I think of Container Gardening as a collection of poems about about what is perishable, what endures, and what makes us who we are. After my first book, Afterwords, which dealt very specifically with loss, these speak of how we pick up the pieces and go on to create the private and public worlds we inhabit.

"This book would not make a loud sound even if you dropped it on the kitchen floor. No matter the emotions, their range is even and measured. These are not the poems of wildwoods or abandoned gardens, but the sort grown on urban balconies and in small kitchens.

For years the birdcage
rested on my kitchen counter,
philodendron threading through the bars.

A great range of subjects come to the poet's hand—war, culture, history, family, children, death, the agony of things left by loved ones.

I am heir of
books and vases,
the samovar brought
by my great-grandmother
who died as I was being born…

These poems look back and forward; but not too high or low. Even the punctuation is not pervasive or insistent, but occasional. We find no rage or guffaws, sobs or swoons. Yet all have grown under the tender, mostly watchful poet's eye. Some grew when she was not paying attention, others, as in "The Boat from Irian Jaya," which tells the story that did happen when the boat never came, and he flew away.

Ellen Steinbaum's previous book, Afterwords, was written as a consequence of her husband's death. Because second books often do not have the emotional need of the first book, they can be much more difficult. To be successful, they must show the sure hand of a true poet. That we have here.

Lemmings, we run
to what destroys us,
condemned to give our hearts
to what is mortal.

Anyone who has produced two good books should continue. We can't wait for more."

— George Magoon

"Beneath the impeccably controlled surfaces of these poems lies the hidden knowledge of dangers past and to come.  Container Gardening gives us illuminating glimpses of a life bravely lived.  It is a deeply felt and moving book."
— Linda Pastan

"Ellen Steinbaum is a poet of muted grief and quiet acceptance. And hope. In Container Gardening the losses we suffer—private, public, political, natural—are universal. But she knows, with wry certainty, that “what is broken can / (never) / be repaired / the pieces can / (not) / be put back.” Definitely one or the other. Steinbaum’s sigh of resignation and breath of hope are both genuine. The contained garden of her poems becomes a conscious strategy to deal with all those—all our—losses. I was moved by Ellen Steinbaum’s first book and eager for a second. I haven’t been disappointed."
— Lloyd Schwartz
 

"CONTAINER GARDENING - Poems by Ellen Steinbaum. Cincinnati, Ohio; Custom Words, 2008. Ellen Steinbaum writes a column for The Boston Globe and is also a widely published poet. Container Gardening is her second book of poems, and while her first book Afterwords [Portland, Oregon. Blue Unicorn Press, 2001] focused mostly on the sense and aftereffects of loss and were accomplished in a lyrical, elegiac voice that refused to minimize the poignancy and awareness of the suffering and death of a loved one, this later collection displays a kind of recovery, an acceptance that becomes a means of ‘going on’ with the business of living. Linda Pastan calls it “a deeply felt and moving book” and it certainly is that. But it's also much more. Steinbaum brings to her work an exacting craftsmanship that reveals her admirable control over her material and subjects. She is a fine poet and her poems are lasting and should be read by all those interested in contemporary poetry and hungry for meaningful writing."
— Ottone Riccio

"Ellen Steinbaum’s poetry collection “Container Gardening” infuses meaning into all the things we carry in this life. It is a long and lyrical grocery list that evokes a late, beloved aunt, the seminal years of the poet’s mother, and the way time creeps up on a person with a flick of an eye. In her poem “Time Travel” Steinbaum weeds through the trappings of the Philadelphia apartment of a recently deceased aunt, and in turn weeds through her own history:

'I am leaving Philadelphia behind:
an apartment closed, silent,
empty, some furniture
given to Goodwill: the last
chairs from the last apartment
of the last of my three aunts.
I am the owner now
Of paintings I know by heart,
china from family dinners in old photographs.
Scarves that fill my drawers
once dressed my dolls.'

And in the poem “Order” Steinbaum compares the painstaking order of her current life—to the wild and joyous disorder of a life with a husband and kids in close proximity:
'I always know where
the tape measure is now,
a pen, a safety pin, my keys.
Not like the years when
shoes tumbled uncoupled
on the floor and every closet
could spill secrets.

Now each day is folded,
neatly stacked in silent drawers
and nothing moves an inch
to left or right.
in an instant I can find
the tape measure.'

Ellen Steinbaum writes a popular column about writers and the writing life in The Boston Globe. In this book she is the subject, and her life yields rich rewards."

— Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update

 

Container Gardening

Distant Relation

Fortune

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©2004 Ellen Steinbaum

My photo on the home page is by Peter Urban.
The cover of my book, Afterwords, was designed by Kate Misail.
The Painting on the cover of Afterwords is by Eric Sealine.
The painting on the cover of Container Gardening is by Faith Hochberg.

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