Review: Margolis captures simple moments in poetry

Poetry is often about life, and life is what you make of it. So is poetry, and Gary Margolis’s newest book of poems, “What It Means to Be Happy,” is no exception. 

As the title implies, the featured collection gives readers Margolis’s understanding of what it means to be happy. However, by no means should this indicate that every single poem will bring a smile to your face.

Some might, such as “When the Kreemee Stand Opens,” about that much-anticipated spring day when Vermonters can savor their first cone after a long winter. However, the Cornwall writer, as you’d expect, alluded to the fact that the temperature is likely to match that of the treat.  

Some are sure to make you sad, such as “Children’s Hospital,” from the perspective of a child about to undergo surgery.  

And many of the poems will likely do neither. Instead, they steep your mind in mundane day-to-day occurrences, which Margolis makes out to be the unsung heroes of life through his detailed accounts of these simple moments. 

This range of feelings that the collection has the possibility to evoke is what unites each of the poems, which tackle a wide range of subject matters.

And it is through this range of emotions, from the extremes to everything in between that we humans can experience over the course of one day, that Margolis creates a sort of literary mirror for his readers. 

This is no more evident than in “Mower’s Symphony #8,” in which Margolis provides readers an intricate account of an episode of grass-cutting. He writes:

“You love mowing, 

you said, because it’s monotonous” 

He further expresses the narrator’s joy in the chore through a metaphor comparing the ruckus it creates to a Beethoven symphony. It might make you chuckle, and in the process tug the corners of your lips just a tad higher.  

Even if you don’t have a lawn to mow — I certainly don’t, with my 21 years of wisdom at hand, and I may well never, as Margolis blatantly expresses in a chilling poem titled “Earthlings” that alludes to climate change — my own mundane moments come to mind as I read “Mower’s Symphony”: including soaking up the satisfaction I derive from chopping veggies (even the onions) while cooking dinner; the hiss of my tea kettle once its finished boiling, alerting me that it’s time for a piping hot nighttime cup and a TV show with my wonderful roommates; and listening to music on a Sunday afternoon while I clean up my various messes that have accumulated since the last.

And, the reality is, we all have these mundane moments that curiously bring us peace, maybe even joy, moments that another person mat seek to avoid at all costs.

It’s possible that mowing the lawn is the bane of your existence (putting away groceries is mine). 

Or maybe you look forward to it every week. 

And maybe it’s neither. 


Gary Margolis of Cornwall has published several books of poetry, including “Fire in the Orchard,” which was nominated for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize.

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