The Dictionary Poems by Lauren Bender, New Lights (2004)

September 29, 2006

Reviewed by Maureen Thorson

First off, gotta hand it to the designer at NewLights Press (which appears, sadly, to be webpage-less) for an ultra-nice cover. This 5.5″x8″ chap is bound in handmade, straw-colored paper with an agreeably construction-paper kind of feel, and the front features a wide, single column of what appears to be random text. But get this: the majority of the text has been white out, by hand, with ye olde office-type correction fluid. The only words left unblocked are the title and the author’s name. Nice!

And, to top it all off, the design reflects the work itself, a series of short poems that work their way across the “B” section of a 1994 American Heritage Dictionary. Various words within the poems appear in boldface, as if they were dictionary entries, or broken into syllables, like so: ba_by’s breath. But the poems themselves don’t seek to define or denote their subjects, but to refine and connote their meanings through reference to their neighbors:

“An inflatable bag containing the words
of thoughts
of a cartoon character.

To ride
To expand
to bulge

The work also invites the reader to partake in a sort of word guessing game — as the poems proceed up and down the “B” section, I began to guess ahead at the word that was being talked around —

“small domestic fowl
small aggressive person
small aggressive boxer
between a flyweight and a featherweight.”

I think these guessing games are important to the work, as they return the reader to the excitement and fun of words in themselves as communicative tools, as expessors — much as other sections that rely on wordplay bring us back to the fun of the sound of words —

my foamy ba_lo_ney
light, soft, buoyant wood,
insulation, floats, and hobby crafts”.

While there are 20 poems in this collection (the chapbook magic number?), it seems even shorter as some of the poems are no more than 3 lines long. The shortness lends the poems a crisp quality that wavers between creepy and joyous, moving from “A city in/ A country/ of hanging” to “a Christmas tree of people/ on the arm of Baltimore” within a single page. These poems may, in fact, appear somewhat disjointed at first — thrown together only by their ties to the dictionary itself, but I think this is all part of what the author is getting at — the ties, nebulous and all too important, that our big old evolved hyperglossic monkey brains make for us, and between us —

“Marked by manner
Marked by language
Marked by savagery
Marked by language.”

This collection was published in an edition of fifty! Yikes! And no press or author webpage, seemingly . . . I’ll poke around a bit more and report back to you.


Learning the Language by Kate Greenstreet, Etherdome

September 29, 2006

Reviewed by Maureen Thorson

Been meaning to write a little bit about Kate Greenstreet’s chapbook, Learning the Language for a while now, but work-related insanity has interfered. Sorry if what follows seems too “reviewer-y,” but I’m trying to decode my own reaction to these poems beyond “Hey, me likey,” which is my usual articulated depth. Anyway, to break out the vocabulary, these poems take on the essential difficulties of understanding and connection-making, likening everyday speech to fortune-telling: an art in which one taps into a mysterious source that may not always tell you what you want to hear.

They always want to know the same things: love
and money. Or, “Yes,
the world will soon acknowledge . . .”

The poems evoke traveling, bridges, drawing, detective novels, gestation – all translations over distance, obstacles, vision, knowledge, or being. But speech, like any relation across spaces, is difficult, and oblique.

For a long time,
I didn’t know what to say.
And of course I didn’t want to say it.

Things remain uncertain despite the fact that language is our attempt to render everything clear. Time itself interferes . . . our memories, which are supposed to allow us uninterrupted access to a narrative, are themselves faulty.

All positions being apparent,
no one agrees about
what happened next.

But the poems themselves attain clarity through an accretion of nuanced emotions, connections misplaced and replaced in a field, constantly. And this give and take between what is said and what is heard, what is done and what is understood, becomes instead of forbidding blankness, an opportunity for reinventions, for multiple “ways of saying,” and many types of progress toward communication.

The urge to travel, the longing for home,
it comes to us
as weather

. . . .

What is in us already.

Because we love the ground,
The uncrossed distance.

Interested? Good. You can find Learning the Language here, and don’t forget to watch out for her upcoming full-length collection from Ahsahta!Been meaning to write a little bit about Kate Greenstreet’s chapbook, Learning the Language for a while now, but work-related insanity has interfered. Sorry if what follows seems too “reviewer-y,” but I’m trying to decode my own reaction to these poems beyond “Hey, me likey,” which is my usual articulated depth. Anyway, to break out the vocabulary, these poems take on the essential difficulties of understanding and connection-making, likening everyday speech to fortune-telling: an art in which one taps into a mysterious source that may not always tell you what you want to hear.

They always want to know the same things: love
and money. Or, “Yes,
the world will soon acknowledge . . .”

The poems evoke traveling, bridges, drawing, detective novels, gestation – all translations over distance, obstacles, vision, knowledge, or being. But speech, like any relation across spaces, is difficult, and oblique.

For a long time,
I didn’t know what to say.
And of course I didn’t want to say it.

Things remain uncertain despite the fact that language is our attempt to render everything clear. Time itself interferes . . . our memories, which are supposed to allow us uninterrupted access to a narrative, are themselves faulty.

All positions being apparent,
no one agrees about
what happened next.

But the poems themselves attain clarity through an accretion of nuanced emotions, connections misplaced and replaced in a field, constantly. And this give and take between what is said and what is heard, what is done and what is understood, becomes instead of forbidding blankness, an opportunity for reinventions, for multiple “ways of saying,” and many types of progress toward communication.

The urge to travel, the longing for home,
it comes to us
as weather

. . . .

What is in us already.

Because we love the ground,
The uncrossed distance.

Interested? Good. You can find Learning the Language here, and don’t forget to watch out for her upcoming full-length collection from Ahsahta!


Send me your reviews!!

September 29, 2006

Welcome to REPOPO, a blog dedicated to reviewing women’s innovative poetry and related poetry work. If you have a review of a book, poem, po-formance, or other uncategorizable woman product, please send it to repopo1@gmail.com right away.

Expect a review of Leslie Bumstead’s Cipher/Civilian (Edge Books 2005) this weekend …


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.