Umber (or umbra), which is all at once the pigment, or vibrancy, the firey emblem of a life at its peak, is also a shadow, or ghost, an emblem of what once was. That the leaf was reduced to powder, to ash, is the perfect allusion to the end of an affair, to the end of the allusion of love. And the allusion does not end there. With each new story, we glean a new piece of the puzzle, as if it were possible to reassemble the affair into what it once was, or, at the very least, into something meaningful, more than just a memory. However, with each new envelope that arrives in the mail, the conflicts in the relationship are revealed and the image begins to fray.
In the mail, the narrator, Kitty Kat, receives kite string, hair from a carousel horse, holly, a silk scarf, all of which inform us more of the varied and complicated fabric of the life they shared together. In one of the most telling moments in the book, in the story "Communion," she receives "a silver cross . . . nailed on a bed of maroon satin" (41). The cross affixed to the fabric like a kite frame, as if to say all faith in all relationships will fall short its final destination regardless of the strength of the breath that hoisted it, never breaking the clouds where midnight passes, never ascending to the spiritual realm, the realm of uncompromised adoration and exaltation. Never reaching heaven. The perfect metaphor for Kitty Kat's own emotional state, who is still tethered to the man to whom she is married to be able to fully commit to M. In fact, Kitty Kat herself is even likened to a kite in the story, "The Party." After receiving an art post card from M of the painting "Above the Clouds Midnight Passes," where he explains "he cannot step foot in the gallery" (5) again, an obvious declaration to the state of their affair, Kitty Kat "hug[s] the wall a moment. Then slid[es] down sitting on the floor" (5). In this moment, she is both kite and the passing darkness of night, both the empty grasp at bliss and the emptiness itself. And, if there were any doubt of Tepper's intent with this image, she draws the connection for us in her own words through M in "Kites:"
The final divination and exploration of tension and balance happens, appropriately, at the very end. Of course, in every relationship that shapes us, the end is never really the end, where the memory of the feelings of love is always measured against its absence, and it is its absence that we inhabit. In the last story, "Grafted," even the title itself speaks to this inhabitance, to the way our lives grow and fuse together while simultaneously growing apart. In the final moments of "Grafted," M insists that Kitty Kat "Hold on to that blue. Look at those clouds how they puff. Remember these leaves" (50), a wish that brings us back to the beginning of the book, to the very first story, and the clearest sign that she "would remember everything" (50) despite and because of "the few veins that remain" (3).
Poetry in Ink: on White Papers, by Martha Collins
Poetry is always interested in time and space…It is also interested in time specified-in history. Especially for nations
emerging from colonial status…history needs to be made freshly significant, newly sacred…Immediate challenges arise for a
lyric poet who is writing a poem about (or within or against) history…written history…is not only narratively complicated,
but always politically disputed.
Speechless poetry: a paradox. An oxymoron. Or, say, one powerful effect poetry can have is its evocation of what is meant beyond the words themselves. The ineffable: some say the ultimate task of great poetry, saying that which cannot be said. Registering silence, the note of pain, perplexity underlying the whole equality of meaning, the pros and cons, the why's and why-not's, the lefts and rights of any issue deeply affecting us. This is what Rolland Barthes called the zero degree of writing. A truly honest consideration of any pressing topic cannot finally decide or judge with certainty.
