The Blue Nib

The Still Room

When I read poetry, which is often these days, I search for that which weds my thoughts and that which reconciles me to my fundamental incompleteness. The Still Room does both. As I was reading this collection of Shirley’s experiences I had a phrase rumbling through my heart that Virgina Woolf offered us: words belong to each other. These do. She skillfully weaves and sings the essence of purposeful observation and she quietly consents. If poetry is written to awaken me from my sleep and to calm the clamor of my most conflicted and sacred moments then the The Still Room is written for me. And all the best writing feels this way and reminds me that purpose is not something you are born with or that someone assigns you; you must find it and hold it and cultivate it and and protect it even through the ridiculous, the corrosive, and fateful. The Still Room is a sweeping reminder that a single interpretation of oneself is an illusion and that our stories mark points of departure not perpetual fixed points of reference. If the task of knowing who you are demands an unmasking and search beyond the perceived separateness of experiences then visit the stories in The Still Room. And then visit them again. See you there.

Melissa Mullvihill

5.75

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The Still Room.

Shirley Bell.

New and selected poems chosen by Dave Kavanagh.

Shirley’s talent is in her ability to condense a story and turn it into a technically superb poem that resonates with readers on several levels. In her writing she examines life and the struggles she has encountered in such a way as to allow the reader to immerse themselves, to feel the joy and the pain. She is often humourous, sometime self depracating but always worthy.

2 reviews for The Still Room

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    melissamulvihill1967

    When I read poetry, which is often these days, I search for that which weds my thoughts and that which reconciles me to my fundamental incompleteness. The Still Room does both. As I was reading this collection of Shirley’s experiences I had a phrase rumbling through my heart that Virgina Woolf offered us: words belong to each other. These do. She skillfully weaves and sings the essence of purposeful observation and she quietly consents. If poetry is written to awaken me from my sleep and to calm the clamor of my most conflicted and sacred moments then the The Still Room is written for me. And all the best writing feels this way and reminds me that purpose is not something you are born with or that someone assigns you; you must find it and hold it and cultivate it and and protect it even through the ridiculous, the corrosive, and fateful. The Still Room is a sweeping reminder that a single interpretation of oneself is an illusion and that our stories mark points of departure not perpetual fixed points of reference. If the task of knowing who you are demands an unmasking and search beyond the perceived separateness of experiences then visit the stories in The Still Room. And then visit them again. See you there.

  2. Rated 5 out of 5

    Michael A. Griffith

    Poet Shirley Bell, along with editor Dave Kavanagh, have crafted a totally satisfying book in The Still Room.

    In his induction, Dave writes that the poems of Shirley Bell “demand re-reading” due to the subtle layering of ideas and truths she works into them. I agree, and this is one aspect that makes The Still Room so very satisfying. If something is worth only experiencing once, how good can that experience be?

    \The Still Room is composed of two sections, first new poems from 2016 to 2018 and then a selection of 22 poems from 1982 to 2016. A total of 36 years spans these poems, and, to my eyes, there are no “ah-ha” moments where a reader can detect an artistic growth spurt on Shirley’s part. Her talents are on impressive display in each piece published in The Still Room. The reader will detect changes in theme here and there which adds to the satisfying nature of this book.
    The section of newer poems features pieces about Shirley’s visits to the nursing home where her mother lived and eventually died as well as explorations on the loss of memory and the way love changes as we age. To say that my heart was touched as I read and later re-read this part of The Still Room is an understatement. Without getting gushy, I’ll just offer the next-to-last stanza from Bell’s incredible poem “SOME PICTURES” to tug at your emotions.

    CAKES
    In her sheltered accommodation
    we watch The Cake Boss together on TV.
    And oh! The cakes are beautiful.
    They are all she can remember, now.
    Lovely cakes like trees,
    like castles, like handbags.
    Her life has been eaten up.

    We get memories of a young girl at her nan’s side in subsidized housing, of a young woman experiencing love or something close to it by the water, and of a young mother coping with a stillbirth. Bell also shares reflections of a more mature woman dealing with the quiet yet dominating presence of age’s affliction on a woman and those she loves.

    It’s always tricky separating the speaker, the “me/I” of a poem, from that poem’s writer. Many times while reading The Still Room I had to lower the book and blink, just take a break and hope that some distance existed between Shirley and the persona presented in her poetry. Then again, could her poetry be so very rich if much distance existed at all?

    The Still Room demands re-reading. It demands your attention. But it never shouts. Nor should a poet feel she needs to shout to her audience. I’m sure as a person Shirley can shout as harshly as any of us can. As a poet she speaks sweeter than most others can.

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