A not-untroubled tribute and a difficult elegy, Shellback traces the attachment of a daughter to her father from her childhood days of trying “to be his boy” to the grown-up’s task to be his caregiver in his last years. Including horrific details from the father’s WWII Navy service in the Pacific, which the poet memorializes in blunt, terse lines, alongside the harrowing specifics of his decline, Osterman limns a portrait of a complex relationship. Marked by candor and clear-sightedness, these poems resist soothing resolutions and easy solace, which is why they are sure to ring true to readers.
—Jeanne Marie Beaumont,
Letters from Limbo
Shellback is an elegy for a man who taught his youngest daughter how to “stretch a buck, drive a truck, / anchor a screw, win at gin rummy.” Jeanne-Marie Osterman toggles between nightmarish scenes her father witnessed during World War II and the smaller but no less affecting traumas of his final months in a nursing home. Her language is spare and colloquial, with moments of irony and deadpan wit that illuminate every detail. The arduous work of losing and grieving is beautifully preserved in these poems, which in their vividness function like a series of photographs. Or a time capsule. Or amber—something tough, primordial, and nearly clear. Osterman conveys, impeccably and with unflappable grace, the hard-earned knowledge that “no one is only / their sins.”
THERE'S A HUM
"… Every poem in this book is a story. Every poem in this book embraces the reader, fully. These are beautiful poems because they make sense and they carry on through till the next day. That is, you will remember them after you have read them…and will sing a song and you will find yourself singing along with it, humming."
Author of Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful, Winner of Levis Prize in Poetry
The beautifully sequenced poems in Jeanne-Marie Osterman’s Shellback yield a searing portrait of the poet’s father as a Depression-era boy and a Navy World War II veteran, given to emotional coldness and barely repressed anger. Their poignancy resides in the poet’s filial devotion, her wish to understand him and care for him in his old age. As Osterman writes in “Forgive:” “I let memories I can’t erase / rest in peace, / knowing no one is only / their sins.” With often haunting imagery and carefully clipped lines, she memorably portrays a man, his era, and a daughter’s unstinting love.
About the Author
Jeanne-Marie Osterman is the author of There’s a Hum (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in Borderlands, Cathexis Northwest, 45th Parallel Magazine, The Madison Review, and elsewhere.
A finalist for the 2018 Joy Harjo Poetry Award and 2017 Levis Prize in Poetry, she is poetry editor for Cagibi, a journal of prose and poetry.
Born and raised beneath
the tall trees and rainy skies
of the Pacific Northwest,
Jeanne-Marie now lives in New York City.
February 4, 2020 / CAGIBI Reads / Halyards / Brooklyn, NY
September 22, 2019 / Book Signing / Brooklyn Book Fair
September 13, 2019 / Poets House / New York City
May 3, 2018 / Poets House / New York City