Book Review: Candescent, by Linda Parsons
Review by Robert M. West
Iris Press, 2019


The Oxford English Dictionary explains that candescent derives from a Latin verb meaning to “become white” or “begin to glow.” The word makes a perfect title for Linda Parsons’ fifth book of poetry: now in her mid-sixties, Parsons may be white-haired, but she is also candescent in the second sense—both in the book’s author photo by Kelly Norrell and in the poems themselves. These are to some degree poems of grief and the beginning of late life, but more importantly they are poems of resilience. Deborah Hardison’s vibrant cover art underscores the book’s inner radiance.

In part, Candescent reflects Parsons’ attempts to find her bearings after the end of her second marriage. The first poem, “Smudge,” opens by invoking her husband’s “sudden going” after their twenty-four years together; it ends with her discovery of a crow’s feather on what had been their windowsill, leading her to imagine her former partner as the bird’s “remains / flapping off, mateless.” In “I Used to Be a Swan,” she recalls “feathered days in secret coves / when silks of ivory, wings of down / eddied through his hands,” and laments the passing of that happiness once “weathers / turned from spring to dire and stormed / away desire.” In “Fallen Idols,” imagining their marriage as a road trip in the Blue Ridge, she asks, “Who knew we were flying in the shadow, curves / ripped with abandon, this Via Dolorosa[?]” This is no book of score-settling, though, but rather a book of grace achieved. In “Traveling Through” she says, “The gazebo you trucked in for my fiftieth / is just as violet in the gloaming” as it ever was, “the porch just as pleasant”: “Most of our years,” she can say, “were an anchor against / the hard past.”

Parsons also grapples here with her father’s experience of dementia. In “My Father Asks If We’re Dead” she captures the anguish of visiting him in a nursing home: “His loneliness waits” in what amounts to a kind of train or bus station, and as Parsons says, she and her sister can “steady his steps / but cannot join him in the departure line, / ours the rush of faces to elsewhere as he calls / Hello, hello, is there anyone left?” In “Kinpeople” she recalls having to assert their connection through “his fog of confusion”: “Are you my kinpeople? Yes, I am, I say. I’m your kinpeople.” In “At My Father’s Hospital Bedside” she imagines him as an unbroken horse: “I press my head / to his chest to talk the terror out,” “say no harm will come / in this iron twilight.”

In the book’s last poem, “With Me,” she registers her father’s last “descent to the field // sunken with the sum of his travels,” a foreshadowing of her own eventual “hard surrender”—but that’s a surrender in which “the last ecstasy [has] passed / into blessing.” This is no self-pitying record of defeat, but a book of rebirth and restoration, a fact suggested by several poems’ titles: “O Forgiveness,” “Therapy Dog,” “The Art of Meditation,” “Battered Victory,” “Stand Up,” “As I Meditate,” “Learning to Glide,” and “Inner Work.” It is a book of candescent triumph.


ROBERT M. WEST’S poetry reviews have appeared in Appalachian JournalAsheville Poetry ReviewThe Carolina QuarterlyJournal of Appalachian StudiesThe Key Reporter (the Phi Beta Kappa newsletter), Mississippi QuarterlyNorth Carolina Literary ReviewNow & ThenSouthern Cultures, and elsewhere. He is the editor of The Complete Poems of A. R. Ammons (W.W. Norton, 2017). Connect with him at @robertwest7 or by email at robert.west@msstate.edu.