I thought it would be appropriate to finish out this month of intensive reading with a book of poems that are each creative responses to a text. I read each poem several times, but a few still remained above my head — hard to believe I was once a Comparative Literature major! Fortunately, I don’t mind getting out of my depth if there’s a pay-off, and most of the time there was: the language was interesting, and some of the composition techniques were impressive. One poem had lines arranged in a palindrome-like manner, for example, so it read almost the same backwards as forwards. Another was “completely composed of phrases from Cordelia’s speeches in Act I, scene i” of King Lear.
Some of the poems that I felt I got a firm grasp on I really liked, such as “The Eden Express (1978),” about an American Jew making Aliyah and attempting to reconcile her liberal beliefs in civil rights with the reality of anti-Arab prejudice and persecution and the invasion of Lebanon. Of the IDF soldiers she was romantically involved with, she wondered
Four years later
which ones blocked the exits at Sabra and Chatila
firing flares that lit the camps up
like a football stadium and claimed
“We know, it’s not to our liking, and don’t
interfere” as you continued to let hormones
crush the odor and burning, the cranky sound
of tanks and unended future of returning.
In “Little House in the Big Woods (1968),” the narrator envies what appears to have been a more grounded and authentic upbringing than her own modern, strip-mall surroundings.
O semi-circular drive and window seat
tract dining-room living and kitchens
of three-bedroom half-acre homes
in my own pan of cubed ice not snow
no sugared maple leaf hardened toward delight.
A poem about the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans takes as its text Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. As in other poems in the chapbook, the lines in italics are taken directly from the text:
…but in the air above the Superdome
where pigeons fly, it was a desperate SOS
the low stifled sound that arises
from the soul when overcharged with awe
from the lost yards and fumbles
the interceptions that added nothing to our gain.
To my way of thinking the book could stand to be a little less cerebral; there’s a certain desolation at work that I’d like to encounter a bit more directly. And this is the only Seven Kitchens book I’ve seen where the design was a little off: the font, Nicolas Cochin, actually impedes easy reading. But I liked the concept, and would love to see more poems in this vein — might even try writing some myself. An image in the final poem, “a Personal Matter (1978),” captures for me the essence of this book about stories and how we receive them:
Months later in the movie theater of refuge and refusal
with the once known and reliable in shambles
and a story nothing like hers unfolding rapidly in light
and shadow’s indivisible progress across the screen
the low unmentionable chord returns
or climbs from the murky depths, a drowned bell
striking and deepening in rings.
Click on the book cover to go to its page in Open Library. I’ve been trying to read a book a day for National Poetry Month, with a special focus on Seven Kitchens Press, a Pennsylvania-based publisher of limited-edition chapbooks. Though the month is now up, I hope to continue blogging books in this fashion on a regular basis.