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Reviews from Cider Press Review

Fruit of Darkness: Review of Simone Muench’s Orange Crush

By Kristin LaTour

Orange Crush by Simone Meunch. Buy from Amazon.
Orange Crush by Simone Meunch Sarabande Books (2010) ISBN: 978-1932511796

I am drawn to poetry that uses words not just as vocabulary, but for their musical qualities. Simone Muench is deft at using words for both diction and sound, making them a pleasure to read for meaning as well as music.

Muench’s second book builds on the same darkness, strong rhythm and imagery found in her first book, Lampblack and Ash. The title refers to girls who in the late 17th century sold oranges at the front of theaters to wealthy patrons and were “considered little better than prostitutes.” Muench balances the historic orange girls with other historic and current voices: Caribbean slaves, women bound by corsets, and contemporary poets and artists

Orange Crush moves through four sections. The first of these, “Record,” focuses on historical aspects of women’s lives and the abuses they suffered. Throughout the section, images or outright statements about witchcraft, disease, hope, blame, death and sex abound. One stand-out lyrical poem titled “You Were Long Days and I Was Tiger-Lined,” discomforts not only by being in the voice of the slave, but in its sexual imagery. She is “encumbered by the whip’s lasciviousness” and says that “the whip’s encounter loosens the back to plumage.” This echoes in the last lines of the poem, asking,”[…] how/ can a dead girl swerve into flight and miss the sky altogether.” In “Psalm,” young girls are burned to death in a convent school. Lines like “The convent said fire. The fire/ said kindness. Kindness/ took a victim […]” make readers think of death as a blessing, a reprieve from a life burdened by sickness. Several poems examine facets of bondage, from women being bound in chemotherapy’s catheters to 19th century corsets.

The two center sections, “Rehearsal” and “Recast,” examine the imagined historical Orange Girls and the treatment they suffered, and real modern women who live independent lives and, given modern freedoms, can live much different lives than women of the past. Several movements in “Orange Girl Suite” show the orange girls murdered: “a man folds the girl up in newspapers” Another woman’s body sinks into a river, her “hair webbed with algae.” Several of the later poems blend the historic girl wearing “a yellow shawl and pearl earrings” with modern women wearing “short skirts after dark.” In the contemporary “Orange Girl Cast,” Muench dedicates prose poems to female poets who are her friends, depicting them as characters “starring” in each poem. These poems are something of a reprieve from the darkness of the first two sections. “The Arsonist (starring brandi h)” begins, “Her calendar charm kick-starts men’s lips while her wrists drop with doorbells.”

Balanced with playful images are honest comments on women’s lives. They suffer from sadness, past abuses, and dangerous encounters. They are sexy and smart. One of my favorites is “The Fever (starring kristy b)” with its line, “Sweet Kristy of the corset, […] born to unzip men’s breath, their clamorous wrists with an alphabet on her breast, a switchblade pinned to her taffeta thigh.”

The final section, “Redress,” is like a voice tying the strands together, telling readers to “Find/ your way out of this/ deathness, Baby,” and “Be a serrated knife to the softness./ Be a bangle bracelet to a broken arm.”  These lines from the poem “Pages from an Unknown Title,” are a fitting ending to a book of poems meant to move readers to think of how far women have come, and how the fight against abuse and blame isn’t over.

In the end, Orange Crush seems like a Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale of caution. And in that vein, all fairy tales need a teller to explain the dangers, unfold the lessons.

 

 

Published in Cider Press Review, 2012.

Kristin LaTour was born and spent her childhood in Tucson, AZ, and then went to Northland College in Ashland, WI on the shores of Lake Superior. Her work has appeared in the journals Fifth Wednesday, After Hours, Pearl, and Rambunctious Review, as well as online at New Verse News and La Fovea. She has a chapbook of dramatic monologues titled Town Limits: Red Beaver Lake, Minnesota published by Pudding House Press and another titled Blood from Naked Mannequin Press

The Floating Bridge by David Shumate

The Floating Bridge by David Shumate
(2008, University of Pittsburgh Press / $14.00, Paper
ISBN: 978-0-8229-5989-2
Reviewed by Caron Andregg

In The Floating Bridge, David Shumate vanquishes once and for all the notion that the prose poem is somehow inherently ‘not a real poem.’ This collection exhibits a sustained level of innate lyricism and imagism rarely seen even in conventional lyric free verse. They are densely concentrated distillations of minute moments in time, space, and psychology, volatile, possibly even explosive. Unfailingly, the little prose jewels in The Floating Bridge exhibit the most fundamental property of fine poetry: each whole is many times greater than the sum of its parts.

