By: Diana M. Raab
Publisher: Plain View Press
Publication Date: September 2009
Reviewed by: Tracie Rubeck
Review Date: November 30, 2009
It is a genuine pleasure to read one author’s poetry collection simply for the window it provides into a rich and thoughtful life. In this, Diana Raab’s The Guilt Gene does not disappoint. The Guilt Gene is a lovely collection of poems—some self-deprecating, others blunt in their recollection; some rooted in history, others lost in daydreams.
In the opening selection “Cherry Blossoms,” Raab recalls her youth through a vivid array of textured and/or scented objects—Noxema cream, moth bolls, powdered milk, corduroys, incense, etc. These poems capture how youth seek spaces and enact agendas separate from adults and yet, with a hint of irony, remain ever-shaped by adults’ fears and problems. Thus, we learn how Raab was affected by Cold War fears—remembrances of school drills, makeshift bomb shelters, and practiced goodbyes to her favorite doll. Raab also recalls the trappings of ‘60s rebellion and wonders whether or not contemporary technologies—and the omni-surveillance they imply—make similar rebellions impossible. A humorous “Moth Balls” recalls a health-conscious mother who threatened both her daughter’s social life and health by saturating their clothing with the toxic substance. Amidst these more light-hearted remembrances surface memories of neglect and of her parents’ bad marriage. It closes, for example, with “The Library,” a place of refuge and a lesson about youth (its theft, its passing): “Knowledge is the only thing that cannot be stolen away.”
The selection “Book Tour” explores the origins, compulsory nature, and journeys of writing. Raab writes from and through painful memories, whether those of her mother (“Being born and not really wanted leaves a scar on a young soul”) or her grandmother. Particularly striking is the brief but rich “Fortuna,” Raab’s recollection of her grandmother’s typewriter from Nazi Germany, used to process the horrors inflicted upon the Reich’s victims and resting upon the vanity where her grandmother would take her own life. The love her grandmother instilled in Raab for the typewriter—a love imbibed with its tragic history and its use—mirror Raab’s own drive and discovery as a writer herself. Yet, some light-hearted humility surfaces here too. “Book Tour,” for example, chronicles the laborious process of getting published and the pride that grows with each successive step, a pride then deflated upon arriving to a book signing to find only your friends in attendance: “Bless thy friends, I say. Bless thy friends.”
The remaining sections of the book are equally poignant and varied. “Two Evils” offers poems about the author’s coming to terms with breast cancer as well as more whimsical pieces about the brain’s capacity to deceive, the discovery of three perfect watermelons on the beach while walking her dog, and this delightful self-deprecating nugget about people who buy into computer phobias and conspiracies (e.g. Y2K): “I tell them they overact to crazy people’s rantings. Then I turn on my computer to write you a love letter.”
“The Devil Wears a Poem” offers many a poem about the trappings of womanhood and fashion as a palliative for the fears of aging. (And, I ask you, can any woman escape a fear of fatness?) “Yad Vashem” offers various explorations of the active “presence” of history in our lives, whether reckoning with the Holocaust or celebrating the symbolic hope of the U.S.’s first African-American president. The closing selection “California Roll” is an ode to family members—the memory of her ever-optimistic father, her pride as she watches her son at work, her joy (and envy) as she helps her daughter find her first apartment in New York City, and her reminiscences of a beloved family dog. A particular delight is “Grandma Googles,” a recollection of grandma firing up an old laptop: “She cracked a smile and typed http://www.match.com, calling out ‘How do you spell urgent?’”
The almost diary-like nature of Raab’s poetry—its forthrightness and straightforward language—is deceiving. I found many of these poems sitting with me for days—a humorous line would ring true in some mundane interaction or I’d find myself thinking about how various objects and rituals in my own life speak to something deeper about my own loves and experiences.
Quill says: The Guilt Gene is a lovely venture—filled with wit, remembrance and insight.
For more information on The Guilt Gene, please visit the author's website at: DianaRaab.com