In a good attempt at such a difficult subject as race and white privilege in American history, in a passage from White Papers, her new book of poetry, Martha Collins writes:
On his way to the Capitol largely built by slaves
who baked bricks, cut, laid stone-
to stand before the Mall where slaves were held
in pens and sold-
on his way to the White
House partly built by slaves, where another
resident, after his Proclamation, wrote:
If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. (p. 62)
Who today would argue against the statement? On the very next page it is to Collins' talent to juxtapose the expression of what a total leveling of uppercase writing implies:
when an other, a one
you've capitalized upon,
rightly decides to capitalize
itself, should you capitalize
yourself as well as the other
to remind yourself you have
what you've never fully
acknowledged: a race, a place
in an unbalanced history
you keep lowercasing
yourself, but now you can't decide
what to do about the others: you
wonder whether someday we
might capitalize no one, nothing at all (p. 63)
Her argument at this deliberating finale of the book, is for ink to capture, memory historically printed, individually imprinted, which alone retains the many possible meanings of this restated term to "capitalize," to write in the uppercase, to make important, to profit from, to put into the Capitol, to punish ultimately… Maybe E.E. Cummings first made the statement with his lowercase "i": who wants to be capitalized?
It's a wonderful and rare talent that produces poetry eliciting so much thought and feeling yet leaves the reader herself virtually at a loss for words. A poet and critic once noted that great poetry communicates before it is understood. The poetry of that poet subtly informs this book by Collins. The compositional touchstones of doubt moving to resolution, the "Because" and "Although" of T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" polarize the passionate personal debate of White Papers:
Because my father said Yes
but not in our lifetimes Because
my mother said I know my daughter
would never want to marry… (p. 1)
although my father although
my mother although we rarely
although we whispered… (p. 64, final page)
Collins' concern, however, is social and historical rather than inspirational. Technically White Papers exhibits a preoccupation with the vortices of the societal forms inspired by early 20th century Modernism rather than by one of its rare devotional meditations. But the reader gets a strong sense of the poet's struggle in this book for a mature atonement, to transpose a religious term for a historical topic. The book reads of an earnestness of dedication to theme, mirrored by the very print on these papers of Collins', hitting the reader as it were between the eyes, with a glimpse of every meaning read between the lines, with the magnetic power of a lone title of a book of poetry named White Papers.
The book's cover appreciations each witness to the spiritual wrestling and bravery of Collins' writing:
Martha Collins has laid bare the more complex dangers of America's central trauma…
—Afaa Michael Weaver
…profoundly social… [Collins] confronts the illimitable issue of "whiteness"…a breakthrough in the conversation we,
with our fractured thinking about race, have yet to have.
…transforms the history of America's troubled racial roots…into a slide show of non-capitalized flesh…
—Thomas Sayers Ellis
The book's theme is thus rich in complexity, inviting a like formality. In the lexical disorder of the poems, their fragmentation, grammatical confusion, ellipses, allusions, quotations, a sophistication of arguments is reached yielding the expression of appositions, ambiguities and incomprehensions which are surprisingly resolved, for example, in the simplicity of childhood observations:
…among the crayons
there was one called Flesh. (p.1)
As complexity dominates the book, climactic or "capitalized" images or passages are difficult to identify. On the opening page minted coin terms like "father", "mother", "George Washington Carver" and "Gwendolyn Brooks who was not assigned" are almost immediately recognized, catching the eye. I thought that when the poem called up "Brown v Board of Education" (making me think of other _____ v _____ s), the text tapered from the common domain into material dug up selectively, in this case politically, rather than by the inner ear. This is one recurrent aspect of White Papers that especially challenged my reader's attention.
It is important for the whole of White Papers to be read, its sum greater than its parts, if for Collins' modesty with the traditional units of poetry: titles, the line, the stanza… She has come in her maturity as an artist to prefer scrivenning and editing in a personal journal entry manner, juxtaposing passage on passage under section numbers.
The book is heavily championed, with impressive acknowledgments, to Radcliffe and Gail Mazur, Cornell and Alice Fulton; titles, dates and presses of studies on slavery, white privilege, the wars in Asia. Its reflections and references are socially relevant, to the day, consciously orchestrated rather than, I thought, culturally collective. Yet the book is well, well worth the time you spend in it. It is a labor of love and pain which readers on the topic owe a great debt to.
