Category Archives: CPR Volume 21, Issue 1

CPR Volume 21, Issue 1, April, 2019

Kristin Berger’s Echolocation

Review by Melissa Reeser Poulin

Echolocation
Echolocation
Kristin Berger
978-1723433979
(2018, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
$15, Paper

Kristin Berger’s newest collection of poems is a storm moving across the desert: expansive, quick moving, and deeply satisfying. In these technology-paced days when it’s hard to hear the inner voice, the poetry world is in need of work like this, connecting our oldest human stories—love and its loss, heartbreak and the rebuilding of hope—with purposeful grounding in the natural world. Echolocation picks up where modern naturalists like Mary Oliver leave off: rooted in a particular place, yet casting a net into further territory.

“Let’s work this out in the dark,” the title poem suggests. It’s a suggestive line, and it’s meant to be. This is the story of a romantic relationship impeded and dissolving, and the impact of emotion on the body. With each turn of the page, the speaker in these poems traces the familiar shape of a mate, using rhythm and sound to locate herself in the wake of his absence. These are poems about the electric undercurrent of relationship in all its forms: with the land, with the small pleasures of living, and with the beloved.

“I can talk about it any way I want,” Berger writes in  “After Reading Sharon Olds,” and it’s as if, with each poem, we can feel the determination of a gifted poet to set down lines that are as close to the truth—to the poet’s particular truth—as possible. Any writer worth their salt understands the difficulty of writing sex well: it’s easy for language to turn either sentimental or crass. There’s a balance to strike, and Echolocation does so by maintaining a sense of humor, of humility, and by remaining rooted in the plant and animal world of the speaker’s own backyard.

Berger leads us through the forests, mountains, and deserts of the Pacific Northwest with the keen eye and easy intimacy of a local. From “the gossip of starlings in the firs, of ripe figs/ and porch-slant” in a suburban neighborhood to  “the silent, snaking Deschutes. Sagebrush” of the open Oregon desert, Berger situates herself firmly in a known place. In echolocation, animals use objects to locate themselves in dark, unfamiliar places. In these poems, natural images serve as landmarks for the speaker to orient herself in space, as she charts her course of discovery.

Echolocation is a quiet tour-de-force, written, revised and published in the span of a year. It is a surrender to the narrative arc of a love story, and the speaker’s determination not to lose of that story what is hers to keep: the beautiful slow moments in the natural world, of the natural world, that belong to no one and to everyone because they are human. “The heart wants one good panorama with no power lines,” Berger writes toward the end of the collection, a wry comment on the modern world’s intrusion into beauty, stillness, connection. Consider this book that panorama. Echolocation leads your heart toward a vista most of us know well—heartbreak. But, oh, what a view.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 1.

Melissa PoulinMelissa Reeser Poulin is the author of the chapbook Rupture, Light (Finishing Line Press 2019) and co-editor of Winged: New Writing on Bees (Poulin Publishing 2014). Her most recent poems and essays appear in Coffee + Crumbs, Hip Mama, Relief Journal, Ruminate Magazine, and Writers Resist. More at melissareeserpoulin.com.

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Review of Lisa Bellamy’s The Northway

Review by Alarie Tennille

The Northway
Lisa Bellamy
978-1947896055
(2018, Terrapin Books)
$6.75, Paper

“As a seed, I was shot out the back end of a blue jay.” Pow! In her opening persona poem, “Wild Pansy,” Lisa Bellamy grabs our full attention. How could anyone stop there? In the first four lines of The Northway, she takes us from poop humor to unexpected empathy as Pansy remembers the blue jay, “. . . briefly I called her Mother / before I passed through her gullet like a ghost. / In a blink of God’s eye, I was an orphan. . . .”

That first poem draws you, and Bellamy doesn’t let up the pace. Her final, title poem, “The Northway,” begins, “If I drive with my eyes closed, I imagine the road better.” The suspense could almost kill us if her blind driving doesn’t. Luckily, by the time we reach that page, we have complete confidence in Bellamy’s ability to keep us safely in our reading chairs.

Bellamy’s poetry defies description, because it’s so many things at once. She can go off on more tangents in a 30-line poem than a Southerner in a porch swing chatting away Sunday afternoon, yet her unique grab bag of topics and metaphors works. If her poems were a movie, we wouldn’t dare leave our seats.

In “Blueberry Crumble at the Noon-Time Diner,” a single-page poem, Bellamy manages to cram her immigrant Irish ancestor, tourists, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, patrons in lime-green and yellow shorts, trout at her grandparents’ house, her ancestor’s communion watch, her lover’s salty neck, bear grease in the hair of Mohawk men, Paul Bunyan, and more. The unlikely juxtaposition of people and events makes us even more curious where the heck she’s taking us.

The poet also understands when simplicity works best. “Girl Meets Bear” contains only the girl and the bear, because why would it need anything more?

The Northway could be a master class in Where Ideas Come From. Bellamy spends more in nature than most of us, but she doesn’t rely solely on the species most endearing to humans like deer and butterflies. She tells us her “father used to say, play the cards you’re dealt,” and she admires that same determination in all species, including ticks, snakes, woodchucks, and feral pigs.

Like most poets, she also writes poems of personal experience, her marriage, addiction, breast biopsy, but Lisa Bellamy goes even further in her topic search. We’ve all had people call us by the wrong name, but she creates an alternate personality and new life for herself as Lucy.

Bellamy does more than amaze and entertain. She may even save our lives. In “If a Black Bear Approaches,” she shares a warning from Adirondack Explorer: speak to the bear in normal tones so that it knows you are a human. A normal tone might be hard to master in such a moment, so she provides a sample monologue. We may memorize all or part of it and be prepared when we meet a “Gigantic – filthy, / slightly-slobbering, / big-tongued Teddy / sniffing the air.” You might want to practice calmly chanting, “Go, go now, / go, go, go, / my splendid, plus-size / Paddington . . . .”

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 1.

Alarie Tennille graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she serves on the Emeritus Board of The Writers Place.  Her newest poetry collection is Waking on the Moon (Kelsay Books). Please visit her at alariepoet.com.

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