Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beautiful in the Mouth by Keetje Kuipers

BOA, 2010. Winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Whooo, I’m on a plane! (This explains why the book in the photo is upside down—I had a very limited time to take this picture before being labeled as a freak.) Ok first off, I was sort of conflicted about reviewing Beautiful in the Mouth for the very selfish reason that I love this book so much I kind of just wanted to keep it all to myself. It’s like when I was a kid and made my sister check out Betsy-Tacy from the library because I refused to share my own copy, despite how my mom always said “she’s not gonna read the words off the page!”

False. If you are a human being—if you have maybe loved someone or lost someone or perhaps moved somewhere at some point in your life—the poetry of Keetje Kuipers is going to lodge itself inside of you and cling on. This book Sumo-wrestles with that whole mythical Julia Roberts-esque notion that if you up and run off somewhere new it will become a fresh start and you’ll leave all that aching and thoroughly un-sexy crap behind.

Here, Keetje (I feel like this chick and I are on that kind of first-name basis) explores how the raw presence of loss can morph, echo and take shape in very different landscapes. She treks us somewhere west of the Rockies (“The salt shaker heart wants to make all the lies come true, wants to make/ the horses throwing sparks with their shoes on the scree slope/ into deer, wants to make the deer into wolves”) and through the cosmopolitan loneliness of New York City (“I have tried to forget your light, the way it breaks/ me open, even now, and makes me speak,/ how it glitters up and down Eighth Avenue,/ swirling in pools of snowmelt”). And, in perhaps one of her most powerful poems, “Across a Great Wilderness Without You,” she confesses:

But I carry a gun now. I’ve cut down
a tree. You wouldn’t recognize me in town—
my hands in my pockets, two disabused tools
I’ve retired from my life of touching you.

Throughout her wandering she speaks this very human truth: there are the ways we change, and then, there are the ways—no matter how much it breaks us—we stay the same. Keetje’s next book, The Keys to the Jail, is forthcoming also from BOA in Spring 2012, and I for one can't wait to hear from her again soon.

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