A Toast in the House of Friends
Oliver’s collection of poetry is a haunting tribute to her son’s death. However, the collection itself has a universal theme, relatable to readers who haven’t experienced the same loss. Oliver creatively uses words and structure to create her own expression. The book is a collection of poetry in varying lengths and poetic pattern, thus keeping a good flow, as well as engaging. Some of the poems, like "hyena (an absolution chant for the beloved community)," uses a chant-like repetition, given additional power to the words. Other poems have words broken up into non-traditional stanzas; while visually beautiful, those who have not read much poetry previously may have difficulty following.
One poem in particular is deeply touching—a letter written to her departed son. Dated two months and five days after his death, it touches upon the emptiness left that she must deal with. Oliver writes about how her perception has changed over that time, and not being able to greet him when he walks in the door. There is also regret for the way he died and the daily pain that she feels. When reading this piece, anyone who has ever dealt with loss can relate and sympathize with Oliver while she grieves.
In addition, Oliver provided examples of graffiti, which was her son’s art form. She gives five examples, tracing through her own education of graffiti, its definition, and its meaning. Besides these visuals, Oliver also has a black and white hollowed image with poetry written on top, which precedes the graffiti. The introduction and mixture of poetry and pictures further strengthens the emotional pull. Not only does the reader feel Oliver’s sorrow, but is also introduced into his world. This further allows the reader to connect with the poetry, and read into it on a deeper level.