Publisher: Lummox Press (January 16, 2011)
Reviewed by Millicent Borges Accardi
Loss, isolation, and redemption through nature and spirituality. These are important themes in Linda Benninghoff’s lovely full-length poetry collection from Lummox Press. Whose Cries are not Music is a journey, a redemption, a direction, a solo, an orchestra. It is immortality, love and silence. It is the human world played against the background of the spiritual world with nature as its tour guide.
The visual theme of the brilliant cover, along with each section introduced by a graphic black and white outline of birds flying in a dark V formation. An outline of migration, flight. Sets the tone for the sections of the collection: Do the Dead?, The Street Where I was a Child, For Mary, St Paul Street and After Death all of which lead us internally and also through the eye of the needle that is too small for navigation into the world of the book.
We are not sure at first. There are poems about care-giving, there are glimpses into a period of solitude and caring for an older parent, a friend perhaps.
The V formation of birds flying indicates that they are migrating in the early to late fall from cooler climates to where there is warmth in the winter. A similar care with this poetry. It moves between seasons, each section contained within its own society.
The benefits of the formation include sight, in that every bird keeps track of every other bird in the group. Communication during flight is also made easier due to the V shape and injured birds can easily fall out of formation, with other birds offering protection. Military planes use this formation for the same reasons. Community, safety, vision.
These poems question mortality, spirituality and faith. They are filled with glimpses of how humans (like birds) watch over each other in life and death, in “Do the Dead?” the narrator asks, “Do the dead stop and rest” then,
a voice spoke to me
loud and soft
with a sound
like a fly beating its wings
Recurring themes include hands, birds, silent pots, mother, snow, fruit. Over and over the reader is returned to significant objects with power: As in “Snowy Winter” Benninghoff remembers “The praying silence/of the pots in the kitchen,” and a friend, after stopping for mango juice remarks, “don’t worry about the future/I will always take care of you”
Both the narrator and the friend bond like birds no longer in flight, no longer migrating.
Music and nature are infused in Benninghoff’s work so much that it reminds one of the association between life and harmony and the after-life.
In an article about near death experience, Kevin Williams asserts, “The universe was created using the tools of music, harmony, and balance. . .Near-death accounts provide many interesting descriptions of the music that is often heard in the spirit realms.”
And the spiritual realm is where these poems take place. The music is within the words.
The lead poems set the pace.
Like the birds in formation, this collection travels through its journey comforted, guided and in community to reach its destination, trusting the journey. Not the destination.
Linda Benninghoff is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, "The Street Where I Was a Child," "Departures" and "The Spaces Between Things." Her work won the Poetry Super Highway annual contest and has been shortlisted for the Cinnamon Press Poetry Book Prize.