Each poem is a journey through Shumate’s magical—but decidedly concrete—dreamscape. It is rarely a solitary journey. The magic lies not simply in his re-imagining the world on the other side of the mirror, but in others’ willingness to cohabit his transverse universe. With relish, a lover embraces mannequinism (“Mannequins”). A magician swaps biospheres with his live prop to sample life from inside the hat: “It’s a comfortable life. Aristocratic by some standards,” disturbed only occasionally when he (the rabbit) “reaches in, grabs me by the scruff of the neck, and yanks me out.” The lapin audience goes wild (“Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat”). In “Fresh Fish,” the narrator buys a—you can guess—for dinner, but he admits, “…these days I become easily confused. And so I take the wrong bus and end up at the office instead of my kitchen.” Elsewhere, that might have been the end of it, but in Shumate’s vision, every fish has its day. While the mackerel sizzles on“the red-hot center of my desk,” his co-workers and even his boss arrive to participate in the minor culinary miracle.

The Floating Bridge is at its heart a collection of minute landscapes: the next village,the Jewish ghetto, the bible belt, the Kissing Institute, a Chinese restaurant, Babylon, Nirvana, purgatory, the private homes of both Death and Dali, and the manifold manifestations of Paris (both without and within). In their clarity and luster, precision and fragmentation, these vignettes recall the soul-ringing imagery of Basho, another chronicler of journeys. And like the haiku of that narrow road, Shumate’s poems demand an engaged and participatory reader. As much as happens in each compact line, much more happens between them. In order to ‘get’ these poems, one must be ready to enter actively into them, to enable their emergence, to become like one of Shumate’s lost gods: “Assembling the lightning. Manufacturing the wind. Hoisting the moon into the sky. Sending the rains down on time.”

Shumate’s sentences are a series of stepping stones stretching across a river, each one is dry and safe itself, but islanded by swirling vortices of possibility. And the breach between each stone is far too wide to span with an easy step. The crossing will demand one—or perhaps several—leaps of… something. Faith. Imagination. Maybe even hope. Enjoy the journey. Don’t forget to stretch before you begin.


Caron Andregg is Editor-in-Chief of Cider Press Review

 

Little Boy Blue by Gray Jacobik

Little Boy Blue by Gray Jacobik.

(CavanKerry Press, 2010 / $16, paper
ISBN: 978-1-933889-11-8)

Reviewed by Ruth Foley

It is, at first, incredibly difficult to give Gray Jacobik’s Little Boy Blue the time it deserves. One long poem separated into a series of “movements,” this “memoir in verse” about a mother’s relationship with her bipolar son shatters any lingering definitions of confessional poetry or memoir, going beyond both to create a book that is stronger than either genre alone usually produces. Because of this, and because of the narrative drive of the memoir, the desire to find out what happens can override the urge to sit with a movement for a moment, to re-read, to wonder. If you are impatient as I am, you’ll give in to the impulse and fly through the book in a single sitting. This is not necessarily a mistake—once you reach the twenty-third and final movement, you will likely feel compelled to begin again, and the second time through, you’ll be able to do the poem justice.

This is an exceedingly brave book, not because of the themes it investigates—psychological illness, fractured relationships, unprepared/unwilling parents, abandonment, and the tremendous amount of damage we are able to inflict upon each other to name a few—but because of Jacobik’s determination to avoid easy answers. There are no conscience-soothing reunions in this poem, no false-ringing homecomings, no contrived sense that all will be well. Instead, she navigates the treacherous waters of the messy, complicated, sometimes ugly details of her life, and she does so in the same way human beings attempt to make sense of things, moving from association to association and theme to theme instead of in a steady chronological line. In movement eleven, she chronicles the failed reunion of her son with his long-absent birth father, a failure based on nothing more dramatic than a lack of any connection beyond the genetic. In movement fourteen, she tells the story of finding a home for unwed mothers in which to give birth. In movement five, she lists the seventeen ways her son’s girlfriend claims Jacobik has abandoned him, opening the poem with the specific accusations, but ending with the acknowledgment that seventeen is hardly a beginning. And, she admits, “That’s putting it simply & it wasn’t simple.” The poet’s job is to tug at the threads at the edges of the cloth, untangling the weave until it becomes something we can understand. Jacobik gets away with admitting this particular shortcoming in description because she is at a point where there are, for the moment, no more explanations (although she then creates eighteen more movements of explanations).

It is possible, I suppose, to construct a chronological order for these poems, to go searching for the direct narrative line, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When we get to the final movement of the poem, it feels inevitable. It is perhaps the movement most of Jacobik’s readers would recognize—the artist’s brush stroke forming each line, each nuance carefully layered—but it is also the inevitable conclusion to the poem. In it, we can sense the threads being woven back together into something a little like resignation, a little like forgiveness, a little like acceptance. The result isn’t clean or smooth, and that is where it—and the entire book—gets its credibility. She lists the complexities of compassion “for the self by the self…/…for the girl who was who is not now a child / for the girl who was a mother [who is always a mother].” There is no redemption here; there is simply compassion and acceptance. We could do much worse.