Book Review

With the coming of spring, and not a moment too soon, Marsh River Editions presents Two off Q: a conversation in poetry by June Nirschl and Judy Roy. We’ve seen these two poets together, along with Nancy Rafal, in an earlier adventure in the Marsh River classic, Slightly Off Q. In this book, the voices were separated, each appearing discretely, like pearls on a precious necklace, separate but equal in achieving the final effect of this fine collection. In Two off Q, as the subtitle suggests, Nirschl and Roy have chosen to conjoin their efforts, exchanging poem for poem in a duet that moves through several moods. The journey begins with "Whimsy," moves on to "Whispers of the Past," then to remembered loved ones in "Among those we’ve loved," and ends with a section called "Presence," in which the poets seize and hold moments of intense "now" out of the eternal rush of onward.

We have listened to June and Judy at many readings over the years. On these occasions, their voices are heard alongside many others. Sometimes, through the accident of arrangement, they have been heard reading in proximity, but only by chance. Here, in this lovely new collection, we read them side by side by design. In each section, the echo of one poem resonates through the next, reinforcing the common but unique experiences of parallel lives. The effect is to produce a kind of sisterhood without siblings. In effect, the reader experiences the book as if looking over their shoulders as they react to the pictures in an album – some formal, some snap-shots but all made sacred by the looking and then twice blessed by the remembering and the writing. In this conjunction of voices – this "conversation" which evolves into a kind of litany, we eventually feel that there is something sacred, almost ceremonial in the experience of this book.

One of the pre-reviewers, John Lehman writes: “These poems are doors and windows into the worlds of Judy Roy and June Nirschl plus an invitation for their readers to re-open the doors and windows into their own worlds." That’s an interesting invitation, and a fine goal for both poets and poetry. But it is not such an easy thing – at least not for one who tends of late to find his poetry in other worlds – so I admire those poets who write well in this world. I can only thank June Nirschl and Judy Roy for showing how it can be done and why it is important to try.