With grace and honesty, Marie Gauthier explores complex themes of grief and motherhood in her new poetry book, “Leave No Wake.” Drawing on her own personal (yet liberally fictionalized) experiences, she speaks of topics too often left unspoken but that are universally relatable.
Gauthier is a longtime Shelburne Falls resident, where she lives with her husband and three children. She works as a project manager for Pioneer Valley Books and serves as the founding president of the League of Women Voters of Franklin County. She also runs the Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls, which has unfortunately been on hiatus since the start of the pandemic. However, she has high hopes of restarting in-person poetry readings at Mocha Maya’s this fall.
“Having just done an in-person event a couple of weeks ago, it’s just such a different experience,” she said. “Just the audio factor of being able to hear people’s reactions — whereas with everyone muted, I feel like I babble a lot more to fill the silence.”
The poignancy of Gauthier’s own writing comes from her efforts to interweave the depths of grief and motherhood with the mundane. Hollywood fireworks and grandiose speeches about the despair of grief and the love of parenthood are perfectly fine in their own right—but Gauthier takes those heights of emotion into daily life.
“Grief is day to day,” Gauthier explained. “This is what we all experience. I don’t think you need a pyrotechnic kind of language to bring this to your readers.”
For example, in the poem “Morning Run,” she interweaves musings on the deaths of her parents with her jogging routine:
“We buried my father before his fiftieth year,
dead in his sleep one summer morning.
I settle into my run, tempering my breath
to a rooted and silent in and out”
Moments like this are a proverbial breath of fresh air in a culture that too often emphasizes “closure” as the goal of processing grief. Gauthier’s poetry showcases instead how the individual learns and relearns to live with their ghosts. As she puts it:
“We go through these daily losses in life. You know, everybody is going to experience these things. Everyone’s parents are going to die.”
Most of the poetic grief in the book is centered on the loss of her mother, who died when Gauthier was in her 30s. Although she hopes to write more about the process of grieving her father’s death de ella, who died suddenly when she was 21, she notes:
“I think I was too young when my father died. I stopped writing for three years. It was such a surprise when he died. With my mother, I was older, I was a parent by that time, and she had cancer, so I had time to live my way toward that. Even though you can’t really prepare for it, I could use my art to explore and process it.”
She added the relationships were in different stages as well at those times.
“When you’re 21, you don’t know your parent as much as you do later on,” she said. “You’re just getting to that point where you’re able to be friends with them. By the time I was almost 40, with my mom, we had just grown together in so many ways. I mourn my father differently, also because I feel he got robbed of so much. I have never met his grandchildren from him.”
Much of Gauthier’s poetry reflects such multivalent contemplations. Her poetry de ella dares to look unflinchingly at all sides of these deeply painful issues, but without veering into the grotesque or sentimental. In this way, her poetry by Ella is reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s work by Ella, for example in “Ode to Spring”:
“The sky equivocates, one
moment a gray corpse, the next
a risen and glowing Lazarus.”
Refreshing too are her takes on motherhood. Again, our culture seems to oscillate between highlighting either the unbridled joy or the relentless drudgery of parenthood. Gauthier brings our attention to moments and emotions that do not often get discussed. In her poem “Caesarean,” she relates the moment of giving birth:
“as the child, gray
as shock, shocked
is lifted through the rift.”
Gauthier’s word choice of “shock” here might seem odd at first, but it is reminiscent of Immanuel Kant’s idea of the sublime — the notion of being absolutely and suddenly overwhelmed by awe and fear in the face of great beauty. This, to my mind, perfectly encapsulates the moment of birth.
Aesthetically, Gauthier avoids the most traditional poetic structures and writes mostly in free verse with an emphasis on alliteration and internal syllabic rhymes. However, she does incorporate several lesser-known poetic structures. For example, the poem “Tinnitis” is a nonet — a nine-line poem, in which each line contains specific, descending syllable counts (the first line contains nine syllables, the second line contains eight, the third line contains seven, and so on).
Although Gauthier on the one hand wants her poetry to be as apolitical as possible, she also acknowledges the feminist rallying cry “the personal is political,” or, to quote Thomas Mann, “Everything is politics.”
“I really believe our choices affect more than just ourselves,” she said. “Everything we do has the possibility of consequences.”
Thus, her title “Leave No Wake” speaks to the societal pressures on women (and people in general) to avoid “making waves” or burdening others with their grief and problems. In the eponymous penultimate poem, Gauthier reminds us “but our boat rocks.”
Gauthier summarizes, “When I think about ‘Leave No Wake,’ we’re all doing our best and trying not to cause problems, but sometimes you have to do more than just recognizing that someone is in crisis.”
Gauthier’s book “Leave No Wake” can be purchased for $20 through pinerow.com or on Amazon.com. Her author website for more information is marie-gauthier.com.
Gauthier will give a reading from “Leave No Wake” on Friday, May 27, at 6 pm at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls. The program will be held in the upstairs reading room. Masks are required.
Nicole Braden-Johnson of Conway is the author of “Unheard Melodies,” a monthly poetry column, and has been published in several literary journals. She can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at unheardmelodiesnkbj.blogspot.com.