Thursday, July 12, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Salt Publishing, 2011. Winner of the Crashaw Prize. Snaggle-toothed, impish, and daring, Rebecca Lehmann’s debut collection Between the Crackups reads like the love child of Robert Frost with an attitude and Pop Culture with an ear to the ground. Bristling with re-imagined elegies, sonnets, “Letters to a Shithead Friend,” and “A Hundred Words for Loser,” this book completely took me under. At times it was the school bully, passing mean notes in class, spreading vicious rumors. “Bucolic Calling” ends with this unrepentant image: “Mom was in the gravel road crying and we/ laughed at her. We laughed and we laughed at her silly poor-person/ jacket and we laughed at her face, and at her silly tears.” Just as brutal, “For Posterity” snarls the line: “Go publish a bird’s nest.” At other times, though, this book is the victim, exposed, tender and afraid. To contrast, “The Devil is in Detroit” ends with “I never told anyone about the bruise you made,/ but wished I had a bone to break against the world.” In “Particulate Matter,” this stanza nearly broke me:
To the right of the man,
a mother holds a fistful of gnats,
tells me she is saving them for me.
Each gnat is a heartache I
The glow worm energy and dark beauty of this book lie in this double-play of aggression and vulnerability. Lehmann shows us an America we all know but don’t want to see: “A kid sells cotton candy in bags at a busy stoplight in summer”; “In the back alley: half/ a bologna sandwich, a flattened refrigerator box”; “The sky like a bathtub/ emptying, the sun a glob/ of blond hair clogging its drain.” In dreams, too, we are not safe from “a snarling monster/ nesting in my oven, its matted fur/ spotted with light and ice, its snaggle-/ tooth a mess of old skulls, forced together.” My favorite poem in the collection, “My Father’s Fourth Tooth,” paints this unforgettable picture of bully and victim and love:
A fox hunches
on a bridge, cracking open a clam.
How pink its shell’s ridges; how mealy
its muscle, its one lonesome tongue.
And the fox—his teeth gleaming,
his fur soaked with brackish water,
gray as my father’s hair.
Part pastoral elegy, part working-man’s ode, and part old-fashioned coming-of-age storytelling, Between the Crackups is an impressive first collection from a bold new poetic voice. Check it out here: http://www.saltpublishing.com/books/smp/9781844718580.htm and Read this Awesome Book!
Friday, May 11, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Skyskill Press, 2011. I had the pleasure of hearing Shannon Tharp read poems from The Cost of Walking in New York in October. The room fell completely silent as she read. A sudden attentiveness was palpable as the audience awakened to the gravity of her words and to the voice of these poems— one that is careful but insistent and vital. It’s clear that Tharp listens to the sounds of the world, the sounds of her words, and to “the weather within,” as John Taggart writes.
The poems in Tharp’s first full-length collection confront various physical landscapes and climates. The images are often Midwestern— fields, stretches of highway, vacant barns, or they are Pacific Northwestern— rain, fog, harbors, the sea. The poems’ speaker pulls at these environments and turns them inward. Of course this comes at a cost— the longing that is established in thinking through the particulars of existence, an awareness that we walk through the world alone, and what we do have is received in moments and pieces. This is what poetry gives us. This is what it can do: “What of birds and the peculiarity of / flight— a pattern by which to scratch // existence. What of me and the inexpense of / sitting in a field with your face / to any nameable thing.” (“Steady, Less and Less”)
The poems are often short and sometimes written in one and two word lines. This form gives each word weight and value. It’s as if a wind has blown through the poem leaving just its spine or perhaps the edge of a wound: “The / ocean // reasserts / itself. // Each / wave // makes / a crater.” (“Travelogue”) These poems are real and truly beautiful. We get to dwell solely in the sublime, and that’s refreshing. From “After Astronomy”:
“Books, porcelain, windows are open,
and heaven could be said
to be a wreck.
The clouds are here,
they aren’t up in the sky— that’s
your handwriting, that’s the way you write.
I told you I need something
to hold— here I am cold
with you, without.”
I could not give a book a higher recommendation. This one’s important. Read it. Get it right here: