This chapbook collection of poems by Raphael Kosek, a native of the Hudson River Valley, speaks with particular eloquence to a regional audience. Kosek finds much of her inspiration in the weather and landscape, the flora and fauna, of her immediate environment. Seasonal cycles are an intimate part of her world, a sometimes subtle but foundational aspect of setting and theme in her poetry. Long experience with the Mid-Hudson Valley climate has created in
her an awareness of continual process, a mindset emphasizing anticipation and preparation. In early spring, for example, she does not cast winter’s cold recklessly behind her and plunge unthinkingly into enjoyment of sunshine and flowers. She recognizes in April, rather, the inevitability of another December: a son chops wood “that will weather for next winter,” and “the dull thunk” of his axe merges in “comforting” fashion with the delicate emergence of new life, “the dogwood on the verge / of blossoming” (“April’s Kitchen”). Kosek insists that every beginning contains its own ending. Once “November clears the deck,” our world readies itself to begin again (“Before Thanksgiving”). “Plans dark and deep” are brewing beneath the frozen ground of winter, preparing the way months in advance for germination and “burgeoning blooms.” More ominously, the poet points to a “murderous beauty” in the “bright things” of summer, for these herald the barrenness to be even as they celebrate the vitality that is (“April’s Kitchen”).
Kosek’s poems call easy attention to local wildlife—wild turkey, earthworms, rabbits. She compares a heron’s graceful flight to the ungraspable, ever receding quality of artistic inspiration, “disappearing above the trees / into the easy volubility of silence” (“How It Comes”). She admires the incessant, “frenetic” energy of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that congregate at her feeder, “working the air like a fierce battalion” (“Hummingbird”). Executing “stunning maneuvers,” the birds are a living incarnation of color and motion, “resourceful ruby,” an argument for living with urgent awareness: “the unsparing clench / of ...wakefulness” (“Hummingbird”). Repeatedly, Kosek finds in ordinary fellow-creatures spiritually and aesthetically profound hints, natural revelations that she passes on to her readers: “the bare truth / floats like a white bird on water” (“The Attributes of St. Lucy”).
Inconspicuously grounded in regional awareness, the poems in Letting Go move beyond local concerns. Kosek draws a host of figures, literary and historical, into her musings. Meriwether Lewis, Anna Karenina, Sylvia Plath, Mary Todd Lincoln, Michelangelo, Madame Bovary, and Indira Gandhi claim her notice, as do Rimbaud, Rubens, and Renoir. Most memorably, the book includes three wonderful poems inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keeffe; indeed, the volume is anchored by these poems, which have been assigned the positions of first, last, and center. In these finely wrought ekphrastic poems, Kosek takes readers directly into O’Keeffe’s paintings. Along with color and shape, she conveys a dizzying sense of motion, penetrating to the core of the painter’s theme: “all of us unfurl from the center...until we spin/ out and out” (“Abstraction—White Rose No. 2, 1927”). This process of unfurling, so beautifully captured on canvas, reinforces elemental truths instilled in the poet by the landscape and climate of her own origins: “we spin / out and out from beginning / to end / and our ending looks / like our beginning.”