Posts Tagged ‘death

22
Jun
14

On Stuart Kestenbaum’s Only Now

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose. //

Stuart Kestenbaum – Only Now Many of the poems in Stuart Kestenbaum’s Only Now (Deerbrook Editions, 2014) feel like poems Gregory Orr would write if he wrote narrative poems (some of the meditative and lyrical poems also feel like Gregory Orr poems), a number of the poems have the mythical feel of a Merwin myth-like poem, and some have the intimacy of a Jack Gilbert poem. These styles, among others, are what one would need to successfully write a carpe diem book of poems, and neo-romantic book of poems, at that.

I don’t normally like drawing comparisons to other writers when a reviewing a book of poems, but this time it seems like a good idea to present a feel for the book. In addition, while the opening poem, “Prayer While Downshifting,” is a fine poem, it is acting more as a deliberate lense for the book. By placing this poem at the opening, Kestenbaum is attempting to focus the reader’s mood or reading in a deliberate direction. However, this poem would be better off if it appeared further on in the book, as it needs to built in to or up to. As an opening poem, it’s too heavy handed in its allegory and symbol building, and I want everyone who gets to this book to know that what follows the opening poem is very moving – emotionally and intellectually. In addition, I think (and wonder) if it is better for an author to let the reader discover meanings on their own instead of directing them down a certain path. Or better still, for the author and reader to discover together. More inclusiveness. More of a we-book, where meanings have “to happen because we’ve / made a framework for it. It’s the framework that gives the meaning” (“Big World”). Further, “because meaning is a wild animal that surprises you” (“Prayer for Real”), the reader will want to experience the surprise of discovering meaning, which is what this book does. It surprises. It’s inclusive. It’s a book for author and reader, for you and me, for we.

Maybe it would be better if the book opened with the second poem, “Rocky Coast,” which begins 350 million years in the past, and then in two words, flashes forward 350 million years to today. (Has there ever been a lengthier flash forward?) And this flash forward takes us into an everyday we are familiar with – it takes us into Dunkin’ Donuts. It delivers us into fantasies of hope, revenge, and escape while the “fallen world” is everywhere outside the Dunkin’ Donuts. The next poem, “Getting There,” turns inward even more. It balances the safety of Dunkin’ Donuts with the neo-romantic notion that “deep inside us” are the answers to:

     Where is the place we are always asking about.
     It’s the country we remember in our dreams.
     Where is where we’ll find what we need to know

     whatever that is, whatever we thought it was
     going to be.

Notice how these are shared questions (we all have them), but it’s the turning inward where we find our own answers and meanings. The slow accumulation of poems in Only Now is like a manual of examples and experiences we are all aware of, and the poems about them are in Only Now for us to meditate on, to turn inward on, to equip us with living in the only now we have, and to help us prepare for our eventual demise.

For instance, the conclusion of “Crows”:

         before we began to speak we could feel the world
     inside our bodies and it moved us as we moved with it.
     Perhaps this is our mother tongue, the language of our cells,
     the diction of our hearts and lungs. There, don’t say
     anything for a while, don’t even think in words,
     think in whatever is beyond the thought of words,
     the nameless world that you try so hard to forget
     by naming everything. Take away the caws from the sky,
     take away the rumble from the ice and while you’re at it
     take away the hiss of today’s headlines, like air leaking
     out of the world. See what’s left after that and listen to it.

Again, there is the turning inward for answers, meanings, and, perhaps more importantly, the turning to pure experience – the experience of events before the interference of language. In this wordless realm, we might even get closer to how a god lives and experiences time and the world, as we eventually will. In “Wild God,” we experience god in the Garden of Eden “when the earth was new and animals hadn’t been named yet.” We see god creating and rearranging the earth and then relaxing and admiring his work. Similar to “Rocky Coast,” there is a lengthy flash forward, but this time the experience is not imagistic – like being in a Dunkin’ Donuts – it’s in the experience of time as a god experiences time. When I read this poem the first time, I felt a shift in time, but I wasn’t sure how it happened. It was seamless and flowed naturally. After I paid closer attention to the tenses in the poem, I saw how in half a line the tense shifted from past to present, and the poem moved from millions of years ago to today almost instantaneously, in the blink of a god’s eye. Kestenbaum used syntax and not words to approximate the experience of time for a god. He didn’t explain or even show. He made an experience and made it feel real. In addition, this instantaneous passage of time also seems to suggest that the past resides in the present, or that the distance between past and present is not so far apart, such as for the 93-year old Dora on her deathbed in “The Passage,” who is dying in the present but living in the memories of her past.

