Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review of "At Night, the Dead" by Lisa Ciccarello

Stop #3 on the Read Write Poem Virtual Book Tour. I know the admin folks at RWP are on Pacific time, so to them this might appear three hours early, but it's September 3rd here. Trust me ;)

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Lisa Ciccarello's chapbook At Night, the Dead haunts the mind of the reader just as the dead haunt the poems in the collection. There is a tight, almost claustrophobic quality to many of the poems; the reader is located immediately within, inside, while the dead seem to hover just outside. The first poem establishes this enclosure at the outset: “You lock the door. You lock the window. You dream of the dead. You salt the sills from the inside. You are going to dream.” The dead will appear in your dreams, regardless of the precautions you take.

The dead move slowly inside as the poems move forward. By the end of the collection “you” have disappeared and the dead have taken up residence. “The dead set up the house they remember, but it is not as they remember,” and even more disturbing, in the very last stanza, the first person has now joined the dead: “We reach for salt in the empty salt box. Missing from the kitchen what could keep us from the house…Our mouths draw close. The flame does not flicker.” All the salt, all the locks, have not kept the dead away.

The poems in this chapbook are short, some only a line or two long. Although I confess to not making much literal sense of the collection, the images are distinct and evocative. Unsettled dichotomies and conflicts of darkness and light, water and salt, dirt and diamonds, heat and home and love and paper and fruit fill the pages, but ultimately fail to make a concerted whole. This may have been the poet’s conscious intention; the mood is certainly constant throughout, but there is no recognizable narrative. Some other choices are hard to explain, such as the use of “yr” instead of “your” in some (but not all) of the poems. Another choice the author makes is that each poem is titled “At night, the dead” or some variation thereof. While this functions very well in terms of reinforcing a mood and a set of images, it makes it difficult to identify particular poems for commentary.

Overall, the chapbook is moody, dark, and haunting; the language is lovely and redolent with images (my favorites are “the sky smells like tea, the sky smells like timber and steam” and “the dark is a black bag where the eyes are kept”).* If you are looking for straightforward narrative poetry, you won’t find it here, but if you’re looking for a unique point of view and a quirky, creepy, set of poems, you will enjoy this chapbook immensely.

Get your handmade copy of At Night, the Dead

* from the second poem “At night, inside the house, the dead:” and the poem on page 16 called “At night, the dead:”

8 comments:

Julie Jordan Scott said...

In reading your reflections, I am reminded of the ever-popular zombie movie - and how the dead are never kept outside of the house, no matter how safe we may think we are... (spoken by one who has only seen one Zombie Flick - Sean of the Dead...and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it!)

Pam said...

I totally agree with you about the claustrophobic feel of the poems in the book. All of the prose poems feel like little tombs. Nice review.

Emily said...

Thanks, Julie and Pam!

Dana said...

Great piece, and thanks for being part of the tour!

I love the observation you make about the movement in person from second to first person ad the collection unfolds.

How is your MFA going so far? Are you loving it? I can't believe you had time to write this with all that you have going on.

Emily said...

Dana - I am loving the MFA. I'm blogging about it on a collaborative blog called The MFA Chronicles, and linking those posts here (or cross-posting some of them). I'm two weeks in, and so far so good. How about you? How is yours going? When do you do your next residency?

CandyDishDoom said...

I like your review, Emily. Thank you! Juliet Cook, Blood Pudding Press

Keith Wilson said...

This is my favorite review so far, because it addresses some of the thing I felt about the collection. I wonder if that's the college-style assessment of poetry in us, or something else? Hahaha.

I was especially surprised that no one else had mentioned the 'your' 'yr' thing, especially since the first time that it came up in the poems (that I noticed, anyway), both show up within the same poem. I will have to think about it.

Thanks for this review.

Emily said...

Thanks for checking it out, Juliet.

And Keith, it may be the "college-style" poetry readers in us, but glad you liked the review.