Thursday, September 10, 2009

And this week's reviews, just for the heck of it

Two short reviews from class this week.


The poems in Martha Collins’ chapbook Gone So Far seem written specifically to break the heart and confuse the mind. The collection opens with a prayer about growing old which functions as a prologue, introducing the subject of the chapbook. The next poem, “A Little Life” blends images from a Dutch film with stories of war told by the speaker’s great-grandfather; ideas of being buried alive flicker between the broken lines of the poem and set up the mother’s request to “please make sure” that she is dead and then the assertion that “there’s life/ in the old a little yet”. The proceeding poems trace that “little life”, the final stages of the mother’s aging and increasing loss of control and connection with reality before the collection ends with “Her Poem”, a piece comprised of the actual words the poet’s mother spoke a few weeks before her death.

The poems in the chapbook dip into prayer, memory, and conversation, and often appear on the page in a scrambled, confused manner with short lines broken in the midst of phrases, or isolated individual lines, or alternating lines like a conversation where the two sides don’t match up. Images of the body and of breath appear throughout, as do light and dark, roads and travel, family members who’ve already died, and various nature images. Though the poems are difficult to make sense of on their own, as a whole they paint a picture of disconnection and of the impending loss of the relationship between mother and daughter.


The poems in Miriam Goodman’s chapbook Expense Report are unified by a focus on work. The collection opens with “The Interview” and ends with “Labor Day” -- interview implying a search for, a desire for, work, and Labor Day a break from it. Throughout the collection, Goodman represents many types of work: the corporate world, teaching, housework. None feel particularly rewarding; it is only in “Bed Time” when the speaker hangs the pressures of the day on a hanger and in “Labor Day” that a sense of peace emerges. Images of food and eating appear throughout the chapbook, beginning with brief mentions of wine and restaurants in “The Interview” to “Breakfast in Nashville with Loretta Lynn” to cooking spoiled vegetables and calves’ brains in “Shell”, to a sushi restaurant, drinking with the boss, a company picnic, a steak dinner, a story about rival bakers, snacks purchased at an airport, and in “Labor Day” the child who doesn’t want to break his food. Food and the desire for food appear throughout. “Forecasting/Sales Meeting” ends “I pull up vanquished, another prospect/ famished; eat everything in sight.” and “Labor Day” concludes the whole collection by describing photography, a holiday pastime, as “feeling displaced onto the object/ the famished glance, allowed.” I don’t know what I make of these images, but they do lend a sense of coherence, a continuing frame of reference. Sexual imagery also appears frequently through the book, in awkward conjunction with office supplies, dreams of Buddha, a much younger boss, a husband who almost strays. Stylistically, the poems mix prose with poetic line breaks, even in different sections of the same poem in “In Defense of Desire: Business Arguments”. The theme of work, and subthemes of food and sex, emphasize the daily life appeal of the poems.


Marita Siddal said...

Thank you for reviewing chapbooks! This seems rather rare, as far as my own blog browsing experiences go.

Emily said...

Thanks, Marita. I did not read many chapbooks before this semester, but there has been an explosion in the number of chapbook competitions in recent years and a lot of high-profile poets publishing chapbooks recently, so I'm glad that we're focusing on them in workshop.