Book Review: May Day by Gretchen Marquette


May Day is an intimate examination of the narrator’s life. Gretchen Marquette takes events in her life, finds the larger, abstract part of the human condition the event relates to, and focuses on big issues that all humans can relate to like love and loss.


Marquette uses concrete details to quantify these abstract issues into information and sensations that a reader can understand and feel. May Day is filled with references to and imagery of nature. Within this, she focuses on both the big and small things of the universe (from galaxies to deer). Her choice of nature imagery coupled with the locations mentioned gives the book a Midwestern feel with deer, spring after a snowy winter, and Como Zoo. 


In regards to form, Marquette is not particularly experimental; however, she incorporates prose poems and poems with sections. Marquette is very conscious of her lineation and its effects. She uses line length to form how her poems sound when read (the placement of pauses) in addition to the shape and visual aesthetic of her poems.


Marquette focuses on love and loss throughout this work. She acknowledges that loss and love are opposite feelings—one negative and the other positive. However, in May Day, she explores love as a prerequisite to loss.

Stemming from this theme, May Day also has a nostalgic tone and yearns for a time when love, not loss, was the status quo in a relationship. However, as the collection progresses, it looks toward the future with hope. Having found peace with loss and love, the narrator searches for what might be beyond the loss. In the last few poems, the imagery of springtime increases, and the poems focus on the realization that life goes on even through loss and that those who have lost must also go on and can decide to love more.

May Day is an intimate look into the narrator’s life. The narrator is very vulnerable about her own life from her brother’s military service to her romantic relationship. Marquette’s exploration of these topic with her theme of love and loss connects the poems with the one of the most universal parts of people—the desire to love and be loved.

In this collection, Marquette examines the familiar in a new way. For instance, in the poem “Dear Gretel,” Marquette reexamines the story of Hansel and Gretel in the context of the narrator’s relationship with her brother. The narrator also reflects on ordinary events within her history within a new context and significance. In this sense, the collection reads much like an autobiographical essay would. The narrator takes her readers through different scenes in her life, developing a very cohesive narrative arc through these scenes and interweaving metaphors and images.


I would recommend May Day to those who like poetry about abstractions and who like to see these abstractions quantified or explained. Those who enjoy poetry about love or loss will likely also enjoy this collection. And anybody who likes nature imagery will enjoy May Day.

May Day by Gretchen Marquette. 2016. Graywolf Press.