Memories and Much More: Andrea MacPherson’s Ellipses

Andrea MacPherson divides Ellipses, her collection of free verse and prose poems, into four sections. The first two are dedicated to her grandmothers. The poems are reinventions of these women, rather than actual recollections. However, the reader gains clear profiles: the maternal grandmother who practiced elocution as a young adult, spoke with a brogue and read tea leaves, and the paternal grandmother who, nearly orphaned, dwelled in a tuberculosis sanatorium and survived to raise three sons.

In “Saskatoon Sanatorium, 1940,” the poet relates the following in prose form:

…and / listening to the girl next to her talking about a fiancé,
babies, the / future. All she can see is the ebb of the lake, the
way the lights turn / on in the house across the bay. The
familiarity of a home, the word so / thick. The san, the san, the
san. She knows the girl will not make it, / knows many of them
will never leave the sanatorium. This lake view / will be the end.

We listen and look with Grandmother Gertrude and feel we are standing beside her.

In the “Shadowlands” section, the poet broadens her subject matter to include depictions of various women who lived on the edges of society: compromised dancing girls in Toulouse-Lautrec canvases, prostitutes who posed for Bellocq photographs, mothers who abandoned their babies. In “Without Windows,” MacPherson addresses B. N. Follett, a novelist prodigy, who left her home with thirty dollars and was never seen again. Poignant, also, is the poem, “How Would You Know it was Love?” on Sylvia Plath, who “…left pitchers of milk / and… / would have known they’d wake hungry / and without her.”

“Directions for Sleep” closes this collection. The poet makes suggestions to insomniacs: “Develop a nightly ritual,” “Concentrate on your breathing,” and “Place a glass of water on your nightstand.” She also warns, “Do not think of sharks,” “You should not remember the small room in your grandmother’s basement” and “You must not remember the boy who played the violin in a candlelit alley in Rome…”

MacPherson transports us, in this poem, from the near to the far and puts us into a kind of dream-state. She writes: “…opening your eyes in the grainy blue / to see a dead fish below you— / red and yellow, too calm, too still— / when you had been hoping for rough coral, / perhaps a lost bracelet winking in the sand.”

At the end, we feel as though we have partaken in a nightmare.

In many of her poems, MacPherson conveys images and ideas, but leaves something unsaid, something important that lies behind the poem. Her ability to suggest, but not define, activates the reader’s imagination. Gradually, a deeper meaning emerges than what we might have originally gleaned. Discovering this trait, we recognize the poet’s skill and see the aptness of the title of her collection.

There is a lot to look forward to from this young stylist, though one hopes that she and her publishers will edit more meticulously in future volumes. Repeated instances of misspellings and careless punctuation are rather disconcerting.


Carole Mertz studied music and fine arts in Salzburg, Austria, and graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio. Her poetry is published in The Write Place at the Write Time, Page & Spine, and Rockford Review. She reviews for various literary periodicals.



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