By: Rachel Brown
May in Minnesota, where Gretchen Marquette hails from, is a time of dramatic rebirth when tree leaves and flower blossoms are just beginning to bud and burst. May is new, bleeding, and raw, like a newborn child; it is beautiful but shrieking at the top of its lungs. Coming from Minnesota myself, I understand this rebirth of spring to the core. There’s nothing else like watching life breathe back into the land and, perhaps, back into our own lives.
Gretchen Marquette’s May Day makes its own beautiful but somber sounds using her creative styles of free verse that rarely follow a specific pattern or rhyme scheme from line to line. However, despite hardly ever containing rhymes, her poems are not without reason. May Day is a collection of forty-five carefully crafted poems that reminds us that there is loss, loneliness, and grief in life, but there is also love and beauty. There is always hope because spring always comes.
In her poems, Gretchen Marquette often explores fear, especially the fear of losing her brother each time he is deployed to another dangerous somewhere by the Army. She explores his fragility, as well as her own, using the repeating motif of deer in her poetry. Deer are beautiful, graceful, and move as quietly and fluidly as ghosts of the forest. But while they are beautiful, they are terribly fragile. As common as it is to see a wild deer running free, it’s just as likely to see them dead on the highway shoulder. In “Doe,” she talks about a doe “made of bone, the femur warped, broken and healed” (7). During hunting season, you’re also likely to see a hunter’s truck in a field, and their orange vests flashing between the trees. “He’d shot a buck with six points, found it was a doe, a doe with antlers” (7). How easy it is to end a deer’s life, something so strong and graceful and fast.
This book of poems contains a collection of stories that tell tales of the survival of the fragile: Marquette’s survival, her brother’s survival, and surviving through what often feels like the longest winter of your life. Her poetry is feeling winter’s ice freeze your flesh, but then feeling the thaw of May melt it away. What remains is your skin, red and hurting; raw from the thaw, but alive and pumping with blood.
May Day is a vivid exploration of spring and the fragility of life and love through themes of fear, death, loss, survival, and nature. Gretchen Marquette’s poetry is raw and skinned like a gutted deer, but also graceful and intricate like a long-legged doe, leaping through a Minnesotan forest at dusk.