Monday, September 17, 2007

REVIEW, OCHO # 12, September 17, 2007

When OCHO # 12 arrived, it was late at night, midnight in fact, the witching hour, when magic is made and unmade. I opened it immediately, it’s a long time since I had the luxury of reading poetry for pleasure rather than study. OCHO 12 is presented with the professional polish that has come to be expected from a Menendez publication, attracting contributors of the stature of Billy Collins himself. Guest editor, Grace Cavalieri, has made an intelligent selection of poets and poems and assembled them into a cohesive sampling of contemporary American poetry.

In her editorial Cavalieri states ‘poem[s] … open us up,’ and the poems she has collected here are no exception. Good poetry does the same thing to the mind’s eye that a good painting does to our physical eyes. It opens them wide: in surprise, in appreciation of beauty, in wonder at a new perspective on something. It was this feeling of the mind’s eye opening, the sensation of transcendence, that I was seeking when I opened OCHO 12. I found it the third poet in, with Judith Farr.

After a ‘step into the nothing dark,’ down a ‘corridor of escape’ formed by two mirrors, an image masterfully constructed by Fleda Brown as she looks at the moon with her grandson in Venus de Milo, Cavalieri moves us seamlessly into Billy Collins,’ A View of Stars from a Lawn Chair. It’s a friendly and accessible beginning for this issue and lures the reader on, building unobtrusively poem by poem, growing steadily in complexity and the demand for interaction from the reader.

By the time we get to Farr, we are six poems in and Collins has offered us the tragi-comic image of the headlight with its fur eyelash, and a curiously personal rendition of an ant with a ‘mean-spirited brother’ and ‘tiny mother bursting with pride.’ Sentiment is engaged, poetry muscle is flexed. It's an easy step from here into Farr’s first offering.

Farr draws us into the poem in the wake of her mother’s ghost. She is remembering a neglected childhood where more meaningful connections were made with a paid servant, the colourful Rosaleen McQueen, who sadly leaves to pursue her own affairs when the child is ten, than with the child’s mother. As an adult, Farr envisions the spectre of her mother walking down the road to the post office. Like a plaintive child she calls for her mother to see her:

“Mother, turn around. Won’t you look at me?”
It was Eurydice’s question, the one she asked of the living
But we always ask of the dead. And like all the dead
My mother would not turn.

Farr invokes Eurydice without arousing the inward sigh that classical name-dropping often provokes in the reader of contemporary poetry. Eurydice is relevant. She is the perfect reference to illustrate the poet’s point. The lonely, only child’s longing for recognition from a withdrawn, distant parent is palpable here.

Retaining both mood, and child’s perspective the next poem presented is Grand-mère. Captive in the fairytale fantasy of childhood the memory of Grand-mère is created from a lace of words as fine and beautiful as silver filigree. The magic of the children’s stories, and American classics like Little Women, becomes overlaid with a patina of Grand-mère’s own personal, French, enchantment. Farr’s theme, structure, and language are supported by her line breaks, use of white space and abandonment of left margin constriction, they gracefully uphold the rhythm, pause, and emphasis she wishes to convey.

Later, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, whose name is a poem in itself, writes of Frank Sinatra’s voice and what the words of his songs did to her as a young, impressionable girl. Her poems, like Sinatra’s songs, are ‘so perfect for expressing everything [we want]/ and d[o]n’t have the words to name.’ As an adult and a poet, she finds the words her younger self didn’t have. Through Moments in the Past that Shine ‘smooth as the petal of a rose,’ like her daughter’s face, to her final poem Planting Flowers in Iraq, where she wears her grief ‘like a veil, like those heavy garments/ that Iraqi women wear to cover their faces and hair,’ and mourns:

We ruin
everything we touch. Sorrow. Sorrow.
all the poems in the universe
cannot heal what is broken.

Gillan illuminates the relationship between the events in personal lives and the events history records with clarity and empathy.

Richard Harteis, whose name mimics that flower, heartsease, whispers and thunders by turns, invoking tears and King Lear in his moving tribute to lover, William. His memorial account of William’s passing reminds how death equalizes gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white, gifted, and unremarkable, without regard for race, status or politics. His eloquence is a gift that raises William’s death above the ordinary and offers to all an opening through his words to ease their hearts and spend a moment with their own lost loved ones.

As Cavalieri promises, there is an eclectic, but nicely balanced, selection in this issue. Two delightful contributions from Ted Kooser create vivid images with unique use of language. Kooser has an ability to finish a poem with a ‘wow’ factor many poets must envy. Dolores Kendrick creates beautiful imagery with her mix of bones and butterflies in the fragile cleaning woman: Hattie Elder. And Herbert Woodward Martin uses cunningly constructed long lines in, A Daily Excuse. He also, unusually, uses the ellipsis to good effect in this poem, a difficult feat to accomplish. There is a poetic account of the life of Cleopatra interwoven with that of sculptor Edmonia Lewis, by Vivian Shipley, with some notable moments, although for me it lost momentum after part 1. Maria van Beuren contributes an excellent group of writings that display her talent and versatility as a poet and writer. OCHO # 12 finishes strongly with Reed Whittemore’s satirical forays in rhythm and form. All in all OCHO 12 delivers on Cavalieri’s promise of ‘15 kinds’ of American poetry. There is a taste of poetry magic here for everyone.

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Blogger Didi Menendez said...

Thank you.

Didi Menendez

5:12 PM  
Blogger burning moon said...

You're welcome. It's a great read.


5:19 PM  
Blogger crocodile said...

generosity and intelligence make a beautiful combination. thank you Grace

6:12 PM  
Blogger burning moon said...

You're very welcome Grace.


8:45 PM  

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