Thursday, August 5, 2010

When you think about me, do you think about me as a kid?

The members of the Washtenaw County Women’s Poetry Collective & Casserole Society wrote these series of poems—(Almost) Sonnets, Q&A poems, Retellings, and something called Spookles—topped by a cool dose of casserole recipes. This little book shouts about the allure, the power, the possibilities of collectivity.

Fourteen people and now one voice, as the members admit on the acknowledgement page that they don’t recognize their own voices in the poems. Just words and images and ideas, so many ingredients melting, boiling, and baking together, leaving me originally unsure of how the product would taste.

Finished! Some tasted like they were missing a spice or two, and others were just a little overcooked. However, many of the poems in this collection satiated me in my poetic hunger. These poems push the boundaries of collective writing, connected language, and beautiful lines.

Sometimes, I was thinking, “Man, I have no clue what’s this is supposed to be/mean/amount to/tell me/emote/connote.” Seems a problem could come tossing all these minds’ juices into one pot: who says what is enough. In the poem “What We Call Awe” (sweet sweet title by the way), I can almost feel where a different hand comes in, where one or many kept coming in until we end up with this poem that pushes several directions, but pulls me none.

But woah, the moments these voices balance, control each other, the results are what I call awe. Take “Familiar Things” bleeding with sadness, loneliness, but also comfort in these, in the familiar. As it begins, “[s]itting unsuspecting, and then the doorbell/chimed through the kitchen,/the casserole left out. I stared/blankly. I felt nothing: peas, carrots, a void,/a void,/a void.” This isn’t boo-hoo I’m lonely. This is detailed, beautiful emotion. Then, we get it in the last line, the boo-yeah: “Everything shrinks to the size of your face.”

Moments like these abound in this collection, poems that pull on the edges of emotions before bringing the whole stack down. Like in the Retelling poem “The Odyssey: Color,” the poets take the familiar and connect it with emotions, new and bold. Just look:
I have to pretend that I miss my home,/that I miss my wife. My son/would certainly want me to miss him./ But out here on this boat things feel more infinite./The last tree I can see is not the last tree there is.

When I read those lines, I just blinked and blinked, like “What?” → “Woah” → “Wo-woah.” Yes, we have heard of longing, we have learned of the difficulties of space, but continued, continued, this poem does the length of the page, concluding “[b]efore Cyclops/I was a different guy—/my beard had no gray in it. But now/I know better than to account for color.”

While the emotions are familiar, yes we all feel them, the way these poets carve them into these words is just a glowing light. “The Space Between Stars” is one of those poems that hits you with ideas that are incredibly bold, emotional, purposeful. “Stars don’t shine bright, but they could always start/shining brighter” is cute and hopeful, okay, we get it. But then, it unfolds, unloads: “I spelled/your name wrong but I’m not sorry,/since you were kind of a dick/when you shout that clay pigeon I loved/and turned the rest loose in my aunt’s yard.” I’m thinking, HARSH BUT COOL. For real, think about the feeling, the dare-I-say-it fresh feeling here.

As this poem closes, the speaker says their GRE scores are no longer valid and they have friends that are bald and others living in Wisconsin and Texas. Reading these poems, I began to understand how collective poems can work (as well as not work), how they can cut gaps, how they can pull and push heaviness. As “The Space Between Stars” concludes, “I never knew how to travel between them, from here to the Southern heat in a slip of a day.” I get it, I feel it, the feeling is mutual.

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