Dreadful Wind & Rain by Diane Gilliam

Disclosure: Diane teaches as recurring guest faculty in my MFA program, and I think she’s a lovely person.

I feel tentative in writing about poetry, but here goes. Dreadful Wind & Rain is beautiful, and more accessible than some, because (as Vince pointed out to me), this is a lyric narrative, which should help things to hold together. In addition to a narrative development from beginning to end, there are two threads of allusions to follow, although neither was familiar to me before I read this book.

Poems appear in four sections. The second and third are substantially longer than the beginning and ending ones. To paint in very broad strokes: “Girl” indeed features a girl, Leah, who is oppressed by family and by society, in favor of her younger, more beautiful sister, Rachel. “Anyone” features a man, and a marriage which doesn’t serve Leah any better than her first family did. (It finishes with a poem titled “First Divorce.”) In the third section, “Or Else,” Leah finds her way out of her marriage to the unsuitable, adulterous man. I think it is here that we begin to get mentions of poetry; Leah is finding her voice? Rachel is somewhat held to account for her role in the unhappiness and the ending of Leah’s marriage. Finally, the four poems in “After” feel like an actualization for Leah, a settling in.

The book’s title and epigraph refer to a traditional murder ballad in which an elder sister murders a younger sister, in part over a man. Many readers will recognize the sisters Leah and Rachel from the Bible, in which they are (among other things) rivals and both wives to Jacob. The threads of both these stories are woven through Dreadful Wind & Rain, although Gilliam does not strictly retell either story. This Leah and Rachel are recast in modern times, for one thing, in which Leah is able to own her own home and lock Rachel out of it in the end.

I had many favorite poems, and I would love to reproduce one for you here, but an entire poem feels like too much to reprint without permission. Some of these are prose poems, which somehow make me feel more comfortable. They are all lovely and layered, and made me slow down to read them. I’m never confident I’ve gotten everything out of a poem, but I got a lot out of these. It felt good to hear Diane’s voice again; I could hear them read in her voice and that was comforting. I would be glad to reread this slim, thoughtful book again (and get somebody more poetic than me to explain them better).

Highly recommended.

Rating: 8 stones.

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