Earlier this year I read a poem on Whale Sound called Book of Gaigemon III by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick. I asked her 'Who is Gaigemon?' She said, "Ga...moreEarlier this year I read a poem on Whale Sound called Book of Gaigemon III by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick. I asked her 'Who is Gaigemon?' She said, "Gaigemon is a dark force. The Book of Gaigemon is a series. Sort of in chapters. Like a gospel." I liked that response as much as I liked the poem, so when I was looking for poetry books to review during April this year, I made a point of looking for anything by Shannon.
And I'm glad I did, for that's how I found 'Manaquest'. Here is another whole mythology from Shannon, this time built around the sky-dwelling wolf Manaquest and his relationship with three laughing girls in Utah.
The 20 poems in this chapbook form a tight self-referential conversation that nonetheless morphs continually - to the next step, while bouncing off the previous step; one step back, three steps forward. Repeated key words bind the girls and Manaquest to each other and to the action. Stars, cedar, maps, language, letters, sugar, towers, twine and trust are thrown back and forth between the players, inserted and re-inserted into always-differing places in the dialogue, in a 20-piece long 'unpacking' process. The laughing girls are puckish and irreverent, flirting with language and the wolf, with danger, with blood, nets and snakes, as girls everywhere deal according to their personalities with foreboding and hopes linked to the concepts of sexuality, vulnerability, communication, and the ties that bind.
This is a wacky and charming tale with strong and delightful illustrations by Goodloe Byron.
Rose Hunter’s bristling travelogue is a delight. Her poems are dynamic, authentic vignettes that contain elements of cinema, still photography and sta...moreRose Hunter’s bristling travelogue is a delight. Her poems are dynamic, authentic vignettes that contain elements of cinema, still photography and stage. Her selection of vivid detail is unerring, her ear for dialogue impeccable – in just a few deft strokes she creates a vivid, concrete urban world (these are definitely urban tales) anywhere in the world – anywhere: Sydney, Acapulco, Vienna, San Francisco or one of a dozen other cities. Hunter’s poem-vignettes culminate in punch-lines that are by turns devastating or ineffably tender. Their protagonists are mostly human, but occasionally they are animals (a dead dog, a dead chick) or objects (empty milk crates, a shredded tire, a red cabbage dissected) that are infused with meaning by Hunter’s treatment and, frankly, stick to your heart. The earlier sections of To The River feature a people-watching, place-watching, object-watching narrator, relatively detached from the urban microcosms she describes and analyzes for the reader. In the last part, 'Puerto Vallarta', we are invited into the narrator’s own emotional landscape as she details her experience of a turbulent romantic relationship. The themes of domestic violence and alcohol abuse, which run more lightly under the surface of the earlier sections, emerge strongly here, coupled with a potent depiction of the narrator’s wrenching attachment to her tormenter. This collection is well worth the read.
I have to share the title poem, because Rose was kind enough to let me read it at Whale Sound a while ago. Thanks, Rose!
To the River by Rose Hunter
Who's to say it did not die of heartbreak the chick laid out in a cardboard box outside the school? Sudden rain is turning the cracked sidewalk tiles and potholed street into a kind of Thames down which the creature is being borne with neither lily nor letter in its barge a dirty sock its coverlet its pillow a Nescafe lid and some seeds, and when it comes to a stop there is no one lined up a marble stair tier over tier to see the feathers flattened around the eye the brown-gold fur the folded wings.(less)
The narrator in this fine collection is explorer and cartographer of a multitude of emotional, spiritual and international landscapes. Whether ruthles...moreThe narrator in this fine collection is explorer and cartographer of a multitude of emotional, spiritual and international landscapes. Whether ruthlessly illuminating even the darkest corners in the rooms of herself, or putting on the lives of other women like so many beautiful garments, with tenderness and respect, Ren Powell's narrator holds our attention and enriches our thinking.
