Turn to the last page of At Ease in the Borrowed World and you will find an important piece of advice: Whatever you’ve brought, set aside. / This is enough. These words preface the state of mind that we are called to occupy before entering At Ease in the Borrowed World, a poetry collection by freelance writer and editor Barbara Swift Brauer.
Brauer’s collection draws us into a world where history is consistently juxtaposed with a modern landscape. In the poem, Reservations, Brauer brings together the ghosts of the past to make implications about the future: At the end of the table, / places for the self I was and never quite trusted, / and for that old woman bearing my features / who knows how the story ends. Brauer employs a narrator who speaks for our fears and hesitations. With this narrator, we travel through a series of poignant observations about the restlessness we carry.
The clarity of Brauer’s imagery lends itself to the accessibility of her work. Our human nature is laid bare in all its vulnerability, and so too is our resilience. In Writing Lesson, Brauer reminds us that the integrity of an emotion on the page is derived from writing what we know from experience: So she writes catalogs of failure: / of closed doors, angry dinners, and dishes shattered on the floor, / empty bottles and hallways. During moments such as these, Brauer’s concrete style forges an honest, intimate relationship between speaker and reader.
These poems are well-crafted portraits of time and place: just as we engage with the familiar setting of the modern world, we are also reminded of the world as it was. In the poem, New Names, Brauer writes that, It will have a different name from the one by which / my father called it…We will have new names for everything we see… While bridges are built between past and present, we learn that life, like a poem, consists of language refreshed. Age-old sentiments and ideas are constantly reborn as we find new ways to express them. Despite this constant cycle of renaming, our experiences are tied to those of our ancestors. We inherit the same capacity to endure hurt and find peace, to make mistakes and live for second chances.
Brauer holds up a mirror that reflects sadness and joy, present and past. The panoramic scope of her poems gives us an opportunity to walk through different perspectives, and this range of perspective empowers us to look beyond our own niche. – Joanne Mallari