A not-untroubled tribute and a difficult elegy, Shellback traces the attachment of a daughter to her father from her childhood days of trying "to be his boy" to the grown-up's task to be his caregiver in his last years. Including horrific details from the father's WWII Navy service in the Pacific, which the poet memorializes in blunt, terse lines, alongside the harrowing specifics of his decline, Osterman limns a portrait of a complex relationship. Marked by candor and clear-sightedness, these poems resist soothing resolutions and easy solace, which is why they are sure to ring true to readers.
-Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Letters from Limbo
Shellback is an elegy for a man who taught his youngest daughter how to "stretch a buck, drive a truck, / anchor a screw, win at gin rummy." Jeanne-Marie Osterman toggles between nightmarish scenes her father witnessed during World War II and the smaller but no less affecting traumas of his final months in a nursing home. Her language is spare and colloquial, with moments of irony and deadpan wit that illuminate every detail. The arduous work of losing and grieving is beautifully preserved in these poems, which in their vividness function like a series of photographs. Or a time capsule. Or amber-something tough, primordial, and nearly clear. Osterman conveys, impeccably and with unflappable grace, the hard-earned knowledge that "no one is only / their sins."
-Mark Bibbins, 13th Balloon)
The beautifully sequenced poems in Jeanne-Marie Osterman's Shellback yield a searing portrait of the poet's father as a Depression-era boy and a Navy World War II veteran, given to emotional coldness and barely repressed anger. Their poignancy resides in the poet's filial devotion, her wish to understand him and care for him in his old age. As Osterman writes in "Forgive:" "I let memories I can't erase / rest in peace, / knowing no one is only their sins." With often haunting imagery and carefully clipped lines, she memorably portrays a man, his era, and a daughter's unstinting love.
-Gardner McFall, On the Line