In this unusual collection of poems,Betsy Snider
takes us back to her youthful years as a nun, when she tried to
escape from a troubled childhood and then struggled to surrender
instead to the safety of the convent’s strict rules. Throughout
the long course of the writer’s life, her spirit is strong,
and the poems later lead us forward to a new life in rural New
Hampshire. Often wrought with precise detail, in straightforward
and deeply felt language, her poems are suffused with yearning—for
a lover, for heat, for Greece, for the sensuous life—as
she suffers the silence of both God and love, and struggles to
choose between a loss of freedom and freedom’s risks. Always,
she desires “anything but this / dread ... where / ... I
fall beneath the boots / of doubt.” Revealing a seemingly
indefatigable inner life, Snider’s poems do not shrink from
pain or despair, and yet hope keeps returning, a “muscle”
that flexes like wings to resurrect us time and again.
Alice B. Fogel, New Hampshire Poet Laureate, author of Interval:
Poems Based on Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations',
and Be That Empty.
In Hope is a Muscle, Betsy Snider draws the reader
into her world, past and present, through language that shines
with perfectly chosen details and the life-giving spiritual energy
driving them. “A lifetime ago, I faltered under the weight/
of a head dress and white veil.../only a cold stone floor under
my knees./ Now I wait for someone, anyone, to call me/home across
the black hole of my longing...” These are poems of calling,
resistance and difficult grace. Exposing the intensity at the
core of a woman’s life, they read like haunting hymns or
prayers to both the physical world and the world of the spirit.
I found myself saying again and again, “Yes! It happens
this way,” and I finished the book thinking, “This
is what poetry is for!”
Mary Kay Rummel, Poet Laureate of Ventura County, CA, author
of The Lifeline Trembles, and What’s Left is
Betsy Snider’s award-winning book Hope is A Muscle
does more than pay lip service to Frost’s road “less
traveled.” It truly chronicles a persona’s journey
on a path few of us would dare explore, and that, for the reader,
makes “all the difference.” Snider’s poetry
is best described in her poem “Breakfast in Greece”
as “a dense softness inside the hard crust.” But the
patience of waiting for that crust to soften where “silence
falls like dew in late September”makes it worth the reader’s
time and attention: “So I wait, back straight as an arrow,/for
Sister Annunciata's song/to point me true north.” The rewards
for that patience particularly arrive in the final chapter where
one comes face-to-face with almost a century of history distilled
to the level of everyman’s family. It perfectly illustrates
why the printed book and poetry are essential to the welfare of
our culture. Like the life this collection chronicles, the printed
page remains unchanged long after batteries run low, mobile devices
lose power, hard drives crash without warning, or files become
lost or edited in a cloud where everything is one or zero. The
page, brittle as it is, remains steadfast as a monument so that:
“Five hundred years later,/scientists discover thin bones/and
torn feathers atop/three fossilized eggs.”
Rodger Martin, author of The Battlefield Guide, and
The Blue Moon Series
First books of poetry are often hesitant, somewhat disjointed
and tentative in an author’s first foray into the public.
Betsy Snider’s first book, however, is the opposite. Hope
is a Muscle is mature, grounded, and exceptionally lucid
in its story. The core of this book is Snider’s journey,
many years ago, towards, within and out of the convent. Personal,
honest, and lyrical, her narratives roll and lap at the shores
of grief, darkness, ecstasy and doubt. The rhythm of each poem
---and that of their entirety -- mirrors the rhythm of the daily
tasks of the convent: prayer, work, sleep, prayer, work, sleep.
Through breath-taking images and metaphors – “unforgiving
laundry,” “notes of grace/billow/to the vaulted ceilings/,”
“...lost in grief/that breaks through dikes/” ---
we feel Snider’s (and the other young novices’) confusion,
heartbreak and wonder in the “unraveling” of the hours.
These are “quiet” poems, amazingly evocative in their
modesty: the feeling of the faded fabric of the habit, the rosary
beads that “grew from her/fingers, spooling prayers/,”
the hushed yearning for “the spare/hollow of nothing.”
One of my favorite recurring images is that of wings: “nubs,”
“pinned tight” under scratchy fabric,” “ripped,”
“unfurled.” The wings thread through the stories,
evoking containment, wanting, dissolution, flight. A remarkable,
courageous, and cohesive first book.
This core of Hope is a Muscle is flanked by two other
sections: the first, “Anthesis: Aegean Fantasy,” is
a dream sequence of days and nights on a Greek island with a lover.
Snider’s ability to imagine and evoke Greece is uncanny,
since she has never been there. But she knows: “all sharp
edges and deep black shadows,” “...the waves/that
break on the beach of our bodies,” and the clarity with
which she shows us her life: “...no dark-eyed lover/waiting..../for
me to find my way back to life.” The final section, “Antimatter,”
a series of short, contained tales explores the “labyrinths”
and “tumults” of an older, contemporary woman who
is still deeply and viscerally connected – “my name,
a silent echo in the smallest bone.” -- to her past experience
as a nun. We walk with Snider as she meditates on dying, aging,
loss of love, regret, and acceptance – even celebration
--- of whatever has been and is coming: “where scars form/like
runes....” and “mercy is scattered like snow in April.”
Becky Dennison Sakellariou, author of The Importance of
Bone, Earth Listening, What Shall I Cry? The
Possibility of Red
The poems in Hope is a Muscle let the reader into
snippets of Betsy Snider’s life. The anthesis and four sections
take us to places most have never been. Each poem is a close examination
of what drives Snider to write. I am glad she does. Be prepared
as you read these poems for the surprises along the way.
James Fowler, author of Falling Ashes and Connections
to This World.
The poems in Hope is a Muscle let the
reader into snippets of Betsy Snider’s life. The anthesis
and four sections take us to places most have never been. Each
poem is a close examination of what drives Snider to write.
I am glad she does. Be prepared as you read these poems for
the surprises along the way.
James Fowler, author of Falling Ashes
and Connections to This World.
Taking us from the heat of the land of blue Aegean,
olives and ouzo to the austerity of a convent’s blue serge,
hymns and rosary beads, Betsy Snider unveils the belief that
“hope is a muscle.” Through doubts, family secrets
and lost love, these moving poems show there is always a chance
for resurrection. Hallelujah!
Kyle Potvin, Author of Sound Travels on Water.