Overall, Only Now creates the feeling that living and dying is a juggling act:

     Whether we spend our time
     fearing death or not, listening
     for its footsteps or plugging

     our ears, we all end up
     where we began, just dust
     combined with the weight
 
     of what we carried in the world. (“Scattered”)

It’s a juggling act of living in the now and with the past that made us into who we are now, while at the same time preparing for death, or even avoiding thinking about death like “young minds [who] can’t imagine not existing anymore” (“Back Then”). Stuart Kestenbaum through tight, interlocking poems gives experiences for how to live “As if the Tree of Life / is inside us” (“Breath”) within the precious time we have in our Only Now that is our only life. This is a book of poems I can’t recommend enough for the collective that is we.//

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Kestenbaum, Stuart. Only Now. Cumberland: Deerbrook Editions, 2014.//

17
Feb
13

Lucille Lang Day’s The Curvature of Blue (2009)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 12, which was published circa November 2009.

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Lucille Lang Day – The Curvature of BlueThe following interview may or may not have occurred with Lucille Lang Day on Tuesday, May 12. I was inspired to interview her after reading her most recent collection of poems, The Curvature of Blue (Cervena Barva Press). I was especially drawn to her book because of the cosmological poems. They are some of the finest ones written. And if you enjoy science, cosmology, physics, color, love, death, and poetry, you’ll enjoy this book.

Tom Holmes: I’m here with Lucille Lang Day, a poet I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Since I and others may be new to you, I first want to know if you could briefly describe yourself to me and the readers?

Lucille Lang Day: I will defer to the book and let it speak for itself.

TH: Okay. So, The Curvature of Blue, could you describe yourself?

The Curvature of Blue: “There’s no one quite / like me” (p 13).

TH: I’m sure that is true, but could you be a bit more specific, please?

TCOB: “I am one / with bees and ants creating // their chambers” (p 24).

TH: Okay, and what can the reader expect from you?

TCOB: The reader will “hear cinnabar / olive, raw umber, magenta, / violet and chartreuse / mingling in counterpoint” (p 19).

TH: That’s fine. I noticed the patience of your poems. They seem at ease. Would you agree? How would describe the momentum?

TCOB: Yes. It’s like when “Rain sifts down like fine flour” (p 8).

TH: I also noticed an evolution as the book moved forward. It’s almost sequential . . .

TCOB: Oh, I couldn’t disagree more.
“Moments are shuffled and reshuffled
to give the illusion of time and history.
Everything happens at once and forever” (p 34).

TH: So, you are atemporal. That’s a very interesting way to create. Could you describe your creative process?

TCOB: Well, it’s a bit like
“The one sperm that enters,
cells cleaving to form
a hollow ball, bouncing
down the oviduct, the infolding
and implanting in the muscular
wall of my uterus, the welldeveloped
tail, pharyngeal gills
just like those of a fish
forming before finger buds,
heart and brain, the long
months of turning and turning
like a vase on a potter’s wheel,
the finished child sliding,
wet and shining,
into her father’s palms.” (p 14)

TH: Awesome. Now, is that what it’s like when you actually write the poem, too?

TCOB: No, when I write, it’s more like there is something
“stirring inside me, walking
the long corridors of my brain,
searching for something
irretrievable, precious, still there.” (p 38)

TH: So, why do you write?

TCOB: “To waken the angels” (p 54).

TH: That reminds me, death seems important to you. How would you describe death?

