Yvette Neisser’s Iron into Flower, Reviewed by Ginny Phalen

Yvette Neisser, Iron into Flower, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, Kentucky, 2022, ISBN 979-8-88838-003-1, 72 pages, $19.99

Yvette Neisser begins her second collection of poems, titled Iron into Flower, with a memory that is not her own. “Here is what you have revealed,” opens a poem that simultaneously reports and imagines her mother’s youth, traveling from New Jersey through the Deep South and ending in Mexico. Though there is a distance between Neisser and her mother in this poem, they ultimately connect through Neisser’s imaginings: “Were you ever afraid? You deny memory / and live only in the present, / placing your faith in the arc of the sun.” The collection itself, like this poem, grapples with memories and cycles, change and reclamation, sorrow and joy.

In keeping with the theme of cycles, Neisser begins her collection with a chapter titled, “The Arc of the Sun.” It is in this chapter that we find the poem, “Slow,” which sets the tone for many of the poems to come.

Consider the pace of the seasons

how the sun sets just a touch later each day
until arriving at spring

how a heron wades into water
each reedy step balancing in mud

the pull of oars up a quiet river
the ripples

the meander through wildflowers
the sundial and its shadows

the mulling of cider
the steeping of tea

how rice absorbs water
and aloe seeps into skin

Over the course of five chapters, Neisser takes her readers on a journey examining family, religion, love, loss, grief, and recovery. She finds comfort not only in cycles, but also routines – the brewing of tea with her grandmother, the inevitable changing of the seasons, and the vibrant colors of the world. Yet these same routines bring her pain: the kitchen becomes both a haven and a prison, the change of seasons brings cold and dark days, and colors once vibrant now seem faded. Neisser doesn’t shy away from revealing the worst parts of humanity alongside the best, from Auschwictz and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to art and finding first love. She summarizes these dichotomies perfectly in “Late April,” in which she observes:

we are joy
we are sorrow

we are song and flutter

we are the nests building

we are hooves through wet earth

we are mortar and buds

Neisser’s poetry is consistently moving and heartfelt. At her best, she is vulnerable and raw – and she is at her best for most of this collection. Her journey through her memories of youth to her discovery of first love, onward to marriage, divorce, depression, and recovery is daunting at its surface, but her poems are refreshingly uncomplicated and straightforward. There is an ache at the center of each poem in this collection – an ache to connect, an ache to understand, an ache to set things right, an ache to reclaim what has been lost. Like the title of the collection suggests, Neisser turns something hard and cold into something fragile and beautiful.

© Yvette Neisser and Ginny Phalen

Yvette Neisser is the author of Grip, winner of the 2011 Gival Poetry Prize. Founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT), her translations from Spanish include South Pole/Polo Sur by Maria Teresa Ogliastri and Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio. Her poems, translations, and essays have appeared in Tikkun, Foreign Policy in Focus, Virginia Quarterly Review, Split This Rock’s The Quarry, and numerous anthologies. She has taught writing at George Washington University and The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD) and has worked in international development and research for 20+ years.

Ginny Phalen graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a Bachelor’s degree in English literature. She has had poems and short stories published in magazines such as Connections and Bartleby and has written for various newspapers, including The Retriever and The Enterprise. She currently lives in Arlington, VA, where she writes in her free time.

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