Everyone a Bell
reviewed by Hannah Rousselot
S.B. Merrow’s Everyone a Bell is a book you will read more than once. During the first read through, the words and emotions will wash over you like torrential rain; intense, overwhelming, thoughtful. When reading the second time, the words pierce the soil of your mind and take root. Divided into four sections, Everyone a Bell is a work rooted in both the present and the past. The first section of Everyone a Bell takes us through the persona’s family relationships, and how they change with age. In “Grammie’s Beasts,” Merrow leaves no time for the reader to catch their breath; it is all one sentence, one thought, spanning over four stanzas that do not end in a period. Merrow writes about the “pearls (that) lay coiled like sleeping snakes,” invoking a sense of danger and of wonder lurking in the mundane. Merrow continues in the poem “Mother,” which follows the intricacies of family relationships and how pain is carried through them: “a double wound, if you count mine.” Within this familial ache, there is a persona who grows and hopes. In “The Seed Vault,” Merrow pens: “I wonder what other/ joy could be this quiet, maybe/ seeds on ice in an arctic vault,/ waiting out the rain.”This sense of hope and pain continues through the rest of the collection. Its eponymous poem ends with the line: “gives everyone a bell, and their moment to wail.” This section is Merrow’s moment to wail. This second section of Everyone a Bell couples the ephemeral with reality. The poems are rooted in the events of the persona’s life, including a poem that takes place “After the Inauguration No One Attended” and another (titled “The Carp Lie Still) that describes the “time to pray/ in the Church of the Second Amendment.” These poems bring elegant images and words to the dull and unimpressive events that touch our lives every so often.Once the reader hits the third section of Everyone a Bell, we feel frustrated with the societal world. Merrow expertly pivots from that existence to another that we all share, though sometimes overlook: the natural world. Merrow uses the words on her page both as meaning and as construct. In her poem “Big Old,” the words form the shape of the river she is describing, adding another layer to the images she provides so eloquently. She describes the power of the landscapes that surround her: she finishes the poem “Autumn Rot” with the following lines: “as rock becomes river/ that carves the canyon./ En route, it sunders us, too.” The reader is reminded of the power of the things that we gaze at for just a moment before continuing on with our lives; powerful forces that can render us immobile as quickly as it gives us life.
Finally, Everyone a Bell finishes with apotheosis. The persona ponders on becoming one with those around her, and on Genesis with a capital G. In the penultimate poem “Growing Things,” Merrow writes: “bury worry and/ the need for a perfect crop,/ the right way to plant.” Everyone a Bell questions what happens when you abandon the things you are “supposed” to do and the beauty that arises when you embrace the uncertainty of existence. Merrow delicately balances the mundane with the poetic, so the reader has no choice but to see the fire within the banality of everyday life.
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