Blood Lines by Ann Bookman 2022

In her first book-length collection of poems, Ann Bookman has brought forth a beautiful gift for readers and poetry lovers.

Bookman, a PhD, professor at UMass, and a nationally recognized leader in achieving equality and access for women in the workplace, the publication of ‘Blood Line’s is a major milestone in her parallel and later in life career as a writer.

My admiration for this book begins with the title, a clever and touching wordplay on both elements. ‘Blood’ refers to ancestry as well as the presence in our marrow of cells with an aberrant gene BRCA 1 that places the individual at high risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.  ‘Lines’ refers to both Bookman’s expression of her observations and feelings in poetry as well as once again to both ancestry and in a more esoteric manner, the marks on the karyotyping test that reveal genes and chromosomes.

The book works because it moves back and forth from her grief over the loss of her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother at young ages due to the impact of this dominantly inherited gene and her own anxiety and fear about both harboring that gene and passing it on to her daughter.  What could have been a maudlin and depressing set of poems is avoided by her obvious delight in the natural world and the joy that can be found in that transient beauty.  The tension between these two poles of grief and joy is relieved at intervals in the book by the inclusion of photographs of her maternal lineage, from great grandmother Rivka in the 1890’s through daughter Emily in 2020.  In addition to passing on the BRCA 1 gene with all of its horrors, the strong, lovely facial features of the Bookman family were clearly passed on as well.

There are so many quotable lines and entire poems that it was difficult to choose which ones to quote, but here are two examples:

From ‘Learning to Float’ in which Bookman describes how her mother taught her to float in the ocean, the final stanza resonates:

“That day I felt the tips of her fingers/touch the edges of my rib cage./ That day I lay effortlessly atop/the gentle waves of Amagansett Bay,/caught off guard/by my own power./  I missed the final moment of release.” 

And here’s ‘Restoration’ in its entirety:  “Yahrzheit visit to the field, afraid to look for ashes./ This was the place we chose: comforting arms/of old stone walls, knee-high grasses, open sky./The field sloped down to a massive rock slab,/upended in the stone age./  I remember the first year, my father did the deed./He stood in shaded cool of leafy branches,/dappled light his arm a sweeping arc,/sowing the seeds of a lifetime./ A year has passed, in a trundle of rotting leaves/a single day lily grows—deep orange petals,/ butter-yellow center jet-black stamens—-/sways on a slender stalk./ A restoration of color: she has joined the cycle of seasons.” 

This is a lovely book.  We can only hope that Ann Bookman will share more with us.