A Conversation So Imperfectly Understood

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Rosanna Warren’s tautly elegant poetry in her collection Ghost in a Red Hat captivates me. Warren does not aim for obscure language and obstructed meaning; she carefully and clearly reveals her intent in writing her poems.

Rosanna Warren’s tautly elegant poetry in her collection Ghost in a Red Hat captivates me. Warren does not aim for obscure language and obstructed meaning; she carefully and clearly reveals her intent in writing her poems. This frankness and sincerity is evident in her language. Images of grief haunt this collection of elegiac poems. Warren grapples with death, illness, and depression in these poems, attempting to understand and analyze her experiences.

After a brief skimming, when I returned to examine Warren’s poems “For D.” caught my attention. Warren writes this poem to the poet and nonfiction writer Deborah Tall. Warren writes a series of poems that remember Tall, who battled cancer. In this poem, Warren explicates a seemingly simple and universal topic: friendship. The poem’s speaker is on a plane, heading to visit an ill friend. While this subject matter may seem to evoke Hallmark card messages, Warren refrains from sugary aphorisms and clichés.

Instead, the poem’s concern is space. Warren quietly declares “friendship is always travel. How to measure/ the distance eye to eye” (lines 4 -5). What immediately arrests me in this poem is Warren’s consistent usage of words that express her speaker’s battered psychological state. In this poem, clouds are a “mattress’s innards ripped,” water “rollicks” in a “dented” pot (line 1, 10, 11). These words echo illness: a battered, dented state where one feels as though her innards are ripped. Illness ultimately “outdistances” Warren’s speaker from her friend. This outdistancing, this schism of time and physicality, alienates Warren’s speaker from what once was close.

Warren’s desire to understand the implications of illness in her relationship with Deborah Tall further emerge in “Notes.” This elegiac poem remembers Tall’s voice as “sputter[ing] in radio waves.” Warren mourns: “I wanted/ us to never finish a conversation/ so imperfectly understood.” Warren’s grappling with the indefinite, the abstract in this poem reflect her desire to comprehend her friend’s slow death. After all, what is death, except the ultimate abstract? Voice, in this poem, arrives “disembodied,” “staticky syllables” do not entirely form an unit, a word. The dissolution of that which already is abstract in this poem may indicate Warren’s denial of her friend’s imminent death. She claims that she “would not, could not/ entirely hear.” Warren’s emphatic refusal demonstrates the most basic of coping mechanisms.

Warren contemplates grief from a different angle in “Ocular.” Using vision as a metaphor Warren describes her encounters with Night. Images of decay and destruction litter this poem. Warren describes a poster being torn down, “all promised felicity [hanging] in shreds.” She sleeps on a “naked mattress the pit bull ripped.” Warren further illuminates the sense of destruction in this poem by “starving” herself and “admir[ing] her delicate ribs.” The poem, however, ends on a positive note. Warren claims that Night has now become “tired” and that she hardly meets Night anymore. This revelation inspires and indicates a woman who rises above the destruction that circles her. Her vision extends to beyond that which surrounds her.

This deeply personal set of poems beautifully wanders and wonders.


Bracha Goykadosh is a graduate student at Brooklyn College. More from this author →