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Recommendation: Held Together with Tape and Glue by Pamela Hobart Carter

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Pamela Hobart Carter’s new poetry book, Held Together with Tape and Glue is a collection of gentle meditations, mostly on ordinary topics.  Some of the poems are erasure poems, but I couldn’t tell which if I hadn’t read the acknowledgements in the front of the book.  There’s no flaunting of technique here, but the poems are very assured.

Consider the opening of “Relined”:

Look at the world
as if for the first time

Beside us
rivers
A sense of passage

to carry your self
into its next version.

Or “On the Word”:

Here we are.  On the page.  On the word.
On the dot or the hook or the serif.

Here we are.  In the big city. In this house.
In this room or the kitchen.  Here lies truth.

Truth lies, here on the sofa, with us,
with our feet are up, stocking-footed,

shoes tidily stowed in the closet
when we came in from clearing dead leaves. . . .

One of the longer poems, this one ends: “How did we get so good at calendars and clocks, /still ignorant of true passage.”

One of my favorites is “Bed” which goes through the making of a bed in detail: tug the corners, match the sides, use your hand like an iron to flatten the sheet.  It ends “smooth/as. smooth/ the mind. /done said/done, and day/is readymade.” 

Here is a short poem in its entirety:

Firsthand

Reuse Monet’s haystacks
and meadows, bogs
and rivers. Include ordinary water,
mist, and ice. Associate everything—
thorns may point to red, to circulation,
a royal universe.

Clasp and hold—floating—
the intricate craft
of the heart.  Bask calloused fingers
in the tributaries. Grow, out of facts
habitually forgotten, a family—
brightly colored—of women
preparing to speak.

The hints of collage in this poem are the only place in the book where I find something which might relate to the book’s title.  But these poems are not “held together with tape and glue,” they are woven with intricate craft (to use another meaning of that word in this poem.)  And each calls for reading at least twice.  This is a short but very satisfying collection.

Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

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The poems in Risking It appear straight-forward but often have twists and word play hiding in them.  The poet shows herself to be a person of long experience who admits the bad but lightens it with language. A career in science may have helped to produce this attitude, and certainly added to the rich variety of her vocabulary.

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch

into which everything falls is filled

with dank water, toads, milfoil.

Word is sent for some desiccant.

Word is sent for a sump pump.

Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called

disfiguring but she figured

it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded

than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger.  “What the Deaf Woman Cannot Hear” is a poem about the horrors of gas chambers.  It concludes:

What comes next in my country?

wonders the deaf woman

the disabled woman

the disposable woman.

Here’s one short poem in its entirety.

Ars Poetica

The poem that declines to be written

because it is self-conscious, shy, cryptic

or shallow is a poem that must nevertheless

be treated with respect—like a wild goshawk.

Don’t try to take off its hood too soon.

Let it rest in the dark as the two of you get

to know each other.  Your voice is important.

When the day comes, let it fly, watch where

it soars.  If it disappears into the forest, you must

let it go.  But if it flies back, feed it.

For Sylvia Byrne Pollack, even not yet written poems have personality. And while this instruction is a lot to ask, the respect that she recommends here is something she gives to everything she writes about.

I hear this book is up for a couple of awards.  It deserves one.

Recommendation: Shake and Tremor by Deborah Bacharach

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Deborah Bacharach’s Shake and Tremor is about relations between men and women, the complications and deceits involved.  She combines Biblical stories of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, with contemporary examples.  She mixes past and present so that the reader may not know where she is as she moves from poem to poem and also within poems.

An example:  Ten Young Men of Sodom and Gomorrah opens with an epigraph from Genesis: “For the sake of ten [righteous men] I will not destroy it.”  It consists of nine vignettes.  one of them reads:

It’s not that I have greater
lungs or desert living
gives me the strength of ten.

I’d be driving my own taxi, but there are no medallions.

Or “Farewell to his Wife,” set in the moment when Lot’s wife looks back and turns to salt:

He does not look back.  He does not choose
to lunge for her hand even as her hand
slips from his grasp when she looks back.

Maybe they said their good-byes
over tax returns,
a glass of wine and orange rinds.

The poet will return to this moment another time and tell it very differently.  The shifting of both topics and attitudes keeps the reader off balance. But Bacharach is having a wonderful time with the mixture.  It’s worth the trouble to go with the flow.

The key poem for access to the mind of the poet, for me, is “I Am Writing About Fucking,” which gives a sequence of reasons: “because I am human, . . .because sorrow was taken . . .” ending with:

because it’s not polite and I am always very
please and thank you
because there are already
enough words for snow
because of shame, that fishbone in the throat
because we are made of stars.

If this word play pleases you, you should enjoy the book.  And perhaps be a bit jealous of Bacharach’s skill and her leaps of imagination.

Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

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scan0001This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.