Praising the Paradox by Tina Schumann, reviewed by Mary Ellen Talley • Empty Mirror

Praising the Paradox by Tina Schumann / Red Hen Press / 2019 / 109 pages / 978-1-59709-617-1

Praising the Paradox, by Tina Schumann

Tina Schumann’s newest volume of poems, Praising the Paradox, speaks of seasons, Business Relationships, and our wide array of desires. The poet generously takes us with her as she considers facets of a life via skillful poems that please both ear and intellect.

Beginning with poems in Section 1, Schumann’s tone is reflective and self-deprecating. With “Traveling Instructions,” the poet transforms memory with metaphor:

you must appeal to the weed in me;
the one whose roots run deep, whose face is neither fair
nor friendly, but simply there. Because I did not know
what I did not know – I traveled
between desire and compulsion, yen and need, plan and arrival.

Casual and clever use of religious terminology springs up throughout. In the poem “You are Here,” fragments of Psalm 23 waft, as in “thy skin and thy cartilage they comfort me.” The poem announces wry personal philosophy with phrasing, “oh ego how I do cleave to thee / thy sermons and thy cravings they comfort me / and I shall dwell in the maze forever.” This poet views life through a lens of humor.

With poems that flow succinctly and smoothly, the book title is taken from the poem, “Praising the Paradox,” in which the speaker observes a self, “Walking this way, along the landscape’s edge / my own mythology spills out / before me / in the slow staccato of the day.” Later the speaker admits what may actually be a common thought, “I am making it up as I go along.” It is a paradox that in spite of the weeding by the gardener, the weeds keep spreading, as roots break, “like bundles of loose thread, its union / with the soil / tenuous at best.” Using nature as metaphor for many facets of a life, the poet announces with awareness and humility that “Nature owes me / nothing.”

Schumann’s poems affirm patterns of living and life’s randomness, as well as continual human desires. The poem, “It’s Like This,” comments on the routines of life:

It’s like that with us ____
negotiating
fault lines
between the miraculous
and the mundane

Despite references to growth and gardening, Schumann often alludes to what is wild, as in “A Seasonal Accord” where “Nettles grow tall just behind the backyard fence, / out of reach – all season – growing on the sneak.” But the speaker doesn’t “have the heart to cut them dead.” This poet embraces all that is fragile and decaying in life as well as all that is beautiful and strong. She is aware in “Fall/Reprise” of “Time? / Seasons? The blind consistency of time.”

Regarding past publications, it is pertinent that Tina Schumann is the curator and editor of the well-regarded anthology, Two-Countries: U.S. Daughters & Sons of Immigrant Parents, published by Red Hen Press in 2017. Poems in Section 2 of Praising the Paradox smoothly transition from pleasant routines and garden blossoms to relationships with parents. When reflecting about growing up in a bilingual home in “Ten,” the poet declares “I deemed their words / a dead language. I had, after all, become a palindrome to them, / the same thing backward as forward.” With the poem, “Consider This,” the speaker states that going forward there will be disappointment:

Harbinger of the great ego crash to come.
In spite of judgments
skidding across
my thoughts like hard rain.

Rain or not, we read in “Highway 99” a spot-on description of a car dealership’s rising and collapsing air-filled mannequin combined with delightful commentary of apt metaphor, “You recognize the impulse – you’ve battled the burden / to remain / upright daily.”

Schumann writes of the pleasant and frustrating vagaries of waiting out daily routines and the good fortune to wake up to a spouse at home. Soon her poems move into death of a mother and decline of a father. These poems are not sentimental but arise from the perspective of memory and deft observation as the speaker comes to terms with loss.

While addressing either parent, Schumann writes in “Communique” that “Now, all I have is wordless faith / that some part of you understood // that you left your mark, that you remain.” This is such a tender yet forthright response to death of a parent. Coming to terms with memories when parents die, the poet announces that “This will be our new story. A silent one.” Relationships don’t die. They change.

Section 3 poems circle back to themes of everyday routines as well as time and seasons, while considering there are fewer years and seasons left. In the poem, “It’s Like This,” Schumann beautifully writes that life is a negotiation of:

fault lines
between the miraculous
and the mundane
How else could you do it?
This daydream,
this trick of the mind.
We can’t all be Gurus
of the Moment, Masters
: of the Now.

Besides the poet’s casual self-depreciations, faith and hope keep resurfacing, as in the poem, “Ode to Time, Lance, and December Rain.” She writes that:

Tonight’s riotous rain has stirred in me
an impulse toward sacramental prayers
in the driveway, a chorus of hosannas,
a thousand novenas to the moon.

This entire poem is quotable for its skill in observation and depictions of religious volunteers who knock on our doors. She extols the “Lance” of the missionaries who came to her door as she invokes “Bless you boys – / may your latter days be absent of regret – / as unlikely as that will be.” It feels as if Schumann is wishing for all readers what she wishes for these young men:

May your latter days be a goddamn roller-coaster
of wonder and worn-out stupors, good sex
with the wrong person, and just one insightful
moment of gratitude so intense
you burst out crying on a public bus.

May you live a life that has you thanking
any number of Gods

With all of us mired in time’s passage, in “Facing the Rain,” Schumann writes with optimism, “grant me a do-over, another chance / at randomness…I’m game. I’m ready.” She writes poems that excel in lyrical kitchen table wisdom. In a longer philosophical prose poem, “The Mass Migration of 60 Million Monarch Butterflies May Soon Be History,” The speaker considers the paradox that although she should dwell on pressing world concerns, she’s also inclined to pay attention to the magical mundane aspects of life. She is “sorry that Wall Street is seeking last minute loopholes, but aren’t we all? Couldn’t / everyone use a really good loophole, especially at the last minute? Consider how, / along with the Monarch Butterfly, we will all soon enough, be history.” Schumann echoes honestly what many may think while being inundated with anxiety provoking news and calls to action.

Lyric wisdom is needed to get us through times of discord. Schumann allows readers to become immersed in her linguistically astute but down to earth observations in this collection that reminds us to cherish the now.

About Mary Ellen Talley

Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have appeared widely in publications including Raven Chronicles, Flatbush Review, and Banshee, as well as in several poetry anthologies such as All We Can Hold and Ice Cream Poems. Her poems have received two Pushcart nominations. A chapbook is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Book reviews by Talley have appeared in Compulsive Reader, Crab Creek Review, Sugar House Review, and Colorado Review.

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