The themes of death, sexuality and violent change - for humans and animals alike - run close to the surface throughout the collection. The earlier sections are fraught with pain and lack of trust in others and in the mechanisms of life and emphasize self-reliance:
There are no permanent bridges, So I carry a continent on my back.
while the later poems expand geographically and thematically and become more open-hearted, empathetic and confident, while still retaining their fine awareness of the existence and impact of random pain in the world.
Something is lost leaving the heather:
The craggy beauty of an old woman's throat the mellow man's joy -
Something is lost to the morning's mackerel as they slap Halleluiah Halleluiah
There is a deep and moving empathy with other women across the globe in these poems. I particularly commend three beautifully tender portraits of women - Gulah; On Karl Johan; and A Strange Woman. I wish more of Ren's poems were available online so I could link to the ones I really love in this collection! My ultimate favorite is A Request for Sound from a Televised Report from Afghanistan, which is stunning in its musicality, delicacy and empathy. The ghazal that she has known runs a close second, as does Spinster's Shroud - a lyrical description of a dress made from "hollowed egg shells / and white thread" - that contains entire universes of longing and expectation and pending pain.
There is a lot to absorb both in terms of content and perspective in this collection, but it's well worth your time. Go read it! (less)
I recently wrote a blog post about the power of voice as an organ of investigation and about poems that are perfectly constructed as scores for voice...moreI recently wrote a blog post about the power of voice as an organ of investigation and about poems that are perfectly constructed as scores for voice – they are in tune with the anatomy of the instrument they are written for, they trust the voice, and are both inspiring and liberating to perform.
What makes a poem an ideal voice score? In my view, poems written following three sets of imperatives that extend beyond the mere physicality of voice, while still feeding and driving it: imperatives of the intellect, of the emotions and of the voice (I prefer saying ‘voice/body’ for this last, since using voice entails doing much more than simply activating one’s vocal chords – voicing a poem is really a whole-body experience.)
For me, all three elements are always at play to some extent in a poem, but not always in a state of balance: one or two elements often crowd out the third, and this is generally just the way things are in poetry.
It's not often that one runs across a poet whose poems are in just such a state of balance, but one such poet is definitely Sam Rasnake. When I begin to read a chapbook or collection, I always start by reading aloud, but whether I continue reading aloud, depends on the poems. If they consistently give my voice the three-way inspiration it most enjoys and thrills to, I'll read the book aloud all the way through. Inside A Broken Clock is one such chapbook.
These poems are at once deeply satisfying to voice/body, to head and to heart. They are poems of both stillness and of slow movement -- sometimes vast, sometimes tiny. Poems of process, of growth and ripening, of decay. Poems of becoming. Poems where everything is, or has been, or will be, everything else; where everything is connected, where the lines are blurred between ideas and objects, between words and nature; where language is a miracle and a handicap; the body a bridge and a betrayal. The tableaux vivants Sam presents are delicate, tender, piercingly lovely, as in the poem 'Basho, Walking the Far Province' or in 'Variation on Lines from Oppen' or in 'Morning Psalm.'
And the strongest take-away from this collection for me is the degree to which it is imbued with a deep faith in the power of words, and of writing, to bind things and to hold them for us, even when things make no sense to us otherwise.
Update: I should have quoted something. What,though? This chapbook is one giant quote! Here's one favorite moment:
"My love is a calla lily, yellow spathe, curled, asleep, a gentle motion of the head into the pillow Outside snow is blowing across a different world Inside my act is listening to the wind, to your breathing My art is work of heat "He wants to say His life is real" is my mantra, so I whisper He wants to say (less)
lovely and soothing, reminds me a little bit of Don Camillo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Camillo) in which nothing much happens but people have s...morelovely and soothing, reminds me a little bit of Don Camillo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Camillo) in which nothing much happens but people have strong emotions and the land is important. Helps that it's set in the Taos/Alberquerque area, where I spent a lovely plodding vacation close to the land with my older son one spring break recently. Her prose is attentively constructed and she knows what she's doing. Am getting pickier and pickier about prose. Too much poetry, I suppose. Recommended for anyone who likes those not-much-happens-but-everything-happens kind of books. (less)
Much interesting about Rilke’s attitude to God at this period. In paraphrase: - You are not where or what I have thought you to be. I create you. You...moreMuch interesting about Rilke’s attitude to God at this period. In paraphrase: - You are not where or what I have thought you to be. I create you. You need me as much as I need you. And oh, what will you do when I am gone? You are my heir, my protégé.
