If you have read this blog before, you know that I am a little anxious about changing my policy for buying and storing books of poetry to books I care about or can use from any book costing less than a dollar or two.
One of the merits of the latter is that (aside from the lower cost) I can, say, go and see a broad range of what "x" press publishes before sending them something.
Michigan State University Press no longer publishes poetry, or maybe it is just on a long hiatus; in any case, I'm not keeping AT THE CORNER OF THE EYE, poems by Patricia Hooper. Sorry, Patricia Hooper. Is this the inner corner that goes white (from pink or red) when one is aenemic? That at least about five years ago we were all lining with silver or white liner so our eyes "popped" (about 20 years ago, same trick, outer corner?) I think she means the idiom "out of the corner" or "from the corner" -- like peripheral vision, but not really; that little piece of sight with some eyelash in it.
This is a second book by the winner of a Norma Farber. It was published in '97, so only 11 years ago. It is divided into four parts. There is a series of poems about trees in section IV, "The Flowering Trees." This sounds like something I'd be tempted to do; something I would notice in the Sunset book. Magnolia, Pear, Shadblow (nice), Crab Apple (spelled with two words), Hawthorn, Plum, Dogwood.
I do not like the beginning poem of praise. The poem exists because, the narrator says, the objects and observer being praised had forgotten to be surprised by observation, that observation could be surprising. That is a sad thing; one things that the narrator may have just passed through a rough patch, a divorce or a long, dreary project at work requiring lots of overtime. It takes place in January, so it is not "winter." Still, the poem itself. It just says "praise to x" "praise to y."
This is not the poem which made me put the book down, though. It was the poem about wearing my son's shirt called "Wearing My Son's Shirt." It ends, "I feel / like my son must, coming out / on the porch, seeing someone wearing / his shirt, unsure who I am." This is why I thought maybe poem 1 was after a divorce. Why on earth would anyone's son -- old enough to be large enough to have a shirt too big for mom -- step on instead of onto a porch and be confused about identity? The narrator is confused about identity. I am reminded of silence of the lambs. OK, I am reminded of silence of the lambs all too often, but clothes, costomes -- material artifacts, no longer personal enough to be skins, or flags, or souls.
OK, flipping through, it is not a divorce, it is the death of her husband. I'm sorry to learn that. I really am. It explains why dogwoods, for passion and mourning, are last in the book. This is a carefully ordered book. I'm not saying that it is not. If this were an important review as opposed to a blog posting because I am essentially throwing a book away, I would probably turn it into a review essay about what is the content or topic of poetry, and how is that conveyed in poetry. I would ask, who is the audience for this book? And, with the admission that I am not in the audience, but also not an unfeeling person, and that -- as a poet, as a reviewer, a reader of poetry, I am used to drinking the strong stuff -- why I am not in the audience, and should I be in the audience, and how to get me into the audience. Free cheese will get me into the room -- a remaindered $1 book, say --
but in "The Dogwood Trees," the lines about the misty-looking flowers, the also spring-blooming (remember, we started in January) azaleas, also white and pink, rely on us having seen them. I am an official knower of what that plant is, anymore. So unfair to youth!, I cry. "thinking of miracles" recalls the christian appropriation of the dogwood, again, something you must learn, as do the lines, "...trying to press / into memory all / that could vanish...," mourning. Then the book resolves, but without -- without grabbing:
whatever gift has been given,
like the small trees of the hillsides,
letting it go.
Next, BRUISE THEORY by Natalie Kenvin. Forche says, in the intro, that Kenvin grew up poor, and then, suffering from depression, wrote her way out of institutionalization and another of other things.
The poems are marked by a sort of clotted coinage "yearfeast" "pepper-spice of incident" or "bone-orchard" or "hobgoblin suede" and Plath rhythm, "You are a sweet, ghostly narcotic, / A taste, a scrap, a bone to end things" as well as a bizarre use of image, "Summer is cut open / Like a yam steaming in its jacket" etc. This is not bad. The stories are true! Epileptic fits, evoked; running away as a teenager not summoned mawkishly, or for show; ditto, sexual abuse.