Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Between the Crackups by Rebecca Lehmann

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
can’t remember.

 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!

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