“Sing it for the bride on her way to the chamber”—Kathleen Rooney’s Oneiromance

Kathleen Rooney’s book of poetry, Oneiromance: an epithalamion, is one among several beautiful, extremely human, and extremely thoughtful pieces of literature I’ve read lately on marriage and coupling, and one I would be happy to give to any brides or grooms (if I knew any). It’s divided into six parts: two on a Brazilian wedding (first part the bride’s, second the grooms), two on a Midwestern wedding (same split), a Niagara Falls honeymoon (for the Midwestern couple?) and an epilogue, the epithalamion itself. The titles of most of the poems describe them as a “dream,” but they could just as easily be daydreams as real ones; the Niagara trip is a “scrapbook” instead, and the honeymoon portions of the Brazilian wedding have no special descriptor. The weddings are dreams, the post-weddings not, though both are told in the same snatches of vision and emotion.

It’s impossible to choose a favorite or most meaningful section here; the whole is cohesive and self-referential, with dreamlike imagery encouraging a dreamlike state that, as Sidney Wade blurbs on the back of the book, creates a “poetry of celebbration that doesn’t dismiss darkness but pulls it into hte dance,” and “ends on a quietly moving note that feels both satisfying and true.”

Well-advised by Tom and Emily to just get to the words, damnit, I will. In “Midwestern Groom: Dream No. 1,” “[t]he groom speeds the highway/on the way to his wedding,” contemplating the meaning of his new title: groom. Grooms care for horses; he thinks of the horses on the side of the road.

toss their tails, they flip
their manes. The groom
contemplates husbandry.
They may have names,
but no one remembers,
just like those cheerleaders:
slutty, anorexic, pretty
at one time. A groom
is the male participant
in marriage.

On his way to his wedding, or dreaming of being on his way to his wedding, or on his way somewhere else while dreaming of his wedding, the groom is completely caught up in the meaning of his new role, and what this “husbandry” will be. One kind of groom “perform[s] a hygienic activity”—not a loving one—on many horses; similarly, this groom may have performed what we could call hygienic activities on all those cheerleaders whose names he cannot remember. But now he is something very different: the male participant in marriage. How did he get there? The end of his dream recalls lines from the book’s prologue:

At the muddy
shoulder, the horses
fall into staggered lines.
The cheer they say?
Ready? OKAY!

Both bride and groom are afraid, have these voices in the back of their head, both urging them forward and scaring them off. This is what makes the wedding dreams so dreamlike to begin with; caught up in decisions and activities set in motion at an earlier time, they choose to continue them while at the same time being unable to process them in the moment. They see each other and themselves in glimpses only, for now at least. “[Y]ou make your Husband Face,” the epilogue closes, “I scarce can take it in.”

An early stab at writing about poetry here, I feel this is a failure—and it certainly doesn’t do justice to this beautiful book. Buy it, read it; support Kathleen Rooney and the small Chicago press that has published her, but do it because this is some of the most gorgeous and affecting love poetry I’ve ever read even if I don’t know how to say it myself.

4 comments to “Sing it for the bride on her way to the chamber”—Kathleen Rooney’s Oneiromance

  • She gets a lot out of that “groom” pun, doesn’t she?

    I guess I will have to get a copy of this. Then I will come back and chatter. I mean chat.

  • She does, and you know, I hesitated to give that example because it’s not at all some constantly punning nightmare. Wordplay, yes, of course, it is poetry after all, but yeah.

  • I will have to read this. I actually did my MFA with Rooney and she’s a lovely person, am very excited to see her doing so well and publishing alot. She was included in the 30 Under 30 anthology from Starcherone Books as well. This collection looks really wonderful.

  • Oh dear, now you are all going to get it and read it and it’s going to turn out how insanely wrong I am, how awful it is, etc etc.

    But Michelle, that’s so funny that you actually know her. Neat!