Poetry Salzburg Review Gives Ally Acker’s Some Help from the Dead an excellent review.

In the Autumn 2011 edition, Poetry Salzburg Review said:

"Ally Acker’s Some Help from the Dead offers high-spirited, lively encounters with life and language – as well as frequent commemorations of the dead. Yet she is engaged, passionately, in present life as well: her family, the women she loves, a whole range of individual humans made shiningly particular in finely worked lines…”

—Poetry Salzburg Review

Please see below to read the full review.

Ally Acker’s Some Help from the Dead offers high-spirited, lively encounters with life and language – as well as frequent commemorations of the dead. Yet she is engaged, passionately, in present life as well: her family, the women she loves, a whole range of individual humans made shiningly particular in finely worked lines, such as the energetic opening of “Maybe, Sal” (p. 19):

I’ve just arrived. Put down my bags. Sally passes

in the hall on her way to somewhere.

Leaps on tiptoes, INHALE HER TO ME, I miss you, I say

You don’t, she says. That indomitable British. You miss

talking to me.

A high-tension eroticism, often ebullient and melancholy at once, pervades many of these poems. In “Still Life With [sic!] Manageable Object” (p. 31) the object is a lover whose borderline personality “doesn’t sound so bad” but means that she constantly needs someone in the bed, “someone you can predict / and control, someone just a little / worse off in their head”. In the extravagant, funny “The Laundromat: (p. 39) (first published in PSR), the poet’s dreamy fantasy takes her from the everyday moment to “Mozambique or China” in pursuit of a pretty woman, though soon she is struck “with all these peasants / who want you to feed them”.

Several poems in Some Help from the Dead remember Acker’s lost father, and the third section (“Insomnia”) takes a somber turn, remembering her losses and searching for a way forward. The apparent autobiography of these poems is moving, even when roiled by an occasional mixed metaphor like the one in the last line here:

I had just been abandoned by the woman I loved.

She’d left me for someone so utterly unremarkable, it

was as

Though she’d said,

Anyone would be better than you.

Punch in the gut that echoed for decades. (p. 71)

The confessional passages of the book are complemented well by experiments with form: too fine ghazals bend the form but respect its associative links among stanzas and avoidance of linear narrative. A series of ekphrastic poems respond inventively to surreal, black and white artwork by Remedios Varo, often invoking feminist themes:

This is woman working alone

On a craft of her own design[. sic!]

Men never interested her.

But birds? Ah, birds were quite another matter.(p.115)

In the final section, “Respite”, animals often turn up as figures that offer consolation and connection to the larger world, as they do in the dreamy “Menagerie” (p. 120), which begins “One morning you awaken too early and the animals are there sleeping peacefully / all around you” and ends with a lovely, tender moment of reconciliation (even if imaginary): “Suddenly there is a giraffe weeping like a flower in the moon. / You gather the giraffe like a bouquet of your own neglect. And you rock it. / You rock it.” Another fine poem that works toward hard-won accommodation with loss and the grief is the haunting “Dark Birds of the Body” (p. 128). The birds, dark or not, offer at least a partial solace: “Each sang me her song of grief / and I fell in love all over / Just letting the world be”.

—Poetry Salzburg Review

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