabout way, training in the "school of books" as she calls it.
When she was divorcing her first husband, she found amongst his things, a literary journal from Mansfield State College. There was an interview in it with Diana Wakoski and also one of her poems. Crooker thought that she wanted to try writing poetry.
When she met the man who would become her second husband, he told her he could give her a diamond ring or tuition to a summer writing conference. He couldn't afford both. She took the tuition.
While at the conference she was mentored by a fiction writer who read her poetry and told her, gently, that she should read more contemporary poetry. "In other words," Crooker says, "I wasn't any good."
Reading more was the key to her blossoming as a poet. In fact, Crooker says that reading a lot is the key for anyone who wants to write.
In "Gold," Crooker writes about the last third of a woman's life in which you age, you lose friends as well as parents, and love in a long-term relationship changes.
She writes about art and the paintings of Gorky, Manet and Dufy. But shoring up these large themes are the homey details that women know well.
"The woven picnic basket where I'd put your foil-covered plate is empty. So is my heart," she writes in "Mother."
"My mother is getting ready to leave and all she wants now is sugar," she writes in "All Saints."