Call Me When You Want to Talk about the Tomb­stones

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Nonfiction - CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH

Cynthia Marie Hoff­man Persea Books (JULY) Soft­cover $15.95 (96pp) 978-0-89255-489-8

In the open­ing scene of Cynthia Marie Hoff­man’s Call Me When You Want to Talk about the Tomb­stones, the au­thor and her mother comb Rose Hill Ceme­tery in Mt. Carmel, Illi­nois, search­ing for fam­ily graves. As in the rest of the book, his­tory is be­ing both sought and created. In dis­cur­sive prose po­ems, Hoff­man builds a fas­ci­nat­ing collage of fam­ily sto­ries, pho­to­graphs, let­ters, and po­etry.

Like Hoff­man’s pre­vi­ous vol­umes, this too is a project book, its po­ems linked by a com­mon pur­pose or idea. The poet’s mother and her fas­ci­na­tion with fam­ily his­tory ground the work.

As the two move through old houses, they imag­ine the lives of those who came be­fore. The poet bor­rows voices from let­ters and in­ter­sperses them between her own lines and the con­ver­sa­tion of her mother. The ef­fect is an echo cham­ber of fam­ily—moth­ers and daugh­ters, grand­moth­ers and un­cles speak­ing across the di­vide of time, linked by the re­mains—tomb­stones, houses, cen­sus records. Hoff­man brings read­ers di­rectly into the vor­tex of genealogy, which, like po­etry, opens up new ques­tions with ev­ery an­swer.

Hoff­man’s pre­cise eye for po­ten­tial metaphors brings mo­ments of un­ex­pected lyri­cism to de­scrip­tions of rooms or ceme­ter­ies. The poet uses rep­e­ti­tion not only to cre­ate the echo of kin, but also to il­lu­mi­nate the com­mon im­pulses of fam­ily mem­bers to record and retell the fam­ily his­tory. As Hoff­man copies the lines of dis­tantly re­lated fam­ily mem­bers, she also ad­dresses a day spent with her daugh­ter, a day spent with her mother. Lan­guage comes to en­com­pass more and dif­fer­ent things across time. Hoff­man res­ur­rects lost rel­a­tives for a fam­ily ea­ger to en­gage them.

In­tri­cate and in­tel­li­gent, these po­ems re­veal the heart of the ge­nealog­i­cal craze—to face mor­tal­ity, and find a way to re­mem­ber and be re­mem­bered.

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