By Ellen Bass, reviewed by Stephanie Burt.

Often direct and joyful, this fourth collection from Bass dwells on pleasures ephemeral and enduring, from sex between women to shared cooking chores to walking the dog and “Getting Into Bed on a December Night.” The poet’s severely disabled father, her hardworking mother, her now ex-husband, and her grown child all feature in a volume of retrospective clarity, laid out in bittersweet scenes and, sometimes, elegies. Bass congruently works to savor the present, to make her carpe diem credible, “wresting beauty from fear.” “Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?” she asks, “why is there such keen pleasure in remembering?” or in “being a child, opening my mouth to the rain”? Her free verse might remind some readers of Mary Oliver or Gerald Stern, but the voice in her new work has everything to do with the deep and bittersweet dilemmas that link her to so many others, older women in particular. This is, surely, a book about advancing age— the title poem and others consider end-of-life matters, assisted suicide, and other dilemmas of caregiving. Bass’s most individual moments, and her strangest, remain her most affirmative, as when she celebrates her lover’s ability to regain weight after illness, striving successfully to “praise the loyalty of the body / that labors to rebuild its palatial realm.”


This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2020. Buy Indigo (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) on or the Copper Canyon Website

Indigo (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
Author: Ellen Bass
ISBN: 1556595752