Paula's Reviews > Missing Her

Missing Her by Claudia Keelan
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Feb 28, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry, best-reads-of-2010
Read in March, 2010

A midlife book of poems that follows upon the death of a parent. A return not to but toward childhood in search of the poet’s own girl once was still am. The place(s) of a childhood. The Southern CA oil coast and Nevada desert. Some of the poems are dense; others light. Together they create a collection of high contrast that seems appropriate to Keelan’s poetic locale, one saturated with the desert sun and its contradictions. So much light that details are bleached out, leaving behind only an outline, almost a caricature. On the other hand, so much light that everything is seen. There are poems that can be consumed in a quick bite and ones that must be returned to, such as the opening poem in the collection, “Came Capsizing the human boat,” with its haunting last lines: “I died I guess free Listening to a machine’s whine/ Somewhere above me.” The rest of the poems in the collection are presented in five sections: “Little Elegies,” “What Is Meant Here by the People,” “Everybody’s Autobiography,” “Bildung Sequence,” and “Missing Her.”
“Everybody’s Autobiography,” occasioned by the death of Keelan's father, stays anchored in the personal, while at the same time it encompasses communal history and engages the ethical questions that inflect her poetics. How to stand and how to act in the world. She writes, “Because it was my father who taught me to distrust/ distinctions that separated the simple subject from the compound subject particularly, and to begin with,/ the subject I. I’m hungry, I told my father.// The world is rumbling, he said, / and placed a piece of bread in my mouth.” And, in a line that echoes Abby Lincoln, “You must give yourself away. Then you can sleep.” Keelan’s father worked the oil fields, which causes her to reflect on “A Brief History of the Major Oil Companies in the Gulf Region,” and, by extension, September 11th, 2001: “This has something to do with my father, with oil, with me./ My government and you.” Her father’s death also initiates the process of her “waking to my childhood.” In “Bildung Sequence,” she writes, “I’ve begun to remember/ My first self/ She wanted so much.” But memory can’t give back, can’t really effect a return to an earlier self. In “Same Dream,” she concludes, “So I have/ Tried to love my first/ Self and so she has/ Fled me.” As always with Claudia Keelan's poetry, the reader finds here thoughtfulness, ethical engagement with both world and language, as well as beautiful lines such as "The peregrine gnashed/ In the peregrination's dreams" and "Mile by mile/ We dusk." ("Little Elegy (1977-1991)")
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