Winter Windows by Shana Youngdahl

– Reviewed by Caroline M Davies 

Shana Youngdahl’s Winter Windows  is a twenty-one page pamphlet containing two linked poems: ‘Winter’ and ‘Windows’. In these poems, Youngdahl uses delicate, precise language to explore the fears and dilemmas of becoming and being a parent.

She opens with an apocalyptic vision of what is happening to bats across America:

The bats are dying.
White fungus

blooms on noses, spreads
in spots to wings and wakens

them early from sleep…

The poem continues with other signs of disorder and of climate change:

Now students build a slumping snowman
in their mud-season boots, pretending
it’s late March and expected. ..

All the while, the baby is growing in utero, with all the concerns that you have as a parent; will the baby be healthy, and what kind of a world is she going to be born into? I found myself revisiting my own experience of being pregnant, anxious but also expectant. Ultimately the message in the first poem, ‘Winter’, is one of hope.

Four rooms I need
to believe in: chambers

that hold the riches of oxygenated blood;

the house I hope remains
when I am gone.

In the second section, ‘Windows’, there are now two daughters growing up and reaching to the world outside through windows which are both barriers and a means of escape.

On the first hot day of the season
we open the windows along
the front of the house. screenless.
My daughter
is lifted through;
she laughs,
clambering between worlds.

The book ends with the familiar tug of parenthood, in which you let go but want them to come back

when you pass through the glass

and into the darkness beyond my sight
don’t forget the thumbprints

you left on me. The path
back in…..

Winter/Windows is published by Miel whose aim is to publish difficult, interesting, intelligent and deeply felt work. This pamphlet definitely fulfils most of these criteria, especially intelligent and deeply-felt, but I found the poems engaging and well-crafted rather than difficult. Youngdahl uses a spare style of writing without a word being wasted, and I found myself returning for another read.

This is Youngdahl’s third chapbook, and follows the publication of her first collection, History, Advice and Other Half Truths.