Nature, emotions, and life – all define Linda Benninghoff’s poetry, which has the immediacy of observation as well as constant invitation to thought and consideration. Of her latest poetry collection Whose Cries are Not Music (Lummox Press, California, 2011), Jim Knowles writes so aptly in his introduction to the book: “Linda is direct and earnest with her entertainment of the natural world to speak for her life.” This book of poems has more to say than her earlier, shorter works, like Departures wherein she has been more thematic.
Benninghoff’s involvement with nature shows in almost every poem of hers, even if she is showing us a scene from human life in the city. Whether it’s an animal or a tree, a sound or a ray of light, for this poet of nature, it’s a mirror reflecting our lives, making us conscious of it. We see barren and cold grounds in The Poem (p. 66) trodden by deer that are full of life, their energies stirring the inner, dormant music in our spirit. In The Sea (p. 70), nature comes as a living and life-hosting whole. In yet other poems, like The Seal (p. 32) and This Cat (p. 77), we learn valuable lessons in independence and endurance from animals smaller and weaker than us in the physical sense.
Memories are a key component of Benninghoff’s poetry, more so in this book, which is laden with nostalgic scenes relived in the poet’s verse. Memories of friends, family members, natural scenes, and dreams – things that meant in and for life – all render the poet’s scenes of emotional experiences come alive with the sense of a living self, still moving through time consciously, albeit precariously. Some of the memories are depressing, of dying and/or dead friends and family members. But the special quality of memory is that each one is distinct – having an identity of its own within the mind bearing it.
The eponymous poem Whose Cries are Not Music (p. 51) is one the most painful poems in this collection. Pain born with life has been depicted in a gloomy mood by the poet, conveyed in the cries of geese that have traveled miles and can make only one sound, like “a child who has no words and will cry without stopping”. Constant motion through life and nonstop change make life less certain, but, paradoxically, give it the meaning it has.
The final section of the book, called “After Death”, combines nature, life, and dreams poetically in a rather metaphysical mood. It is here that the staring look of a deer gives us a glimpse of life’s frailty. The poem Dance (p. 99) literally equates death with the attempt to reach a dream that is no longer here (on earth). The last poem In Dying (p. 100) goes on to ask, “Don’t we reveal in dying who we are?”, including the remarkable analogy of husk coming from seed.
Throughout her poetry, Linda Benninghoff maintains the sense of life and our neglected treasure of consciousness of nature. Her imagist portrayal of life’s wild and tame aspects neatly assimilate the spirit of romanticism without losing the stark realism of the modern times that presses itself poignantly on the minds of writers who value life and stand for peace. Whose Cries are Not Music is the book for lovers of poetry of, and for, life.