Sep 6, 2016
Another full round of Snapshot reviews by Davis Plett!
Seasoned poet Monty Reid’s Meditatio Placentae is a well-seasoned (not too salty, none too sweet) romp through suites of verses describing: ordinary kitchen objects invested with a weight that feels like consciousness; a pop-up book disheveled by the ravages of infant teeth; objects from a construction site deconstructed and then reconstructed by language; a woman lost in the woods who nevertheless is enchanted by the light; an actor who is told by the director of a production of The Vagina Monologues that she needs to get a “moan coach”; and, at the book’s conclusion, an amusingly self-referential series on Reid’s relationship with the contributors’ notes. Nestled in the center of the volume is the titular suite, a surreal series of poems written from the perspective of a retained placenta. The poems in Meditatio Placentae achieve a certain quirk and whimsy, less through turns of phrase than turns of imagery; Reid is a master of suite, of sustaining and transforming an image or idea through sequence of poetic Mr. Potato Head interventions.
Mother Tongue Publishing
Kerry Gilbert’s collection of prose poems is as taught as its title. An exquisite ode to the poetics of structure, Tight Wire is organized into a series of ten groups of four prose poems (although the final sample is a single poem). Each group begins with a portrait of a female circus performer—the tightrope walker whose “sweat cuts a new river through her clay makeup, but [it] too goes unnoticed,” the contortionist who makes the audience gasp at “the beautiful, beautiful pain,” the burlesque performer whose dance ends when “the cage covers her once again and the stage goes black, black”—and then presents three portraits of contemporary women, women in surgery, women swimming to save drowning children, women wandering the halls of memory. Where Reid’s poems take ideas out on relatively brief excursions, Gilbert’s collection manages to sustain its theme for an entire book. Slowly, the dichotomy between the two worlds of the poems—the circus and the modern world—disappears, revealing the circus’s unacknowledged performers, women trapped in a hall of mirrors that distort language and visage, voice and face. And yet, these mirrors are shattered, the tight wire is snapped, along with the structure of the book itself. “For now,” the final poem soberly concludes, “it is over.” A catalogue of patriarchal systems that encompasses the past and gestures melancholically towards the future, Gilbert’s poems share some of the same whimsicality and rich imagery as Reid, but her poems walk a bolder poetic and political line. The sound of the circus has faded; Gilbert’s poems invite us to consider how they will manifest next.
The most diverse collection of this Snapshots edition, poemw is a playful and sometimes poignant take on gender, nature, and history. In “Why The World Would Be Better Off Without People,” a nervous speaker notes that pigeons’ breasts are “the exact / right size and shape to take an arrow // a delicate arrow from a child’s bow,” then asks the reader to affirm their desire to paint the dying bird: “Don’t you want to paint that? […] // Don’t you?” In “Hair,” a speaker recounts growing up in rural Ontario, where their hair became a contested site of gender, cultural values, and identity: “To me [my mother] said: “Why do you want to look / like a boy?” A series entitled “Questions for Isabella Gunn” speculates on the history of its eponymous subject, a woman who joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1806 under the name John Fubister, rewriting a story catalogued only by men: “You died alone, four men’s entries marking your life, / captain, trader, schoolteacher, inspector of the poor.” The book concludes with a cheeky homage to Wallace Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” entitled “Thirteen ways of looking at a pair of underpants.” Where Meditatio Placentae takes the reader on crazy journeys fueled by an imagination asking, “what if?”, and demands a sustained attention to the beauty and horror of its images and form, poemw offers warm, quirky poems that readily stand on their own, inviting the reader into a gallery of poetic games and intimate portraits.