White Papers by Martha Collins
University of Pittsburg Press, Pittsburg, PA
All This Dark 24 Tanka Sequences
John Elsberg and Eric Greinke
Červená Barva Press, 2012
Review by Irene Koronas
"cars speed down the road
their garish colors bleeding
through the dark shadows
accompanied by a big stomp
bass jacked up thumping up"
The tanka is a Japanese five line verse. Elsberg and Greinke give us a blend; nature, human folly, human place in nature, how that relationship effects the balance within our world, and "soggy spring breezes." The pause between the three verses gives us the reader space to come to an understanding about what the verse is singing:
"a big golden dog
ran into a burning house
with no thought of self
to warn people she loved
her love hotter than mere fire"
There are three, five line poems on each page in this chapbook. The poems are seamless in their reflections of each other; the relationship of the poems surprises the reader in their flawless juxtaposition, even when the subject seems different, on a closer read we find sameness, if not sameness, then intimate differences:
"seven friends met up
at a bar on Bourbon Street
they had a few beers
each man told a sad story
so they each had a good laugh
the audience fled
when the giant ape got loose
but they left behind
their purses & their programs
to be crushed by big feet
three chickadees splash
in the bright garden birdbath
they chirp to the light
alive on a sunny day
their wings drip electric sunshine"
This chapbook is a fine example of what tanka is and can be. Another wonderful book of poems not to be missed.
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review
Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press
The Land of the Four Rivers
Matthew A. Hamilton
Červená Barva Press, 2012
Review by Irene Koronas
"...Purple clouds swallow my words.
I walk the line toward the river and dip my hands
in the ice water and wash my face.
I look at the age of my hands and see them
transform into sand and time..."
The poet's journey is a quagmire "within the peaceful and steady dance of nature," people, places and vodka. His poetry enlivens the village mirage set in solitude:
"I take a shot, then two, until I lose count.
Someone hands me a piece of bread, cheese.
Laughter and song, then silence, winds from a feather,
clouds of sleeping sheep, sunflower dreams.
Florets of children sprout from the Darichay River.
Blood bleeds from the cliffs,
nourishing unknown souls behind an oil stained door,
the final stripe of the Armenian flag under a clear sky.
The smells of candied mulberries sneak around the fence line,
burning my veins, like glass heated into magical shapes
of triangles and squares, a stone sealing my tomb.
I wake up and do not remember how I ended up in a gift shop
buried inside the catacombs with sacred scrolls
duplicated on decaying walls."
Hamilton's poems take the reader into his realizations; what it means to "watch birds peck the snow and drink from crystal puddles." We twirl and turn waiting for summer to melt the constant chill:
"I open the door
and enter the warm
air of summer
and grab a scythe.
I dispatch a mix
of greens and yellows,
create swirls of air..."
I could not stop reading these poems until I got to the last poem where I'm back to myself thinking about what it means to travel to live within an unfamiliar environment. The poet finally enters from where he always was, himself. Hamilton gives us an oral tradition. His poems are the beginning of a poetic life set in his experiences in which we may all relate. This chapbook is a must read:
to the ground,
new life for next year's pigs.
The fallen grass
dies a soldiers death.
The three headed fork
flips the dew off their backs.."
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review
Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press
I met Robert Walker in Chicago during AWP. The first time I heard his poetry was during a reading put on by Columbia College.
Robert's presence made him stand out from the other readers; he straddled a chair, he took pulls off his flask,
he read an entire poem comprised completely of song titles from the nineties. Robert simply had a very large and
confident sense of himself. On the train ride home from AWP, Robert's book The Buoyancy of it All was easily top
of the 'to read' list, and I'm not sure I made it out of Illinois without finishing the book. So here are a few
questions that came to mind which Robert graciously answered:
I might need a family forest rather than just a tree, but Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, Denise Duhamel, Rane Arroyo, Gore Vidal, and Langston Hughes, along with Olds & Ginsberg, are all writers I always come back to.
