Review of Premonitions by Elizabeth Schmuhl

Schmuhl takes her readers on a journey to a place where nothing is fixed and challenges readers to look inward

Elizabeth Schmuhl’s debut collection, Premonitions, was released by Wayne State University Press in 2018.

Elizabeth Schmuhl’s debut collection, Premonitions, is a collection of complex yet simple pieces in motion inviting readers on a journey through life. This collection of 59 poems first stands out with how they are organized: none of the poems in Premonitions are titled. Instead, they are headed with a splotch of color and a number, beginning with #7 and ending at #134. This collection of poems starts off with #7 already in motion as the speaker begins to realize how limited life is when all we do is stare at a screen dreaming of living instead of actually going out and experiencing it for ourselves:

I stopped using the internet years ago. All of the places I
wanted to go weren’t there. Now the fig. Now the peach.

This poem reflects the mind of a person unplugging from a technological world and returning back to a life without internet, a life that is full of possibilities, places to explore and things to experience that cannot be found online. Instead, the speaker turns to the orchard, where most of the collection takes place. The speaker confesses that there are times when she might  “miss the web and start feeling low,” but instead of returning, she finds herself in the barn, in the loft where she dances “until sweat turns my tank top transparent, until my / underwear clings to my thighs. / My sweat evaporating, turning me more into me, disappearing.”

This first poem, #7, moves readers to realize that living in a modern age where technology seems to keep us connected might actually be making us forget what it really means to be connected in life, to others and to that which surrounds us. The poems that follow explore what it really means to be connected to the world. The speaker in poem #14 offers herself to the Earth and, when the Earth accepts her, she seeps into the ground and becomes a part of the Earth. In poem #15, Schmuhl writes from the perspective of a spirit about the cyclical nature of life, how everything that has once been will be again, and that all things we see and touch have already been seen and touched once before, showcasing a sense of connectedness with nature as well as with others:

If you discover an arrowhead
know I saw it first.

Any petals that have floated
from the fruit trees
have already fallen on my head.

In this poem, there is not only the sense of connectedness between people who have seen and touched the same things, but also a sense of connectedness with nature and life as the speaker says that she saw and felt these things, but left them there for someone else to experience. This is a kind of connectedness that moves through time.

This is not the only way that Schmuhl showcases a sense of connectedness. In fact, in many of her pieces, she blurs the lines between the human body and nature, redefining the sense of self. For instance, in poem #9 the speaker cuts herself open and fish that had been running through her veins spill out. Or in poem #26, when the speaker becomes the hydrangea and “not even / a moth / has landed / on one of / my petals.” Her pieces also carry a sense of disconnect as in poem #39:

My body is just a vehicle
to move me so I leave it
here, on the dirt floor.

I return several days later
moss growing
all over my throat.

Here, the body and the self are disconnected, the body only being a vessel in which to carry the self from place to place. But the self can leave and return as it pleases, not trapped in the body and not separate from the spaces around it. This duality can further be seen throughout the collection as Schmuhl further blurs the lines between the human body and nature, between life and death, in poem #79:

I wish someone would carry me
into the house, put me to bed
the place I’ve been longing to die
and let me. The truth is I go on forever.

Meet me in the apple orchard
look west, out over the ridge
and on any given night, watch me set.

Elizabeth Schmuhl’s debut collection is a study of life. Within these pages, Schmuhl takes her readers on a journey to a place where nothing is fixed and challenges readers to look inward as she dances through scenes of orchards, streams, a barn, and other images of farm life while moving through space and time, life and death. Schmuhl’s poems are a delight to read with their movement through time and space and wonderful images, but they are also deeply profound in the way that they speak to the soul of her readers to make us all remember who we truly are, where we come from, and that we are all connected in spirit and in life.

Assistant poetry editor Lizziegh Enos is a double major in creative writing and conservation biology at Lake Superior State University. Her work has appeared in Snowdrifts and Nota Bene. She was the 2015 statewide LAND creative writing contest winner and the 2019 recipient of the Stellanova Osborn Poetry Scholarship. Enos currently resides in Sault Sainte Marie, MI.