A review of Fig Tree in Winter by Anne Graue

Reviewed by Brian Burmeister

Fig Tree in Winter
by Anne Graue
Dancing Girl Press
2017, $7, Paperback

Sylvia Plath was among the greatest poets of hers or any other generation. While most known for emotionally haunting pieces such as “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy,” Plath also wrote one novel, The Bell Jar. Using that novel as inspiration and foundation, poet Anne Graue has reshaped Plath’s prose into a powerful new collection of found poetry, Fig Tree in Winter.

Graue’s Fig Tree in Winter remains faithful to Plath’s genius. The expertly-crafted and often unique poems provide incredible images, profound self-exploration, and masterful command of sounds and rhythm.

Within “Mercury,” Graue writes, “The edge of the bed / overturned a star—shards / glittered like celestial dew.” The sounds of the words are sharp but beautiful. The language here and throughout the collection is clear and elegant—a skill we see again in poems like “Stuck in the Frame”: “The face in the mirror looked like a colossal junkyard: / swamps and one broken-down fragment, a hotchpotch.” Plath’s wonderful imagery is left in good hands.

Themes prominent in Plath’s poems resurface in Graue’s tribute. Darkness. Pain. But also, exploration and understanding of the world. “A World Divided”—one of the most reflective poems in the collection—does a great job of exploring sex and society: “The best / men wanted / to teach their wives / about sex. My mother / said this was something / a girl didn’t know / till it was too late.” The insightful speaker hits upon cultural expectations in ways that resonate: “When I was 19 / pureness was / the great issue. // I thought a spectacular / change would come / over me the day / I crossed the boundary / line.”

Fig Tree in Winter also contains inventive use of form and content. Graue’s playfulness can be seen in “Banquet Table,” in which the literal shape of the poem resembles a table and the words themselves are all pushed together, without punctuation or space, emphasizing the content of the poem. Experimentation with form continues in “There I went again,” in which the vast majority of the 21 lines contain but one or two words. “The Summer they Executed the Rosenbergs” is also quite unique–a poem entirely crafted out of words beginning with the letter S.

While familiarity with and reverence for Plath’s work enhances the poems of Fig Tree in Winter, this collection is strong enough to stand on its own. Each poem is accessible and beautiful. The words and ideas are clear. The themes are relatable, and the thoughts which get explored are deep. Graue’s collection truly compliments Plath’s legacy.

Brian Burmeister teaches communication at Iowa State University. He is a regular contributor at Cleaver Magazine, and his writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He can be followed on Twitter: @bdburmeister.