Certainly this cover grabbed my full attention even before I was treated to the poems inside."Heart is Not Ten or Twenty" is the title and the artist,Certainly this cover grabbed my full attention even before I was treated to the poems inside."Heart is Not Ten or Twenty" is the title and the artist, S. H. Raza is a fascinating Indian painter who lived much of his life in France and then went back to India consciously ready to reinvent his art.
In Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist the reader understands the importance of (re)invention. In Kirun Kapur's debut collection, family stories of emigration and war shake hands with Chips Ahoy and the afterlife. There is much to admire in this heady mix of three generations moving across the page. A sense of (dis)location helps to create Kapur's surreal voice that this reader finds very appealing.
I want to look at two poems that will provide a sort of sliding scale for this book; poems that vary stylistically both in form and register. "My Father's Hopscotch" moves back and forth from literal geography: "Five rooftops---wide and flat ...Five rivers in the Punjab" to the hopscotch of global politics and pending war which comes together in the final stanza:
The infantry is restless. Rumors in the street. Some rumbling, a mutiny: the East is lost, turn back, return to Greece. Roof to roof, he leaps, he presses across the map.
Clearly Elizabeth Bishop's "The Map" and "Geography III" are also pressing on this poem --- in a very good way. The poem is filled with internal rhyme "street / mutiny / Greece" and there's an iambic ghost throughout much of the poem. I admit that the poems looking back on the speaker's father are among my favorite. The intermingling of history and family, father and daughter is a personal preference. Having admitted that, I almost want to take it back because what I love about these poems is how well they're written. No sentimentality; no easy escapes.
The poem "Nobody Nation" is written in flash points of an extended compass: west, east, north, south, and pacific. The notes at the back of the collection offer that Kapur's poem was inspired by Derek Walcott's famous line, "I'm nobody or I'm a nation" in his amazing poem, Schooner Flight. In Kapur's five sections we watch as a child learns the ugly indignities of racism along an Arizona highway, in a history book, and while working for a wealthy couple. Yet, in the last section the father is sworn in as (we assume) a US citizen. And he has the last word: I keep the good lines for myself.
From the independence of a nation as India breaks away from Great Britain, to the growth of an educated family living in exile, this book offers me (and I suspect many American citizens) a new window into the world. These are complex poems that I've returned to several times over the last few months. Poems that I believe will stay with me for a long time to come.
Kirun Kapur is a multi-talented poet able to write well in many different forms. This will benefit her (and us as readers) as she continues her career. This is a poet we are sure to hear more from. The poems are necessary --- smart and funny. And very clearly poems for these times....more
Catherine Barnett is a poet you need to read if you are of this century but also a little bit lost in the past. This is a beautiful book that invitesCatherine Barnett is a poet you need to read if you are of this century but also a little bit lost in the past. This is a beautiful book that invites the reader into a crystalized world --- written --- I can only suspect --- long past midnight. The poems are meditations on urban life told with perfect pitch of high and low culture. the game of boxes ( starred review in Publisher's Weekly)is my pick this week.
Down at the grocery store, tacked to the board flapping in the wind, the business card says "Husband 4 a Day." She takes a few, tucks them into May, then June,
but now it's August and she says the boy can use them as bookmarks, placeholders, kindling. She's still like a husband, or at least a keepsake, a light switches on
when anyone comes near. She'd like more books, fewer rocks, a path in the woods. At night she hears knocking from the fields, something undoes in the wind.
In the morning, the floors creak and hum because what's gone is also there, singing inside the clutch of stones the boy slingshots into air.
I love this book. Discovering Litany for the City by Ryan Teitman is an unexpected joy. And I love the fact that I found this collection at my favoritI love this book. Discovering Litany for the City by Ryan Teitman is an unexpected joy. And I love the fact that I found this collection at my favorite full service bookstore the Elliot Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill (Seattle) by just browsing the books. Of course the evocative cover art helped lead me to the opening poems as did the forward by Jane Hirshfield. I was primed.
I want to find the line
where the city becomes the city, where invention becomes instrument.
These are some of my favorite lines but this is a book full of favorite lines. So what if it is a slender volume; each idea is so smart and lovingly played with that I started the book a second time as soon as I finished my first reading. This is the voice of a poet that feels so familiar and utterly fresh at the same time. I wonder how these words could not have been ordered like this before -- but they have not.
There are no lurid secrets lurking in this book nor fancy geographies --- the first section of the book is a series of poems dedicated to the poet's (i presume) hometown of Philadelphia mixed with other European and imagined cities. Yes, perhaps that has been done before but not like this. There are epistolary poems to Dr. Franklin (3 of them) which I love and other prose poems that draw me in although I am not a fan of the genre. Teitman also has a three poem section on "Foreign Films"which are also wonderful. I'm hesitating to type out one poem here because the book asks to be read in units and it feels as if I ruin the poet's intention to excerpt one poem -- perhaps the sign of a really good ordering of poems --- no easy task for any poet. Here is the poem I quoted from above.
Dear Doctor Franklin Ryan Teitman
Everything is an invention, I’ve come to learn. The way we press
into each other on the morning train— that brush of cloth and wool
that seeps into us like a benediction, or how the old woman
waiting for the bus folds her newspaper into quarters, and presses it
to her face when she thinks no one is watching—how the smell of ink
and newsprint reminds her of her night shifts at the printing plant,
how she crawled into bed still in boots and a work shirt,
and ran dye-purpled hands down her neck. I see eyeglasses
on everyone nowadays— It comforts me to know that light
visits us all differently, that the imprecisions of our bodies
can work on us the way a cabinet maker tends panel after panel
of soft wood. The city rouses slowly these mornings—I watch it rattle
in the handprinted windows of the train. I want to find the line
where the city becomes the city, where invention becomes instrument.
Some days I see it in the moment the graffiti thickens near the tunnels,
or when the train stumbles into the city’s shadow—when the light
we knew becomes delicate and cruel— and I see how fragile our eyes will become.
How lovely to find a new voice in American poetry that lifts up our lives (even when understanding life's cruelties). I look forward to Teitman's next book --- he is a poet I will be sure to keep an eye on. I can't recommend Litany for the City published by BOA Editons enough. Please, go buy it and then spend the afternoon inspired to write better poems. That's my plan. ...more