Ann Hostetler's first collection of poems is divided into five sections: Book I- Impressions; II- Family Gallery; III-Life Studies; IV-Exhibitions; V-En Plein Air. Throughout, it is Hostetler's method to handle the things of the world, to pick them up and notice them, the things which help us to know we live in this world. Her poetic line is rapid, almost breathless, never scripted or overworked. There is a freshness for the reader in what gets notice; there is a vantage point that beckons. There is a racing mind in a busy world. The poems are based in the "real"-the seeing eye turning on itself frequently, recognizing personal limitations, oftentimes self-deprecatory, at times piqued by the guilt of recognition in a life which swarms. Frequently, the poetic voice is simply not up to it, and admits that life is too much with her.
The collection is rich with poems of memory, as are most first collections. Here, poems of memory are turned on Amish ancestors, lyric moments of mother and father-love, poems which honor forgotten female ancestors, clearly a special concern for Hostetler. Especially in the first book, "Impressions," there are childhood and coming-of-age references; in "Easter Coat," the poet's mother celebrates her becoming a woman with the making of a coat from the softest wool ever, in silvery olive, peach and ivory plaid, the sophisticated colors of womanhood. But it is a place the young woman cannot yet inhabit, standing in line in school in her dotted-swiss hand-me-down, longing for spring. That is the consistent voice of these poems: intense longing, often for the ethereal, for escape. One beautiful moment of escape occurs in one of my favorite poems, "Marriage, with Children," which closes with a beautiful image of husband steeling weary wife: "I close my eyes, feel our marriage falling/like a loose, baggy net about us. Then your thumbs press/against my spine./ I ease into your touch,/a moment's elasticity./As your fingers work the muscles/of my back, our life draws taut again,/a web hung rich with glittering complexity,/unimagined in our youthful love."
Most of the poems in this book are glimpses, defining moments of clarification in the hubbub of a professional woman's juggling of family life and professional calling, and they are rife with that tension. Frequently, they are also rife with the self-accusations that know of a different way women once lived (Amish ancestors, quieter women). But they are clear-eyed, aware of the choices made by a contemporary woman, an intellectual, an artist, a writer. And they also document the rewards. Because of the breathless pace of the poems, and because there is so much of the "stuff of life," in this collection, I felt greatly relieved and grateful for some of the quiet poems, the introspective poems with spare line and reference, like "Insomnia" in which the writer's voice reveals "an empty space, a square/of light or air, thin air,/into which for years/I've feared to fall." A stark, compelling image follows: "I am a chocolate rabbit,/ a ceramic doll like the one I chose for my seventh/birthday, her limbs held to her fragile body/ by elastic strings crisscrossed through her vacant core." This powerful image of "woman used up"--the woman who has nothing more to give, is familiar but fresh. I long for more of these kinds of images in Hostetler's poems.
This first collection documents, catalogues, chronicles. In the end, the best poems turn to image. I have a feeling subsequent collections will haunt with images like the poignant one that closes the book in "Journey," again, an image of disappearance, but here through lovemaking, and disappearance from the "world too much with us" into a nothingness that can explore or become: "You walk through me over/and over as I journey through you/to familiar landscapes/I have never seen before."