Monday, January 15, 2018



A WIFE IS A HOPE CHEST by Christine Brandel
(Brain Mill Press, Green Bay, WI, 2017)

There’s a sense of earned-ness about these poems—it’s palpable. They seem to address matters non-theoretically; they seem to raise matters from the author’s direct experience. I note “seem to” as I don’t know the poet and know nothing about her life. Moreover, a note in her Acknowledgments bows to the possibilities spaced out by imagination (i.e. giving thanks to those who specifically “have always encouraged creativity”). But the sense these poems give—especially, actually, if their narratives are mostly imagined—attest to their power that make the reader wonder how much they arise from the writer’s lived experience. And makes the reader—this reader, anyway—inhabit the poems with ally-like sympathy to the persona/author. Poems like


Every evening
your tea
was made
because she
knew to
take care.

Indeed, there is a persona that surfaces—that of a “wife.” But the marriage (perhaps more than one marriage as the possibility of the plural “wives” also surfaces later in the book) is difficult, as straightly presented by such poems as the title poem “A Wife Is A Hope Chest,” “His Arrows,” and, shown below, “The Money Box.”

It’s with relief on behalf of the persona or author that, toward the end of the book, the reader comes across the persona “turning it around.”

I am reminded again, though, by the book’s last poem, of the writer’s presence. The poem, “It took Eleven Books,” begins with the line

It took eleven books

and ends with the line—a surprise of a line (and more of a surprise were the poem read individually outside of the book, which is praise for the poem’s punch)—

to finally set her free.

I am sincerely pleased that when I read the poet’s biography, I didn’t see any references to having written eleven books or prodigiously, book-wise. I’m sure I’m breaking that all-important first rule of not mistaking the work for autobiography. But I reveal this effect as a testament to the collection’s power in drawing in the reader to inhabit these poems. Concurrently, there are lessons worth learning. Here’s a writer again—persona or not suddenly not the point for what it teaches:

Sympathy came easily, which makes the reader more heartily applaud its Hollywood ending of being “set free.” Recommended.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea ResurrectsShe loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago and MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator. She is the inventor of the poetry form “hay(na)ku” which will be the focus of a 15-year anniversary celebration at the San Francisco Public Library in 2018. Translated into eight languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 13 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays as well as served as editor or guest editor for various literary journals. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at