The Weather in Normal
Carrie Etter’s fourth poetry collection focuses on her hometown of Normal, Illinois, in the American Midwest. The Weather in Normal is not a set of straightforward memories but a slowly shifting entity, like a moving storm. The book opens with ‘Night Ode’, a poem set on a single street at night, the protagonist walking and feeling the oppressive summer heat, the humming of cicadas and the various ages she has walked the same road: “sixteen, nineteen, twenty-four, thirty-seven…”. This introduces us to the main themes of memory and recollection, of mature reflections on youthful experiences, of multiple, shifting perspectives.
The first of the book’s three arcs explores the family’s relationship to the weather and place, from the father’s obsession with the weather, to the brutal effects of the winters on the family, resulting in broken bones, the recognition of poverty, and the father’s paralysis. Yet the relationship to place also includes its appreciation. Etter offers us a vivid impression of the American prairie with its cornfields extending to the horizon. She muses on the various meanings of ‘Prairie’ and understands a landscape can haunt the imagination the way the past haunts the present.
The second arc explores the effect of the loss of the family home in the long poem ‘Afterlife.’ The house is a place of memory and of dream, an upbringing in a house crowded with sisters and then with her sisters’ children: “once three sat atop/ the upright piano/ playing the keys/ with their feet”. What is it to return, in imagination, to the house in which her father died? Can one ultimately relinquish one’s childhood home to its new owners?
The book’s final arc concerns the effects of climate change in Illinois, in part through the long poem, ‘Scar’, chronicling these effects—the greater occurrence of extreme weather, the loss of species, etc.--as well as human responsibility for them. Just as The Weather in Normal begin with music in ‘Night Ode’, so it ends with ‘And Now for a Kind of Song,’ a eulogistic poem relishing the poet’s relationship to Illinois.
"Taking the temperature of memory, Etter's deeply moving fourth collection maps family and personal history against the iconography of the seasons and the planetary slide into climate disaster. Etter's richly inventive phrasing keeps this compelling range of concerns vividly opening up with immediacy, urgency, and sensitivity. Her connection of the global with the familial reminds us to "take it personally," while implicitly arguing for the intimacy of our relations with the world at every level."
Philip Gross: "One of the particular gifts of poetry is here in force: the power of a few words to create great spaces. The spaces of a prairie landscape round a small town or between present and past, between people in a family or between words on the page, these are not emptiness but tingling with resonance, with the poems' fine attention. Touched and unsettled, we slip seamlessly between the intimate detail of loss and the vast perspective in which even the prairies are dwarfed by the scale of climate change."