Tremolo can be contained in the line from Theodore Roethke's villanelle, "The Waking": "This shaking keeps me steady. I should know." In music, tremolo describes notes which are repeated in time, as opposed to trill, notes which stand outside the composition's basic beat. In the same way, our lives often cannot "claim their own space," but are forced to fit circumstance. The effect is tremulous: we are full of trembling, easily shaken. The book journeys through terrain where the speaker must accept what she's given: a mother's death, a daughter's leaving home, a father's dementia, a life compromised by war, prejudice, and violence, the myriad fearful situations of each day. The poems search for safety, ultimately understanding that the steadiness the speaker knows comes from taking the path in front of her, fully embracing her trembling. The wisdom of these poems is garnered from journeys the speaker fears, but must undertake. As Roethke writes, "I learn by going where I have to go."
Praise for Tremolo:
"Tremolo is a tour de force of vibratory power that marks Alice Derry as having come into her own as one of our very best poets. I am greatly moved by these narratives with their rushing crescendos, the way they sweep us into our own inner chambers. Derry possesses an exquisite emotional and moral register. She is unstintingly frank about our failures with each other while witnessing the tenderness, the give and take that let us cleave to each other."
— Tess Gallagher
"Alice Derry's poems exert their force in two directions. One is outward–they show us how the personal drama of family is connected to the larger drama of history. But they also dig inward, through the surface cordialities to reveal the layers of our lives that are like music, fluttering between the sharp and flat and true."
— Lucia Perillo, 2010 Pulitzer Prize Finalist, author of Inseminating the Elephant