TCOB: “When the end draws near,
light descends, thunder roars,
and all of heaven enters
the body through a slender
glass column. The brain lights
up as galaxies spin, planets
of every imaginable color
turn in their orbits, and
billions of moons, stony
or gaseous, glow inside
the cerebrum. In that
instant you finally know
the meaning of it all.
Then one by one the stars
blink out, constellations
disappear, and you
are a barren cave.” (p 55)

TH: I like that. It seems we only have time for two more questions. The penultimate question, what caused the curvature of blue?

TCOB: “[. . .] the moon
circling earth, dragging
the oceans like flowing
blue gowns; the human
heart pumping blood
through a network of rivers” (p 68).

TH: Nice. And one last question. Do you have any advice for the young writers?

TCOB: “To be an artist, you must be crazy” (p 28).

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Day, Lucille Lang. The Curvature of Blue. West Somerville, MA: Cervena Barva Press, 2009.//

01
Feb
13

Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.

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Andrew Kozma's – City of RegretWho is Zone 3 Press? I didn’t know until I received review copies of their two newest books: Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret and Anne Couch’s Houses Fly Away [review to appear in few days]. So I emailed the press to find out who they are. They responded, “We’ve been publishing poetry books for a year and a half now, and we are hooked.” No wonder they are hooked; these last two books are wonderful. Welcome Zone 3 Press.

Now to the book. Or at least one word in this book. I want to see if I can talk about City of Regret by talking about “death” in the poem “That We May Find Ourselves at Death.” In the last line, “That time was death’s time. We had not known it”, death usurps time of its force and presence in the poem, but also metrically. In the first line, “death” is a stressed and long syllable, “When you are late for death, where do you go instead?” And in fact, “late” might even have slightly more stress than “death” in this line. The metrical tension is established; though the qualitative (stressed) meter for rest of the poem keeps pace with the tone. It’s in the quantitative (length) rhythms that the action happens; it’s where the vowels are working the tone – or as Ezra Pound says, “Pay attention to the tone leading of vowels.” The long vowels in this poem, and others in City of Regret, are creating the tone. So read the last line. Above the line is qualitative meter scansion and below the quantitative scansion (/=stress, X=heavy stress, — = long, and u = unstressed or short):

Kozma scansion


We can now see what we hear and how it works. The first half of the line has four long syllables and one short syllable. The second has one long syllable and four short syllables. The “known” is a long and stressed syllable and echoes in the ear when we hear “it” and after, which may be the point of the poem and the book: what is known and unknown?

Back to the last line’s “death.” You’ll have to read the whole poem to hear this, but this “death” is the strongest stressed syllable in the poem. It not only usurps the strength and significance of the preceding long and stressed “time,” but it overshadows the following shorter (though long) and unstressed “time,” as if time is cowering to death. How often, in all of the poems you have read, is “time” unstressed? Rarely. Because of this constant stressing of “time” through the history of poetry and the unstressing here, a decoupling, of sorts, is created between “death” and “time, ” which are often coupled and usually stressed. But a new coupling is made between “death” and “known,” where “known” becomes strong in the second half of the line because of the quick unstressed syllables surrounding it. Death is the unknown, but here they come together to hopefully answer the title, “That We May Find Ourselves at Death” – the poem in the ear suggests yes. We can/do find ourselves at death. The following poem confirms this. My point is shouldn’t every poem put meaning in the ear? The ear hears and understands the poem before any other part of the body, like Aristotelian energia. I say yes, and yes to City of Regret.//

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Kozma, Andrew. City of Regret. Clarksville, TN: Zone 3 Press, 2007.//

08
May
10

Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mouth

Beautiful in the MouthA version of the following review will appear in the next issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

Often with a collection of poems these days, especially those that win a contest, the collection is filled with the best poems the author wrote in the last year or two or three or five. This is fine. But give me a themed book, oh, now there’s joy. Or give me Keetje Kuipers’ newest collection Beautiful in the Mouth (BOA, 2010), winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poulin Prize. This book has three main self-contained themes, love, sex, and death, and they all intertwine.

