Review of After June by Charity Gingrich

Gingrich, Charity, After June, Green Writers Press, Brattleboro Vermont (2019),

After June is the debut collection of poems—or are they hymns?—“by one voice, among women," Charity Gingrich, winner of the 2018 Hopper Literary Magazine poetry prize. The slim volume is resonant with striking and gorgeous imagery of choirs and singing, the landscape of Appalachia, the deer and blackberries, and “nature with its own instruments.” Pitch, its highs and lows and the intervals between, is the sustaining metaphor throughout this wide range of poems about beauty and sorrow that forms an ode from a daughter to her mother, to the land, and to her heritage of faith with its own music.

“The first note of any song is about precision. / This more than beauty, will carry it through . . . Beginning a song is like opening the right door” (5). In these lines from “The Thing That Music Leaves Me With” lie the essence of this volume, this door into beauty, and the precision of lines that catch the breath. The poems in After June take their beginnings from the inspirations of the speaker’s mother who always insisted on two things, “a glistening countertop and perfect pitch” (5). Along with poets and artists and the faithful that include Johnny Cash, Vermeer, Auden, Mary Oliver, Thomas Merton, and her community of belief, each poem within the collection’s broad range is connected, as if by notes, or embroidered threads. “Beauty is sometimes just recognition” (18), Gingrich writes, seeing beauty in her mother’s hands, washing blackberries, and in her poems we recognize aspects of our own lives and being.

In “Little Cup of Stars” Gingrich considers the German word for thirst, durst, and the Old English durste, to dare, making connections between longing and the body, one’s own thirsting and daring, and the body, a yellow house, with one room for every wish (7). In this poem titled “After June”, alliteration and imagery are the poetic connective tissues (melons, moons, mother) as “outside, form happens: field fritillary sky. . . “tiny melons sweat / sweet moons under the sun. / I want to be like that again, under my best dream tree, barefoot, / you up there at the window, humming (9). Her work in free-verse ranges in form and content, and her lines delight and surprise in their juxtaposition of life’s simplicity and complexity, longing and astonishment. Along with music, the month of June, blackberries, fireflies, mountains, and fawns recur throughout: “Tonight a hemstitch of fireflies threading the dusk / with their small winged longing” . . . “I stood in every doorway / of delight . . . “(31). Of blackberries, “[i]f you insert the tongue just so, there’s a surprising end to looking and grasping: / seeds tiny as sand, soft as a new calf chin fuzz. The tongue, perplexed, withdraws, / but always wanders back for more: a question never answered quite like this (30). And of the fawns; “[o]nly when I speak do they move, soft brown smudges / nibbling pachysandra furtively, soon arching away / over hedges (43).

Poems are ode and elegy, praise and doubt, and perhaps nostalgia for the innocence of an Appalachian childhood, as Gingrich ponders universal questions with the imagery of her own landscapes; “[i]f hope is a horse in winter, / how many roads should we take? . . . As a girl I dreamed the world was shaped / like an endless field one simply had to walk across, that it could fit into any well-kept kitchen like a piece of fruit (46).” Ultimately, the question becomes, “[w]hat most separates the dead from the living anyway—a little more dying, a different kind of music (54). As the speaker’s mother contemplates death, “[t]hese are the days I live for, my mother says, / after twenty-three quarts of applesauce, / soft pink from red peelings. A storm is blowing in . . .” (63).

Charity Gingrich has offered a collection of pure hospitality, inviting the reader into the beauty, truth and longing of place and faith, into a traditional Mennonite community, while asking the most important questions we all ask of life: "how much is that star in the window, and , / have you followed the red fox to the field of longing (12)."After June gives us the poet who has become a woman and has left home to follow her own longing, but who also prepares "for another journey back / to the mountains, landscape of first love, stark as a blackbird in a magnolia tree" (65), and all the while, she sings. "There is pitch, and there is tone. Pitch is correctness, and tone is what you do with that" (3)—and what Gingrich has done is exquisite.

About the Author

Connie T. Braun

Connie T. Braun, a university instructor, has published two books of non-fiction and two poetry chapbooks. Her academic and personal essays and poetry appear in various journals and anthologies in Canada, the US and UK, including When Blue Will Rise Over Yellow, An International Anthology for Ukraine, ed. John Bradley, Callista Gaia Press (2022), with proceeds to go to Ukrainian refugees displaced by Russian invasion. In 2018 her poetry was commissioned for musical composition, Following the Moonroad, and the 100th Anniversary Commemoration of Mennonites from Russia to Canada, The Places of Memory, and her poetry appears in Poland Parables. Connie’s heritage is Mennonite from Poland and Ukraine, born to refugee-immigrant parents who settled in British Columbia in 1947 and 1952. She lives in Vancouver British Columbia, and has completed a new full-length poetry collection.