He writes, and this strikes one as signature:
I feel it now: there’s power in me to grasp and give shape to my world.
I know that nothing has ever been real without my beholding it. All becoming has needed me. my looking ripens things and they come toward me, to meet and be met. (less)
Was much annoyed to find that this is the 1965 version put together by her husband, Ted Hughes – who both added and subtracted a bunch to her original...moreWas much annoyed to find that this is the 1965 version put together by her husband, Ted Hughes – who both added and subtracted a bunch to her original sketch of the manuscript. The real thing, her intended version, was republished in 2004. Oh well.
What did I think of it? Diamond-hard, caustic, over-wrought, hectic. Exhausting. Brilliant. Obscure. Obscure personal code, one thought, frequently. Everything desperate and tense, and zero-sum. And distinctive, distinctive as hell. The ones that best suited me, and which I keep going back to, are the more accessible, less hectic ones, like The Moon and the Yew Tree, The Rival and The Bee Meeting.
Well, call me a Philistine but I found this disappointing. I liked the concept – weaving the story and characters of The Odyssey into the story of a d...moreWell, call me a Philistine but I found this disappointing. I liked the concept – weaving the story and characters of The Odyssey into the story of a deteriorated contemporary marriage – but never felt sucked in by the treatment.
The language is quiet and prose-y, and the whole has much the air of a meditation. Plenty of interesting insights and well-observed commentary, but it was the sort of stuff I found myself reading and appreciating with my head – not much about the language that hooked me emotionally or spiritually. There were some pieces I did enjoy though, including The Parable of the Gift (which I can’t find online) and Purple Bathing Suit.(less)
Oh love, spinning blank-eyed in a tidepool, believe the shoals of life can deepen with the darkening your skirts take on at night.
-The Finwife Is Dismissed
Julie Platt's poems are marvelous reifications of complex emotional landscapes. How are we made, what are the pieces of us, what is perfection of form, what is flaw, what is inherited flaw, how do we define and reinvent ourselves, what inside our own heads is also real outside, what is this deep existential pain just below the surface of everything? are just some of the insistent questions posed by these poems. The imagery is relentlessly brilliant and the sonic sensibility very high. Each piece is in some way form-conscious, laced with wonderful sonic chains of slant rhyme, alliteration and aural cross-referral and under-pinned with delicate fidelity by the recurring refrain of iambic pentameter.
For if you won't assemble this thing outside-in, you'll dangle imperfection in your bloodstream like a gun with its trigger tangled up in ribbons - one kiss blown wrong and it's a slug you're digging from your scalp for decades, that thorny egg that blooms wild lice.
Favorite pieces: 'Eulalia of Meridia' (amazing!) and 'Les Yeux Sans Visage.' Highly recommended.
Another confessional poet, as diamond hard as Sylvia Plath, say, but far less allusive and with much much less of that fevered thick Amazon rainforest...moreAnother confessional poet, as diamond hard as Sylvia Plath, say, but far less allusive and with much much less of that fevered thick Amazon rainforest with so much bright and brilliant going on that in the end you just want a blindfold.
Everything you read about Olds talks about how she uses frank, direct, sometimes shocking language etc in dealing with the body and with sexuality. I don’t know, I think those must have been pretty old people writing those reviews. She’s not so much shocking as just very capable and disinclined to take long cuts where a short one will do. She tells a very very good story, a lot of her work is like snapping micro-fiction. Killer images…your/eyes filling with a terrible liquid like/balls of mercury from a broken thermometer/skidding on the floor. I love her linebreaks – I love the way she constantly breaks on the and and and but and all those really bad words to break on. And the way they really work.
She’s good on family, really good on family, and does what poets are maybe meant to do, which is make you look again at your own experiences, look at them in carefulness, in a picky, dissatisfied, but good sort of way.