Bernice Rendrick

Our Review of Trainsong

Trainsong, the first chapbook by Bernice Rendrick, is a chapbook to read and savor, for it brings alive a child-eyed view of life in rural Kansas in the 1930's.

In marvelous tactile poems, poet Bernice Rendrick gives us vignettes of how hard our forebears had to work and the burdens (both emotional and physical) they shouldered so that we might be here.

The opening poem "Trunk in the Attic" [p. 7] is a perfect introduction to this chapbook: both poem and chapbook offer a collection of pivotal and important memories, made real by sensory data. In "Freight Train" [p. 9] a huge train "rumbles / through my ribs". Nervous of her father's anger in "Falling Star" [p. 11] the child " crossed thresholds / stiff-shouldered as if / they were mined with explosives". In "Grandmother's Onion Sandwiches" [p. 14] her grandma teaches her to smell "the season's first green onions" and "what spring was, / the sweet rising of roots / and decaying leaves, the mud puddles".

Through out we feel how care and nurturing from the women hold together the community and the raising the children while the men folk leave as tramps of freight trains or, as in "The Five Brothers at the Family Dinner", "are torn; here, yet moving into harsh lives, / on their backs under tractors and trucks / or bailing hay".

And the poem ends with the poet's mother moving to California with her young daughters, where the poet learned to run:

     over the burning sand into the surf,
     allowing it to pull me into
     the dark tunnel, learned to struggle     
     and rise from the undertow.

Rendrick comments:

I offer these nineteen poems as a way of telling about my early years in Kansas and some of the elements that shaped me. There was an openness to the landscape, long periods of silence, and a world with little of the influences that we have now. The clouds and the wheat fields, with their hypnotic movement, became my link to the imagination. Writing poetry helps me recall those years and make the choices in my life that are available now. The train passing through Mound Valley, the small farming town where my parents were born, were an important connection to distant places, which as children we understood extended far beyond our home.

In the Celebration of the Muse reading, Rendrick read two poems, opening with "Freight Train" [p. 9].

Data, compared with average for four Permafrost Chapbook Contest Winner. Notice how little overlap there is between where poems were first published.

Chapbook title: Trainsong Permafrost Chapbook: The Nightmare Parable and three others.
Median pages of poems: 29 25 (20-27)
Median number of poems: 19 19 (17-20)
Book title: Not a poem title A poem title for all but one book.
Themes: A child's perception of adults in a 1930s childhood The other chapbooks were on less concrete topics: wisdom; inspiration; transcendence; life; death; loss.
Vocabulary and tropes: Direct. Mostly direct. Only one of the four has many metaphors, similes, and obscurities, and 2 pages of notes.
Tone: Natural. Natural except for one of the four that is jittery and jumpy.
Forms: Free verse. Mostly Free verse.

About Bernice Rendrick

Bernice Rendrick lives near Scotts Valley, California.

She received the 2009 In Celebration of the Muse Chapbook Award, which includes publication of her chapbook Trainsong through Poetry Santa Cruz.

Her poems have appeared in various poetry journals and anthologies.

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