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Review: Flourish by Jeanette Clough
reviewed by Megan Mericle

by Megan Mericle

Flourish, by Jeanette Clough
Flourish
by Jeanette Clough
(2013, Tebot Bach)
$16 paper
ISBN: 978-1893670075)

The poetry collection Flourish is a dictionary of abstractions and natural wonders, arranged thematically instead of alphabetically. Even the table of contents functions as a poem, as the one-word titles and short descriptions encompass characteristics of life like “Light,” “Sky” and “Sound.” Clough manages connect the concepts with her unique style while still maintaining a sense of wonder. She plays with the building blocks of the world and adds hints of personal experience without overestimating her own significance.

Clough also plays with words, and the surprises in her word combinations make the poetry a delight to read. Stone is “earth knuckles,” grass is the “hair of the earth” and salt is a “jewel of choice.” In the poem “Unknown,” Clough compares the unknown to a retreating creature and a paisley couch. Its antonym is “photogenic” and its synonym is “flicker.” This definitional wordplay mimics a dictionary, but in truth tells much more. The description of “unknown” as a laughing trickster reveals how impossible it is to know the secrets of the world, but how human it is to try. Clough tackles concepts we take for granted, reminding us what it means to be human.

Clough is also able to weave humor into her dictionary, making the pieces refreshing to read and adding to their depth. In “Shape,” she mocks the analysis indicative to the genre when she states, “This is an abstract poem. Do not look for hidden meaning, narrative, or significant line breaks.” The same humor arises again in “Middle” when she states, “Between the letters A and C is the letter B. Discuss this among yourselves.” The contradiction in “Unknown” reveals the absurdity behind the lack of human understanding: “The unknown never does the same thing twice. Then, maybe it does. Who knows?” But Clough does not sacrifice image for wit; her best moments are born out of her mastery of language and reversals, as in: “it took a lot of irritated oysters to make the pearly gates” in the poem “Heaven.”

Above all, Flourish is a reminder of the simple abstractions that make up our language. Clough describes the flesh and bones of the earth, from “Cold” to “Wind” to “God.” The poetry is a great comfort; Clough tells us we live in a galaxy that “holds us in its arms” and reassures us that God will always exist because there will always be mystery in the world. She emphasizes the cyclical nature of life: “Sounds” reminds us that while we think of time and life as a terminal line, in reality, both are unending curves, or perpetual sound waves. And “in the real world, it is all middle,” since we cannot remember the beginning of our lives, and will not know our end. But that also means we are destined for renewal, as “freshness is irresistibly attracted to time. If you stay long enough, all your body’s cells are replaced by new ones.”

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 2.

Megan MericleMegan Mericle is a graduate of Western Carolina University and an Assistant Editor at Cider Press Review. She is double majoring in English: Professional Writing and Psychology. She recently returned from a semester abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her work has appeared in the student literary journal Nomad and the 2012 NCUR Proceedings.

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Review: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
reviewed by Megan Mericle

by Megan Mericle

Stags-Leap
Stag’s Leap
by Sharon Olds
(2012, Alfred A. Knopf
$16.95, paper
ISBN: 978-0-375-71225-8)

In Stag’s Leap, Sharon Olds discusses divorce and the torrent of emotions that accompany it. She brings us hope, because despite the divorce and the pain that accompanies it, she finds emotional acceptance, if not complete recovery. The collection reads as if Olds is looking through an old photo album and is telling us about the naivety of her youth. She captures the “good” moments with a critical eye, and disparages the bad. But when she has shown us the last picture, she is able to put the album away and move on. Like all of us, she reaches for it from time to time, but is aware that the pictures will never come to life and carry her back to the beginning of her marriage.

Emotion carries this collection, but its structure makes it immediate and real. We feel the husband’s absence in the empty spaces, and we can hear the speaker’s sobs in “The Worst Thing” through the dashes: “a god—of love—and I’d given—I had meant/ to give—my life—to it—and I/ had failed.” Olds depicts her husband as a fleeting mythological character: his figure is a leaping stag, a Ken doll and a Chagall bridegroom. We rarely hear his voice directly.

The reader experiences the anger of the divorce, the betrayal, the longing to be reunited and finally the acceptance of the inherent problems in the relationship. She was not “the one he wanted to rise from/ or return to” and he was never “happy when words/ were called for, and [she] stood.” Olds shows us her relationship without hesitating to speak directly about emotion and intimacy. We see their marriage from beginning to end, which is painted as a “comedy of ideal and error” on every page, with Olds communicating its textures so clearly we can feel it. We feel the “cindery lichen/ skin between the male breasts,” and feel her “holding his heart in place from the back/ and smoothing it from the front.” Olds contrasts the roughness of divorce with the smoothness of warm memories.

The strength of the poetry seems to come directly from the strength of Olds’ recovery from divorce. As time progresses in the collection, structure grows stronger, connections go deeper, and experiments begin. Olds’ dry but gifted humor brings light to a heavy subject, and staves off melodrama. She captures loss and the absence of love, which is “like a songbird’s rib cage picked clean.” She brings self-criticism and a humble self-deprecating humor to her poetry in pieces like “Left Wife Goose,” which plays with the “old maid” character in nursery rhymes.

Old’s poetry illustrates the cyclical nature of love and loss. Seasons pass, blend together and become “Years Later” within the structure of the collection. Above all, Old’s collection emphasizes hope. Though the ribcage of the songbird is picked clean, Olds adds that rebirth arises from loss. In the final poem, she watches the smoke leave behind the ashes of her father’s body, and the ashes of her mother leave her hand. These physical changes mirror the change Olds experienced after her divorce and the loss of her husband. But the end of the marriage now represents the promise of new life. She will not see her husband again: “no, he does not/ want to meet again, in a year” But his permanent absence is no longer a hole in the speaker’s life; it has become a characteristic of her living.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 15, Issue 4.

Megan MericleMegan Mericle is a senior at Western Carolina University. She is double majoring in English: Professional Writing and Psychology. She recently returned from a semester abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands.  Her work has appeared in the student literary journal Nomad and the 2012 NCUR Proceedings.

See all items about Megan Mericle

Visit Megan Mericle’s contributors page.

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