The Broken String
Grace Schulman
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Buy *The Broken String: Poems* by Grace Schulman online

The Broken String: Poems
Grace Schulman
Houghton Mifflin
96 pages
March 2007
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In the title poem of this elegant and graceful book, Grace Schulman speaks of Itzhak Perlman completing a concerto performance with a broken string on his violin:

Later, he smiled and said it’s what you do:
not just play the score, but make new music
with what you have, then with what you have left.
This is exactly what Grace Schulman does in this collection of her poetry – she makes new music with what she has - and what she has is pure talent and a gift for sharing her stories with economy and precision.

These are works where every word of every poem has been chosen and set in place like a master watchmaker placing delicate parts into a fine timepiece. The end result is a book that is a satisfying, complete whole: the words forming individual poems and the individual poems forming a cohesive book – all the parts working in harmony - the end result a work of beauty.

This book to me defines what poetry is, in all its formal beauty of meter and rhythm and meaning.

There’s a lovely poem entitled “Blue in Green,” where Schulman invokes the memory of John Coltrane and his amazing jazz improvisational abilities – how this song “Blue in Green” from the Miles Davis Kind of Blue album of 1959 showcased the talent Coltrane had for recording works of aural art in one take – and how in life we can regret not getting it right in our dealing with others ‘on the first take’:

…for words unspoken, and without remorse
for loves withheld. Rough-draft mistakes.
If only my heart could teach my hands
to play, and get it right on the first take.
Music is prevalent in this collection, and there are vivid lines describing Thelonious Monk and his creative mindset in the poem “Thelonious Himself.” Here she relates having seen the jazz pianist perform and witnessing how he took risks in his music, creative risks she wasn’t taking in her own life working at a “…slick magazine”:
Suddenly he snapped fingers as though
to shape pain into order. That was form.
And all was void, as before Creation,
and there was light. I left the job next day.
In the poem “Origins”, the author talks of her grandfather coming to a new land from Belgium, how he saw the hope before him, not the trials behind him:
When my grandfather’s ship steamed in from Belgium
to Castle Garden, once an opera house,
he thought he heard dense seawalls ring with arias.
There is order in the poems presented here, as if the uncertainties and gray areas of modern life are being organized for us on the page so that we can comprehend them, and in so doing understand more about ourselves and others.

I find that there is satisfaction in this kind of order (and richness of tone), and that there are worthwhile subjects and ideas being dealt with in this collection. I want to read more of this kind of poetry and, as the author points out in “Late Snow”:

Now near the end of the middle of my life,
all I want is more wakings like this one
This book of poems is as exquisite as the music and paintings and humanity it speaks of.

I could pick gems out of every piece and write continually here, but that would be unfair to the reader who loves poetry – who should experience this collection in its entirety on their own, hold its pages in his or her hands and dig into words well written.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Ugulini, 2007

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