Between Careen and Caution by Heather Burns

Between Careen and Caution Between Careen and Caution: PoemsHeather Burns; Seven Kitchens Press 2011WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 
This is one of the more aptly titled collections of poetry I’ve read in a while. It comes from a line in a poem called “Mile Marker 25,” which begins:

Am I on danger’s road, thoughts in motion
Toward the washed-out bridge around the blind curve?
Quick, choose between careen and caution,
Count what I want most, what I’d lose, now swerve
To miss the fox and clip my ghost instead.

And the book does do some wild swerving between poems that are stylistically and semantically cautious and those that threaten to fly apart at the seams. In the former category is a poem like “Comet,” a perfectly comprehensible and well-constructed pantoum, which I must admit, despite my distaste for pantoums and villanelles in general, makes very good use of the typically claustrophobic effect of all those repeating lines, describing a couple’s failure to get out of their too-small apartment to drive out into the country and view a comet. In the latter category, “Bringing in Laundry Before Storm” begins with a fairly random grab-bag of words, and only begins to make sense in the second stanza:

Thunder bulge tree’s crown
Maroon sky hum surgical thread loom

Porch dark as orchard
Cats flick and thump tails

So suffice it to say that Burns covers a lot of ground in just 21 poems, from the sonnet in the voice of a Confederate soldier that begins the book to the wonderful “At a Loss for Words” with which it concludes. Her favorite image (if that’s the word) is wind and her favorite topic is language and the difficulty of communication — and yes, sometimes they come together, as in the poem “General Delivery”:

I left home because Isabelle asked: What is West?
In part, it’s the porous bone of sky bleached and beached in red sand.

The wind plays its little jokes at the canyon rim,
Hurls itself down like a suicide, then yells for help.
You see it on the other side, laughing at its
Throw-the-voice trick.

(Read the whole poem on the publisher’s website.)

Burns is also good at conjuring shape-shifters, such as the “half-minding thin child” in “A Made Place” who “hides with her shadow / Between sheets on the clothesline” and eventually becomes

green inside,
Springy like crisp grass.
Shimmies the trunk of the skeleton tree
And hangs a picture of the sky on the sky.

The day itself is imagined as a shape-shifter in another poem, “Drunk Sun.”

The moon’s eye is half-shut and day hopes that nag
Won’t be looking for a good time tonight—ah—night’s
Now and day’s misthought its bounds again.

A restless, experimental spirit animates this fine first collection, which in its variety mirrors The Seven Kitchens Press Editor’s Series as a whole. Kudos to editor/publisher Ron Mohring for selecting it… and then working his usual magic on the design and execution.

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