Book Review: Without a Claim

Without a Claim, by Grace Schulman is her seventh published collection of poetry. Schulman holds a PhD from New York University and is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College CUNY. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Columbia, and other universities. Schulman has served as Poetry Editor at the Nation, and director of the Poetry Center. Her work has also appeared in numerous journals. 

Without a Claim is the most traditional collection of poetry I read this month. Not rantings or socio-economic messages, but poetry like you read in English Literature class, almost magical. It takes the reader to a place where he or she can say, “Yes, this is what poetry is!” My first thoughts in reading were “This reminds me of Leaves of Grass.” Not necessarily in topic, but in feeling. It’s when you pick up the book with the idea of reading for half an hour and seemingly minutes later, you realize that four hours have gone by. My feeling of a Whitman influence was well grounded. Early on in the collection is the poem “Variations on a Line by Whitman.” 

“Shadow” is a poem of about Paris singer and her relationship with a black American (soldier) trumpet player. Although not mentioned in the poem, after WWI black soldiers who married French women were given the choice of staying in France or going home…alone. This could very much be that story. There is history in the collection, but it is the background to the poetry rather than the subject. 

“Love in the Afternoon” is a poem that on the surface is about butterflies, but seems to be more about poetry and its grace and subtle movements. Here the beauty of nature manifests itself as poetry. “Green River” takes us to a country cemetery and we meet to those interred. They speak to us through their stones and leave us wanting to ask the dead a question. We know what the answer will be, but we ask anyway. Perhaps the cemetery shows us that in life, as much as in death, that we all want the same thing and no matter who we are, we all connected by something as simple as a gravel path. 

Without a Claim is poetry that is enchanting and you will read it and reread it again. There seems to be something to be gained at each reread. The imagery crystal clear and enticing. This is a work that you will want to keep and read over and over again. Simply an amazing experience.

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