My personal lawyer is also a writer of crime thrillers. I can deal with that, most people need a day job, and he finds his material in his cases. Now here comes Paula Bonnell, a practicing lawyer who writes poetry. So where to start? I tried reading these poems as if I did not know that they were written by someone with “esquire” after their name. Then I remembered that Wallace Stevens was also a lawyer, albeit a corporate one.
Ms. Bonnell’s book of poems, “Airs & Voices” was the winner of the 2006 John Ciardi Prize for poetry. Juror Mark Jarman writes in the forward that Paula Bronnell’s voice “is fresh and original. Though the poet never labors to be significant, even the slightest poem lingers in memory.” And Maxine Kumin adds: “Bonnell’s voice is low key but full of quirky insights.”
The more I read these poems, the less I knew about Ms. Bronnell, or perhaps the more. Was I struggling too hard to find the lawyer behind each one. Is there a virtue in separating ones work from ones art—or is it a sin? And so I came to the poem “Evidence.” Now here comes a good bit of disclosure, I thought, but alas it was only about a curious woodpecker. I personally was taken by the strangeness of the imagery in this and other poems.
The book is filled with many “quirky insights” mixed with questions to ponder, such as these words from “The Faraway Nearby”:
I could live in the next life
If only I could get to it.
To quote Paula Bonnell from an interview she gave to Heather Clark: “We live in the present—or do we? How much space does ‘the present’ occupy between ‘then’ and ‘when’”? Reading Ms. Bonnell’s book may put us closer to finding out.
AIRS & VOICES
ISBN 978-1-886157-62-0-0, 74 pages, trade paperback, $13.95
BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City