Woman Without Umbrella by Victoria Redel

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Victoria Redel writes breathlessly, with punctuation and crescendo. There is a longing to her poems and also a continual inquiry. Her subjects ask, engage, look, and proclaim. The subject in many of these poems is the Woman Without Umbrella. Why is she without umbrella? The umbrella would protect her from rain or sunshine. We are left with the image of an exposed woman, unsheltered from the elements. She is vulnerable but only because she chooses to be so. She does not shield her face from the torrential downpour, but embraces and examines it. This is revealing poetry that lays bare its heart. It does not hide behind an umbrella. Throughout the collection, the subject becomes more and more visible.

In “Woman Without Umbrella, Tarot,” the subject is aware of her misfortunes and the quiet blessings that follow but she does not acknowledge the reality that her peers try to convince her of, that she is in love. The poem begins:

It went like this: disaster, disaster, ridiculously bad disaster

Later in another “Woman Without Umbrella” poem the subject is hesitant and still, waiting “at the corner / for the light to change.” Despite the subject’s presence at what is presumably an intersection, she is not looking forward at the streets and traffic before her. Instead she wants to “sneak / back and have another look.” The subject is contemplative and nostalgic, yearning to comprehend what preceded this moment. Redel writes “Therefore and then, indeed, and somewhat and thus.” This simple sentence and Redel’s playful listing of these phrases indicate the subject’s slow parsing together of events, their connections and conjunctions, how one event led to another. She is more scared than bold, turning to the past as if it were a map she could follow. Redel writes “she was afraid” and then “there were accidents/ and other misfortunes.” What is this poem about but the fear of the future: in the face of it, we all stand meek and unprotected, aware of our slips and falls, waiting for the light to change so that we can cross forward.

Redel’s poetry displays vulnerability but also irony, humor, and a willingness to poke fun at itself. She is not a pretentious or self-aggrandizing author who makes broad encompassing, grandiose statements. Instead, she is a poet who quietly focuses on a single instance and its metaphorical implications, utilizing this instance to reveal a different dimension in her subject. In “Woman Without Umbrella, Confession,” the subject proclaims:

I wanted to be the one to tell you there is nothing
too small in this world to love.

Yet here I am, furious housekeeper
stomping ants that come through

The subject then asks, “Can you love the tidy heart of this killer?” Unlike the subject in the prior poem, the one who refused to acknowledge love and the one who stood at an intersection, the subject is active and physically present in this poem, sweeping and stomping. She also more readily confronts her love-object, telling it, “I wanted to be the one to tell you.” While there is violence to this poem, there is also a throbbing desire for acceptance. She cannot love the ants but she herself requires love. She is afraid the love-object will not love her. There is an argument within this poem, an inherent irony because the subject wishes to tell her love-object that even the minutest beings, such as herself, are worthy recipients of love, and yet it is the subject who is obliterating ants, the subject who refuses to extend her love to these small creatures. The question directed towards the love-object indicates that the subject feels that she is unworthy of this love and yet she wants it. This is her covert confession.

What Redel understands is that this is the function of poetry: the covert confession, the woman without the umbrella slowly reveal. Her poems aim to tell without saying and expose without baring. She is an elegant writer who understands the cadences of conversation and the nuances of love.

Toward the end of the collection, Redel writes:

I’m just learning desire makes us sometimes lovely,
always idiotes. And yet. And yet. And yet

The palpable desire and sense of curiosity that runs through these poems create a lovely and compelling collection.

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