Poetry for Southern California
The Truck Driver's Daughter
Book by Denise Weuve
Reviewed by Nancy Shiffrin (http://home.earthlink.net/~nshiffrin)
Denise Weuve is not afraid. The hard craft of her poems displays her courage. Her themes are addiction, prostitution, lonely motherhood, mostly absent fathers. She wants to be the reason that AA doesn't work. God is absent from this work, though still hoped for. The poems seem to point to a persona, but I can't help thinking that most must be autobiographical or very close to Weuve's personal reality. I love especially the way she describes her mother and grandmother in “When My Mother Danced.”
They were two women
who did not need permission
to pin their paisley dresses
above their knees, whisper
curse words, or dance in each other's arms.
Weuve is without judgment of the sister who stops to score on the way to rehab and makes her an offer, “You want, it could be stronger.” The poem is called “Cycles” and the extended metaphor of counting days to rehab and counting days to menstruation becomes a recognition of shared experience.
Menstrual cramps are like the pains of withdrawal, her sister bleeds “the blood that is mine/still staining her hands.”
The effects of addiction, the loss of the father, the brother, the grandfather who hanged himself, the mother who tells the poet/daughter “No one will love you/Not without beating you” are graphically portrayed in a number of poems. “Human Anatomy Parts” is the most graphic. The kidney which belonged to an unknown Hispanic woman who might have died in a traffic accident, whose life she the poet can barely imagine, we guess is a real transplant. The liver soaked in vodka, the spleen enlarged, infected, become metaphors for all of the personal physiological losses brought on by alcoholism.
Is Weuve the daughter, the blessed female, who too often walks into the callous hands of men? There is so much hurt, disappointment, so many men who don't notice when the woman has disappeared. I look for hope in Weuve's words and don't find it. I do find hope in the intensity of her talent, her ability to capture in intense figurative language an agony that is too visceral for existence. I recommend this book and look forward to the next one.
Death in the Key of Life
Book by Danny Baker
Oneiros Books (www.paraphiliamagazine.com/oneirosbooks)
Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas
This is an intimidating volume. I'll admit I struggled with it. Each piece is a page or two of solid block text, the words running into and over each other without any narrative to follow. I usually don't like a steady torrent of verbiage like this. It reads like he just opened the floodgates, and all these words poured out. As if the mere volume of words was valuable in and of itself.
But I persisted. My first inclination was to plow right through, to try to match the volume of words with my speed of consumption. The very appearance of the page demands you keep going, unlike sparse, spread out poetry, where the amount of blank space asks for pause and reflection.
But I found that was not necessarily the best approach. Sure, you could get the rush of the flow, like riding the rapids, but you miss a lot. If you slow down, take these pieces word by word, phrase by phrase, they make more sense. There is a logic to them. Often its a dream logic, but a logic. These pieces don't so much build an argument, as they construct a maze to explore, following each word or phrase wherever it leads.
The piece “Splintering Marble” starts out:
Unattached universal ideal separates from dogmatic. Pulpits
burn. Pious is elsewhere. An innocuous enough appearance
caught on honed coat-hook in cathedral celebrating eternal life
which skins definition to the bone, Bone dry in sacramental chalice
accompanies crumbs in a bowl. Flock is shorn.
The reader can follow the thoughts from phrase to phrase as they develop. Whether they ultimately add up to a solid idea is up to the reader, especially as the piece continues in this manner until it fills the page.
Many of the pieces do loop around, and end up somewhere close to where they started. “Counting Bleeps” starts out, “Promise in the dark is narcoleptic. Sleep deprived at that. Drifting into fantasy of what could have been is indolent man's excuse for inaction in addition to depressing the system to sleep.” It ends with, “Tired as a lone whore on a troop ship though for some reason can't sleep. And have no clue as to why.”
At times, Baker seems fully aware of the challenges his writing presents for the reader. “Doesn't Follow Or Does It” (even the title seems a commentary on his writing style) ends with, “...and all this is apparently a series of plot deficient non-sequiturs. Seriously?”
Once you slow down to appreciate the word play and dream logic of these pieces, then it is time to go back and speed through them. For there is a thrill in the rush of words. Even so, this is not a book to tackle lightly, or expect to read in a couple of days, It is a book to savor in small bites, stopping when it overwhelms you, and coming back to it when you are rested.