Even Before My Own Name by Tracy Koretsky
Reviewed By Seth Jani


Tracy Koretsky’s Even Before My Own Name does three things very well. 
1. It manages to supply a haphazard narrative plumbing her turbulent emotional and familial past. 
2. It manages to give full range to the many feelings and modes of experience that actually accompanies such a past. Not just settling for dark or detached, but alternately being humorous, grieved, distant, immediate, impassioned, indifferent, at peace, at war.
3. It reads as genuinely cathartic for the author and in turn has great potential to be so for any reader venturing its difficult and moving pages.

The book is split into five sections. A few key themes tie them all into one extremely coherent creation, and each poem seems somehow related to the others, even if only by echoes.
Throughout the book Koretsky harvests her childhood in heartfelt lines that deal with everything from a mother’s early death, to a neglectful father, to a violent sibling, even to a young child’s premature departure from the world.

But what makes this book different, and probably better, than most books comprised of mostly confessional elements is that it is a work of a grown, mature individual looking back on these troubled events with a more sober, triumphant eye. A book not only of remembrance, but of survival, as well a hard-won joy.  And it is this joy that lends the defining energy to many of these great poems. A joy that was a struggle to achieve, and that is as natural and rooted as the strongest trees in the forest. 

In fact the book opens not with the litany of traumatic events that gives the collection so much of its fascinating content, but a short, simple prescription on how to heal and integrate a wounded history.

“Treat trouble like 
a smooth gray stone
Turn it over in your hand
Then cast it far out into the waters.
Watch it echo…then forget.”

(from The Wisdom of Stones)

In other words: Take a lifetime of conflict, concentrate it into something solid, natural, native to the earth. Treat it gently. Toss it into the soothing waters of forgetfulness.
These are poems of serious healing, the kind that could only be written in the wake of tragedy.

The book then is also a record of arriving at middle age (whether physically, mentally or spiritually). The first half of life with its raging and attachments is over. The beloved characters are going off stage one by one. In “fade to white” the loss is beautiful and heart-rending “I am told my friend’s son watched his best friend die. I have known so many people who have died, but I have only watched death, the actual surrender, on film.” She goes on to wonder about the more intimate details of dying…the interior aspects of the death process we must all one day undergo.

Carl Jung believed that if the first half of life was about learning how to get your foot in the world, the second was about preparing to disengage from it. 
Koretsky’s book is an artful look into that momentous transitional point in between.  
In the poem “Conclusion” she writes: 

What thrives shallow-rooted, windborn?
The first fiddlehead of fern rising 
from the tender scorched earth;
the clinging vine.

                                     How I envy 
                                       The trees.

This is the thought that precedes the epiphanic detachment of “The Wisdom of Stones”. At some point you must become rooted like the trees, must begin gravitating closer to the natural processes of the world; must begin the hard task of understanding death…your own death.

And indeed the closing poem in the book is just that. After recounting endless incidents of death in the author’s own life, she is able to integrate them all into a joyous prayer, calling for that kind of quiet, graceful death that is the result of a hard life well-lived.

“When it comes, let it come lightly.
Let it buzz and float and rest.
Let me be willing to live my death.”

(from Vespers)

Whether she intended it or not Tracy Koretsky has written a beautiful book about childhood, loss, transformation, healing, beginnings and endings. Let us hope that in the future she will do for middle age and beyond what she has done here for childhood and early adulthood. Create an honest, yet triumphant work that fearlessly goes into the dark spaces of the world, while never relinquishing that secret joy that can be carried like one or two sure stones in the palm of your hand.