(No offense taken)
I don't really see the book as a "how to" in any sort of way. I'm more interested in questions than in answers. But the collection does contain threads that deal with both growing-up gay and what you called, "hyper-masculinity" which I would probably call "passing." I'm fascinated by what we, as a society, encode as masculine and how that relates to being a gay man. Honestly, I've been told, more than once, that I was "too big to be gay." I find it amusing that, a decent number of folks, still haven't caught on to the concept that we come on all sizes.
Dan, I wish I could say, yes. I feel like that intentionality to it would make me seem super smart. The truth is I'm obsessed with identity, and that obsession naturally filters into my work. We live in a world in which things like Second Life and all of these avatars and cyber identities exist. Now, more than ever, identity seems, to me, to be a very interesting and important concept to grapple with. I was recently reading Alone Together by MIT professor Sherry Turkle. In the book she talks about a man who is married, with two kids, but also has a wife and family on Second Life. While he's pushing his daughter in a swing at the local playground, he is using his cell phone to interact with his second wife spouse. This both fascinates me and boggles my mind.
I was in the process of putting this manuscript together. At the time it was my MFA thesis. I'd started writing, what I considered, "weird-less-narrative" poems. Connecting these poems using the "Nightmare" label and the idea of nightmares allowed me to both divorce myself from my narrative impulse while still achieving some accumulative narrative effect by linking the poems.
I must confess that I really don't know how I'd like the reader to see it. I hope they find it interesting, entertaining, worth having been read. The Boogeyman actually came about from the title, "The Boogeyman & I Seek Couples Counseling." I may have written a few poems with the Boogeyman as a character, but those always featured a more literal Boogeyman character. Anyway, that title dropped into my head and it became a process of figuring out how to employ the Boogeyman in the collection in way that made the most efficient use of all that the Boogeyman as character brought to the text. Somewhere along the line it just made sense that the Boogeyman would serve as catch-all representation of things that haunt, but, in all honesty, all of that was born from my need to have a piece with that ridiculous title in this collection.
The poem you mentioned was actually written as part of a collaborative project with poet Dustin Brookshire. We'd send each other lines from Denise Duhamel poems and that line had to be the first line of our poem. That's where that poem came from. Funny you should mention Craigs List. Reading the missed connections ads is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I guess it would be fair to say that relationships are something that I'm fascinated by and don't think I fully understand (thus the writing about them). We slip in and out of each others' lives in remarkable ways. The way we can mean so very much to someone one day and, eventually, become as faint in their mind as the echo of a whisper is, honestly, remarkable to me. It's also sad, tragic, beautiful, and, well, life. It was definitely an obsession in my life at the time I wrote these poems.
I was working a lot with being young and gay in many of these poems, so harkening to gay icons just seemed to make sense. Most of these references just happened in the moment. I also just happen to like both of them, so they're cataloged in the lexicon of references my mind is working with. I don't honestly "dislike" Lady Gaga. I'm just indifferent about her. I'd probably recognize her music on the radio, but I haven't bought any of it and I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. That isn't an indictment of her or her work; it's more a reflection of my current taste in music: I don't listen to a lot of pop these days.
I certainly would recommend The Buoyancy of it All to anyone who loves poetry or even wants to learn to love poetry. The book is available from New Sins Press. http://www.newsinspress.com/
CALL: (718) 942-4102
Mr. Graves is the winner of a grant of four thousand-five hundred dollars ($4,500.00) from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation for 2004.
He is the author of two full-length books from Black Buzzard Press: Adam and Cain (2006) and In Fragility (2011).
His chapbooks are Outside St. Jude’s (R. E. M Press, 1990) and Illegal Border Crosser (Červená Barva Press, 2008).
He has published thirteen poems in the James Joyce Quarterly and read from his poems influenced by Joyce to a gathering of the Joyce Society at the Gotham Book Mart.
His poem Apollo to Daphne appears in Nina Kossman’s anthology, Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001).
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