That finally coming to love you
has been a hard-earned pleasure,
so that every time you enter me
I want to cry out, Bury me,
bury me. Put me in the ground.

(“Finally”)

Further, what this book does within its three intertwining themes is to create associations within itself.

Sure any collection of poems has associations, but they are just happenstance, an accident, which is fine if you can see the largeness of the author’s synchronicities. But usually what happens is similar to what I. A. Richards says in Science and Poetry, “over whole tracts of natural emotional response we are to-day like a bed of dahlias whose sticks have been removed,” where sticks are beliefs or connections to something other or that move “towards something other than ourselves” (“Driving Back into the City”), and without the sticks, they don’t extend. So the associations don’t attach to anything bigger. With Kuipers, however, these associations are immediate, mental, psychological, emotional, unique, and everyday for her and at the same time connecting to something larger – love:

you’ve become the man I build
every poem from

(“My First Love Returns from Iraq”)

Plus, her poems are dictated by the needs of her associations.

What am I talking about?

Let’s look at one example, “boats.” What are your associations? Okay. Now, let’s look at what Beautiful in the Mouth does.

I’m not asking for love anymore.
I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.

These are the last lines from “Fourth of July,” and after you read these lines, you feel she’s sick of love, or she doesn’t want to go on any more journeys of love. Something like the those two insights or both are the initial feelings. And there’s an association between love and sailboats, which is unique to her. But then you recall the first use of “boat” in the earlier poem, “Driving Back to the City”:

And our thighs rocking together like two moored boats in the night, all those tender lights held
tight in their hulls.

Now that’s sex. (A brief aside – there are a lot of sexy and erotic poems in this collection, and some are quite arousing.) Shortly after you finish the “Fourth of July,” the mind yokes together the two boat associations – boat, love, ooh, sex, yes. The associations that were unique to the poet are now becoming the readers.

In another sex poem that’s about love, “You Loved a Woman Once,” another “boat” appears, and it associates with tenderness. The boat associations are filling up with passengers of love, sex, and tenderness. She’s creating the boat’s associations through accretion. It’s not just the typical one-to-one association arising from a happenstance of synchronicity. The “boat” also incorporates despair:

                         academe gone down
like a fast ship on fire

(“Why I Live West of the Rockies”)

Then you encounter the sadness of the associative boat:

I think I’ve been sad for a long time now –
crying in my coffee near the Place des Vosges,
taking pictures of toy sailboats at the Jardin

(“Ne Me Quitte Pas”)

This boat is getting heavy with love, sex, tenderness, despair, and sadness. The boat appears to be love and everything that comes with it.

In fact, the further I get into the book, especially the last death-filled section, the more I hope for the boat to appear. The more I expect the boat to appear. The more I need the boat to appear. Finally, it does. After 13 pages without seeing the boat, when I need it most amid all the death, the boat appears twice in the penultimate poem, “What Afterlife.” In the first occurrence, it’s a metaphor for death and dying.

I think of my fifth summer
the day I lost one shoe
over the side of a sailboat,
it’s sinking away from me

into the untreadable dark.

When you get to the poem’s second occurrence of “sailboat,” you understand what she meant when she said, “I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.” So much of the book and its self-created, ever-expanding associations come to conclusion in “What Afterlife,” especially the last few stanzas.

Kuipers’ boat is loaded with the intertwining associations of love, sex, tenderness, despair, sadness, and death. After successive reads, you see, hear, and feel how they are all one. You get to ride on Kuipers’ boat and feel it rock and sway.

In fact, you could argue that the boat is the metaphor for Beautiful in the Mouth. In fact:

You said the boat was her shoulder in your mouth, even when
you couldn’t bear her epaulets of freckles, even when nothing
but a body would do and there was no body but her own.

(“You Loved a Woman Once”)

The more I read Beautiful in the Mouth the more I notice how complicated it is. It’s as complicated as it is to be alive and just as beautiful.

This is a good year for poetry, so far, and it’s building up to be like 2005, and Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mind is a reason why.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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