Book Reviews

Wind and Children by Linda Scheller – Book Review

Nicole Melanson ~

Poet Linda Scheller Book Cover - Wind and Children

Linda Scheller’s Wind and Children is a considered curation of poems exploring the relationship between people and the landscape around them. I use the term “landscape” broadly because this is a collection that looks at not only geography, but environmental, social, and political framework as well. From earth that “smells sweet / like sheets washed in the river / and dried in the sun” to “the dirty sky above the parking lot” where “clouds move east carrying the rain we lack / to those who drown, cursing their surfeit”, these poems reflect self-awareness that extends far beyond the personal.

There’s a constant fiction between suspense and movement throughout Wind and Children. Scheller’s subject shifts from a teacher watching her students “hunched and silent / like a cloud of butterflies / forced to earth” to “the day after the Littleton massacre” when the speaker finds herself one of many pacing the schoolyard “clipboards tight against our chests” in the wake of students choking others, killing gophers, and menacing classmates with threats of future violence.

This dichotomy—of the teacher who simultaneously studies the world—plays out beyond the classroom too:

 

Papers corrected, tests graded, lessons created,

I prepare tomorrow’s lunch. I smile

at the bread, admire the beautiful knife.

The animals watch me. They understand

fragility. They sense fear. Perhaps

 

Elsewhere, the speaker encounters a girl who “may have been [her] student once” vomiting in a supermarket, and maintains an objective distance, only to criticize herself in the next poem, where that same distance becomes complicity, her inability to act after witnessing Islamaphobia offered as explanation to a student who asks “how the Holocaust could have happened”: “I sat in shocked silence. I sat and did nothing. / I said nothing. Nothing. I sat in silence and did nothing.”

The perspective shifts again in “Late Afternoon”, in which the speaker is a child watching her own mother in the kitchen, neatly paralleling the previous meal prep scene:

 

The light from the sunset

tinges the kitchen

red. The knife blade

flashes as my mother

repeatedly stabs the roast.

 

Scheller has a skillful use of syntax reminiscent of Ellen Bryant Voigt, with careful attention paid to not only line but stanza breaks in a way that gives individual phrases maximum punch, as in “New Year’s Day”:

 

Now the sheep are quartered two fields away,

and in the morning their calls

blend with the roosters. Wind,

 

when you stop stripping shingles

and toppling barns, speak to me,

teach me to fly.

 

This is a collection that’s not afraid to experiment with form, including several haiku amongst long poems and poems bordering on prose. Occasionally, I questioned indentations that had me looking for meter that didn’t exist, as in “Fifth Grade, Final Year”, but by and large, this is free verse that honors the spirit of each individual poem. Punctuation is equally variable, following convention in some pieces and dispensed with altogether elsewhere—again, prioritizing uniqueness of voice, rather than uniformity.

Titles also varied widely, less successfully so for me. Some were intriguing and evocative: “A Gathering of Appliances” and “Signals in the Unclean House”. Others seemed a bit old-fashioned and bland: “Begin” and “Harvest”, for example.

Taken as a whole, Wind and Children is a quiet collection, potent precisely because of its restraint, rather than in spite of it. These poems are unsentimental musings that encourage thoughtful contemplation and repeat readings to reveal the rage and fear justifiably simmering beneath their surface.

— Nicole Melanson

Wind and Children by Linda Scheller can be pre-ordered from Main Street Rag Online Bookstore here.

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