Reading Charlotte Garrett Currier’s Shadow and Light: A Retrospective left me conflicted: Had Ijust finished a book of poetry or listened to a Charles Auguste De Beriot movement? Currier incontestably has a vigilant ear for the metrical line unit, creating impeccable rhythms, balancing the traditional formalities of meter and rhyme scheme. Her work is a unique, eye-pleasing integration of extant linguistic idiosyncrasies with avant-garde typography. Perhaps it is fortuitous that I do not have to answer my question of whether Currier writes poetry or composes music. As Dylan Thomas once offered, “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.” At heart, the intent of poetry is to make the audience feel, and feel deeply, and Currier, through this highly metrical almost-memoir, certainly reminds us what it is to wholly feel—whether we wish to be so reminded or not.
Shadow and Light is divided into four sections (although an argument could be made that its "New York City Suite" qualifies as a fifth). Each section—more emotionally brazen and yet more private than its last—captures the shadow and light of wending through those most basic realities of life: contingency, stability, stagnancy. Even so, Currier concludes the book with a lightheartedness that supplies a welcome break from occasionally opaque verse, paying homage to former students, converging both the obscurity and the lucidity of memory. With each section, the audience is bound to poetic persona ever more tightly—sometimes, too tightly.
Shadow and Light is also visually poetic. The New York City Suite pages shift in layout to white print on black paper with short lyrical, witty poems staggered about the page and framed by reverse-image photo brackets. Pages come to resemble a personal photo board, adding an extra emotive power that forces the audience to engage at an altogether graphic level with the the ravages of memory. The black-and-white formatting throughout offers a tangible reflection of the title, immersing readers within remnants of “occasions forgotten or indistinguishable.” Solidifying the connections among memory, verbal artifacts (the poems), and relational reality, Currier shows no shame supplying personal dedications to several of the pieces. Both the layout and the poems offer each page a transparent physicality.
Following the arrangement by section, the poetry—like life itself—in Shadow and Light follows a series of phases, all organized under the unitary motif of relationship and memory. Embodied in poetic form, Currier pairs loss with humor, darkness with lightness, embracing memory within the corporeality of emotion. Her collection offers euphoric poems expressive of empathy and reflective in their proclivity to quip. In the end, her dexterous and sometime even volatile use of meter, held together with her voracious (at times wry) voice, provides readers with a look back at a life lived with the kind of honesty that oftentimes only poetry can deliver, or as Currier suggests: “These poems, like a long train journey, end at a place not yet home, yet not unknown.”