Review by Marie A Bailey
Cemetery Music by Birdy Odell has sad notes dealing as it does with death, loss, and grief, but Odell’s artwork—including whimsical little birds with silly hats and
balloons—lifts the music of her chosen words, encouraging this reader at least to
sometimes find delight, perhaps even joy, in this chapbook. Odell’s renderings of softly drawn birds and flora are paired with found words pasted to the drawings as like a scrapbook, a meditation on sad but inevitable events, the fact that you cannot have Life without Death.
Death stormed into my life when I was rather young, with the loss of a three-year-old cousin, and has continued to wreak havoc ever since, increasing his presence exponentially as I entered my sixties, forcing me to accept.
Odell gives voice to my uneasy reconciliation with Death: “she believed in what remained.” Five simple words that can have different meanings depending on its context. In Cemetery Music, the meaning of “she believed in what remained,” is soothing, reassuring, a notation that much remains after Death has visited, much remains to believe in, to embrace.
Death or its aftermath may be “a still moment [which] showed neither peace nor sorrow,” but Odell encourages us to “be happy with familiar objects” such as “small, bright beads” and “wooded hills” and “wallflowers.” The found words snips of single words, couplings or phrases—are placed on the pages like a breadcrumb trail, navigating the reader “near the graves” where “nothing was left but little stolen hearts.”
Anyone who has spent time in a cemetery, particularly ones where the dead have lain for centuries, will read Odell’s poems as those epitaphs etched into granite, sandstone, or marble, some so worn by time and weather that words seem “rubbed with the balm of love.”
As I approach the prospect of more deaths in my life, more times of mourning and grief, I’ll want to have Birdy Odell’s Cemetery Music by my side. While her poems speak of loss and the pain of being left behind, she reminds us that “life was [and is] still beautiful and breathing.”