A review of Ellen Dooling Reynard’s “No Batteries Required”


Reviewed by Iven Lourie

In this small volume, Ellen Dooling Reynard has put together a variety of retrospectives, with poems grouped in sections: “moments and non moments,” “Life’s Journey Home,” “Other Creatures,” and “Seasoned with Humor.” The overall impact is that of a poet reflecting on particulars of a long lifetime, sometimes with zest, sometimes with elegiac feeling, sometimes with whimsy and wonder.

“The Longest Night” and “Your Hands” in the first section are heartfelt poems about the poet’s late husband, a professional artist. These are unmistakably true and personal—they are truth-telling poems, lyrics in the oldest sense, recalling poetry as old as Sappho and the Greek Anthology. Under “Other Creatures” are a series of poems about nature. Here is a poem set in Montana in which the poet intercedes with the men in her family to prevent them from shooting a bear who wanders near:

“No,” I cry, “What’s wrong with you?

Why the guns? Why must you kill?”

The creature lumbers into the shadows

and the men lower their rifles.

As rage melts, I put my hand on my belly

and feel the stirring of my unborn child.

(“Right to Life”)

There is at least one very fanciful poem in the “Life’s Journey Home” group, “Creation,” which falls somewhere between science fiction and metaphysical imagination. On the other end of the spectrum is whimsy, “Seasoned with Humor”: a playful group of poems including a riddle, several good-natured snapshots of the widening generation gap, and the title poem, “No Batteries Required.”

As part of “Life’s Journey Home,” Reynard recalls a Montana Easter-egg hunt from childhood:

I was the youngest and my infant

independence led me toward

the chicken house instead of following

my siblings’ stampede to the barn,

(“Easter, 1949”)

Surely, this is the child who, decades later, recalls encounters with ladybugs that begin when she was four years old; and this is the adult poet who will describe in minute detail the actions of a cricket and then spin its behavior into a metaphor for her own awareness.

I wish to commend Yellow Arrow Publishing for choosing No Batteries Required to publish in their chapbook series, and during a global pandemic, no less. They are upholding a long tradition of small press and samisdat publishing which includes such icons as James Joyce’s Ulysses, first published in Paris by a bookseller, and Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, which he paid to have published and which he then found he couldn’t sell. Among the presses set up as non-profit small presses which have become important literary “independent” publishers, Copper Canyon Press and Milkweed Editions come to mind. These small presses are “labors of love” and deserve our support—especially if they are publishing women poets and amplifying women’s voices.

In “non moments,” Reynard describes those irritating or frustrating passages of waiting in line, waiting in one’s car, waiting in a waiting room; then she invokes this habit of ours to shrug off the “transitions” between “real” moments that we actually experience and value:

get on with life you say

these non moments are a nuisance

we should do away with them you say

then life speaks

what you call non moments

are presents of presence

The poems in No Batteries Required are charming, thoughtful, engaging, always accessible. There is much to recommend this collection of lyrics, so devoid of literary pretensions, so rich in its devotion to close observation, a taste for speculation, and a compassionate heart. ◆

Iven Lourie is an educator, poet, and Editor at Artemis Books and Gateways Books & Tapes.