The Undertow

The Undertow

"Clean-cut, fluent, witty, direct, full of personality and surprise. Susan Snively can also be deeply meditative, grave and affecting, uproarious. In all of her work, which varies expertly in form as well as mood, her words have a delectable texture." —Richard Wilbur


"Reading Susan Snively's poems is like sitting next to a great talker at a dinner party. Full of stories, jokes, digressions, and wicked little asides, they seduce and entertain. But beneath the protective coloration of their wry and witty surfaces, something else is happening. The poems' real work is to strip away whatever obscures the heart's true story, and to look long and hard at the history of damages done over the years. In The Undertow, grief and joy dance together, inseparable. It's a spectacle both hilarious and wrenching." —Chase Twichell


"Clarity of line, emotional honesty, irreverent wit: these are qualities Susan Snively's readers have learned to expect from her. But like the dangerous current invoked in her title, there's nothing expected about The Undertow. There's a big-hearted new confidence here, as unafraid of laughter as of tears. ...A major achievement, a half-century of intelligent living given unencumbered voice." —Christopher Benfey


Wit and sorrow run throughout the poems of Susan Snively's third collection.  The undertow in these poems is the current of memory, sometimes dangerous, surprising, or passionate.

"The Speed of the Drift," a 19-poem sequence, is populated by lost friends and lovers, casualties of history, figures from art and myth, stories of illness and death, all animated by speech. In poems about divorce, family, or travel, Snively is "a woman holding a balance" between "the little I ask for" and "the little I get," sorting "the indifference and the rage from the secret joy."  Humor, sometimes directed at herself, is a source of joy in "Too Late," where Snively sorts through childhood ambitions--ballet dancer, famous actress, nuclear physicist, singer--to arrive at what she is, "a decent cook,/ a glutton jeweled with the glaze of manners,/ eager to please while pleasuring her mouth."

Language and speech become the greatest source of wisdom, affection, and pleasure:

To love a word,
"wine," for example, is to love the thing
itself, as well as the occasion--
voluptuous evening hour, sybarite friends--
that stirs it into shimmer, so that reflection
tastes the same as a life without regret.

In the final sequence, "The Undertow," Snively writes of the deaths of her parents, retrieving her connection with her southern upbringing in "the ancient hillbilly lament, whauunh, part curse, / part yodel, that comes out of me / past years of booklarnin'."


Cover illustration:  The Ocean, by Barry Moser (watercolor, 1988).


Selections from The Undertow



Skeptic TravelerVoices in the HouseFrom This DistanceThe Heart Has Many Doors