Friday, August 22, 2014

Hidden Gems

    “Why is the heart alone in the chest?” Ona Gritz asks in her book of poems, Geode.
     She doesn’t give an easy answer, but in the poems you feel her heart at work.
     The collection takes one through her life, and she covers an impressive amount of territory without a single shallow note.  I have often found, in poems of trouble, the difficulties are set out like a sad offering at a flea market.  As is.  But Gritz uses each difficulty as a catapult to lift her vision, to look deeper into things, and further into future, or the past, or the lives of others.
     The beginnings and ends of her poems are double-edged.  When her father says, “a man of twenty / only wants one thing / and when I get pregnant, don’t come running to him,” she writes:
              how unfair a man is,
              this man, the first one I loved.
     In a poem about waiting for a late justice, at the hour of her marriage, she writes,
             How fully I want to love.
             Of course, anything one does fully
             is a journey alone.  But I don’t yet know this.
     I appreciated the perspective shifts.  Some poems were honed to a single, stunning image; others took you to the startling line by a meandering drive; they reflected what she called the shifting ‘ratio of love to heartbreak.’
      Most poems about relationships are stuck in the claustral space of the poet’s current thoughts.  Gritz’s poems about her relationships are not just memories, but interrogations of memory, layers of moments, words address to dead relatives, and notes to and from her past selves.
       I loved the poems about her blind lover, and the doors of perception he opened to her.  She notes that when your lover is blind, your fashion advice is gospel, and “You can stop shaving your legs.”
       The poem, “Route 2” begins:
             Why is divorce so expensive,
             Lynn asks . . ..
             Because it’s worth it.
      Humor is tragedy examined closely, and inside tragedy lies a seed of humor: humor is the flower and tragedy is the seed, each lies within the other in an endless unfolding.
       “People change and forget to tell each other,” Lillian Hellman said.  They even forget to tell themselves.  In this book, Gritz tells us, in order to grasp it all herself.  It’s a pleasure to accompany her.
      There is nothing sanctimonious in this volume, but every connection is sacred.  She speaks of the unpromising texture of the geode, which, when broken, reveals startling brilliance.  Each poem in Ona Gritz’s Geode was a rough moment opened by her hard work to offer us insight from the heart.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Laura Maffei's poetry

I read Laura Maffei’s book of tanka, “Drops from her Umbrella.”  I loved the quiet shock of the sharp turn in the small space of a short, traditional Japanese form:

infant Batman
in my arms
barely aware of this world
that needs saving

Maffei uncovers the quiet chaos of our private life:

how much laundry
is too much
the dark tangle
of many sleeves 
inside the machine

She plays with traditional poetry material in sharp lines:

tight buds
against the gray sky
this spring
you might, I tell them,
want to wait a while

Maffei can write originally about desire—no mean feat.

let’s not
fall for each other
this new guy tells me
little metal cell phone
hot on my ear

not unlike 
Death himself
a man in a black sports car
flirts with me
at sixty-five miles per hour

I loved the shocking juxtapositions:

sunny day
a hearse
in my rear-view mirror
and the long line behind it

These poems are long stories made short, honed to that moment when something strikes the mind like a match, so one is burned and enlightened with her.  The language is so pure it perversely conveys emotion.