A review of Talking Me Off the Roof by Laurie Kuntz

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Talking Me Off the Roof
By Laurie Kuntz
Kelsay Books
October 22, 2022, paperback, 64 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1639802166

Talking Me Off the Roof is an insightful and elegant collection of forty-four poems which often reflect the rhythms and wonders of modern life. With a poet’s astute awareness, Kuntz carefully relates the telling details and the sensory perceptions which makes each poem ring with a vibrant vitality. Kuntz guilelessly invites her readers into her life with these poems, yet her words also transcend mere biography, woven as they are with universal themes.

Kuntz writes with a directness that is refreshing, although there are some elusive moments within the flowing phrases. Still, these are accessible poems addressing a range of topics that should resonate with readers in the best ways. From possums to pandemics, father and son, herbs, rage, hope, and acceptance, these are poems in the voice of a wise woman who has been paying close attention to the world. Reflecting a general balanced philosophy overall, Kuntz observes in her poem “Anniversary” that “Every act of creation, also an act of destruction, / and memory is history’s great reviser.

A few of the poems in this collection are topical poems, including “To Do: When in Quarantine” with its final line “and certainly fill the vase with something in bloom.”   

Kuntz also reflects on what it must be like to be Darnella Frazier, the young woman who filmed the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. In her poem, “Darnella Frazier,” she wonders: “How does it feel to witness /  a purpose too cruel for all your 17 rotations /

around a sun you only want to bask in?” And, in “Sons Have Sleepovers While Putin Deploys Troops,” a certain bitter irony weaves through the story of rowdy 15-years-old males who “banish mothers to other rooms” and then “slam / down / waging wars / on animated screens.”

Marriage, especially a long one, is a topic of several poems in which the poet captures a kind of soulful, even perhaps bemused, yin and yang, including two about anniversaries. Not to give too much away but in “Of Bread and Birthdays,” the husband forgets the poet’s 55 birthday, but then as he is preparing for a trip home to his dying father, “you baked me two loaves of bread, / one to eat and one to freeze, / your kneading and precise measuring / sustaining sadness and history.”

The poems about the poet’s son are perhaps the most tenderhearted and endearing among the many verses reflecting on domestic life. In one, “Where to Put the Crayons,” readers meet a very young son, who worries about where to store his crayons when “[a]ll this magic” from his drawings have “to be cleaned / up and packed away neatly.” The son, much older it would seem, also appears again in “Father and Son with Shovel” in which two primary males in her life are compared with a loving eye towards the telling details. “It’s the way they hold their shovels / that separates them.”

All in all, these poems are sensitive, moving, perceptive, and carefully crafted gems. Discouragement might lurk in the words, yet the balance is tilting toward hope. As expressed in the poem “A Close and Constant Rage,” the poet notes “my continuous rage colliding / with the natural world, … / surround me with a can-do moment of hope.” This hope, the poet notes, is “like those kind birds with feathers / bursting in day breaking hues, / who still fly in my field of vision / making the general state of the world / appear askewly in focus.”

The title of this remarkable collection comes from the song, “If We Were Vampires,” by Americana singer/songwriter Jason Isbell. Kuntz makes grand use of a chorus line from Isbell’s song in her poem titled “The Way You Talk Me off the Roof.” Addressed to her husband, she writes: “I asked you to learn a love song with a sad chorus.” 

Like the best of poets, Kuntz takes her readers into the little miracles of everyday life and shows us how to find beauty and meaning there. Furthering this theme in the poem “Every Possum in the Neighborhood,” she writes: “So, leave the entryways open, / invite the useful guest in, / for we never know / just what will save us.”

Laurie Kuntz is an award-winning poet and film producer. She taught creative writing and poetry in Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. Many of her poetic themes are a result of her working with Southeast Asian refugees for over a decade after the Vietnam War years. Visit her at: https://lauriekuntz.myportfolio.com/home-1

About the Reviewer: Claire Hamner Matturro has been a journalist, lawyer, organic blueberry farmer, and college instructor. She is the author of eight novels, including a series published by HarperCollins. She’s an associate editor at Southern Literary Review and lives in Florida. Her poetry appears in various publications.