The Blue Dragonfly – healing through poetry by Veronica Eley

“Give Sorrow Words” – A Review

I have often wondered – privately, sometimes in my poetry – how the question of the meaning of life unfolds in the brain. Secret byways connect inner circuits in our “minds.” They may run smoothly through an entire lifetime or – because of a concealed “background weight” – suddenly break. What is this baneful weight? What is the unfathomable aspect of its challenge? Why are some people able to wade through and others weighed down? Zen, as described in Leo Buscaglia’s, The Way of the Bull (1973), teaches us that the Way is many but that an individual must seek his or her own path. It is the struggle for insight, to find oneself and to discover one’s own nature, that gives meaning to life.

The Blue Dragonfly – healing through poetry by the Nova Scotia, Canadian poet, Veronica Eley, is an inspiring work along this line. It is a monumental example of how to cope with trauma, one woman’s crusade to unlock, through poetry, the frozen circuitry of the mind. The longest journey is always personal. Eley’s trek is a thorough, temporal exploration of the self, as she strives – “divinely” aided – toward her destination of spiritual and personal health.

In this work, Eley bares her innermost self, her soul, in order to give sorrow words, as Shakespeare once famously advised. The editor hopes (as we read in the Foreword) that the publication of her journaling message of trauma and recovery, poetically rendered, will be “of value to strangers.” The reader will not be disappointed. The poetic story itself is arranged chronologically under three main headings, with subsidiary chapters or “episodes” that tell stories of their own: Part 1: Secret Monsters (Prelude, Childhood, Presentation, Altered States); Part 2: The Bodhisattva (Asylum, Transference, Stories); Part 3: Mother (Memory, Healing, Home). The arrangement gives the reader a compass and facilitates the imaginative act of entering into a woman´s intimate life of thought, feeling, and struggle in dealing with a “monster.”

Cuban poet, Lalita Curbelo, has written, “It is impossible to separate poetry from life” (The Ambassador 014 CCLA). Eley’s heartrending poetry is one such testimony. Therapy may have benefited from her use of metaphor to unravel the mystery of her life, but I discern in her a woman/poet who already had the clay of writing forming inside her, resulting in the “120 poems (of about 600 in total) … culled from diaries and notebooks and loose-leaf scraps” that would become the accomplished collection we read today.

In rain on the tin roof (from Prelude), the poet, sequestering in a stone cottage, writes of the impending loss of her child: ‘when it rained / it hammered on the tin roof / horses’ hooves pounding on the track / the surf crashing / in and out / the recurring beat of a drum // this was the soundtrack / for the birth of my first child.’

Eley’s poetry is a mirror that she holds up to her mind’s eye without flinching. The reader looks over her shoulder. Everything is revealed there. Pain and fear are graphic, quasi-ekphrastic, as the reader, in imaginative sympathy, cringes and doubts, falters and questions. The moving poem, tortured words, about her childhood conflict with her mother, is an early illustration:

we lived in a hormonal boxing ring
her radical hysterectomy and bipolar disease
my teenage hormones and bipolar disease
words were lost down sieves and drains
sewage
rats

her emotions were like a box of steel
mine, darted off walls
storming
explosive
unpredictable …

words were in the 
cookie dough  

in the oven 
they screamed and screamed 
until they were cooked and eaten 

Another strong piece is tantrums (also from Childhood). Reading this, I felt tense and bottled up myself, in an atmosphere electric, almost surreal, until in the last stanza refuge is found, as ‘she curls up / on her cushion / with her cats / purring / in her ear.’ In down, down, the last poem in this section, we read of ‘dark thoughts / waters deep / a child / on the edge / falling into / a deep, dark / hole // mommy / hold me / touch me.’

And there is so much more. From despair in Presentation to the swooning illness of Altered States, I proceeded precariously forward to glints of clearance on her thorny road. The middle section, The Bodhisattva, opens with a cautiously optimistic epigraph from the 10th-century poet, Izumi Shikibu: Although the wind / blows terribly here, / the moonlight also leaks / between the roof planks / of this ruined house. We have a sense from the first poem in this section, ambulance – which ends on the plaintive cliché, ‘love is all there is‘ – that a new phase in her life is about to begin.  

See also  Smithereens by Terence Young

Thus, we continue to read and know Eley. Her journey will take her, ultimately, to her past. It is a dangerous place. In a poem simply called the past, she writes: ‘be careful / of the / undertow … the little / boat / sails / the red rivers / of blood … I am / my little boat / my little boat / is me.’ A crucial moment is her reconciliation with her mother in mother, other:

I was sick
and you were sick
a mad fury 
of
claws and fur

my resistance
served
your dogmatism
I spent 
25 years
saying no …

yet, when you
were old
I was
a dutiful 
daughter

it hurt me
when 
you said 
you didn’t 
want to 
die in 
pain 
but
you did

Healing – hope realized – can now occur, under the influence of a new spring and of the moon, to which several of her poems (in Healing) are devoted. In Home, the eponymous poem, the blue dragonfly, signals her transformation, her ability to fly ‘with warlike precision’ above deep water. 

Read The Blue Dragonfly – healing through poetry by Veronica Eley. Be reminded of the undertow that pulls us all down or back into secret caverns of the mind, even without the extra burden of trauma. And how fateful and interesting the name Veronica itself! An upright plant with blue and purple flowers. The cloth that bore the “true image” of the suffering Christ. And, in the original Greek myth, the name of the goddess who brings news of victory. 


Contributed review author: MSc Miguel Ángel Olivé Iglesias, Associate Professor Holguín University, Cuba. Author, Editor, Essayist, Writer, Poet


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Hidden Brook Press (July 6 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 206 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989786499
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989786499

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