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Monday, March 14, 2011


I hesitate to write about this book of poems because it is in large part about a mother's bodily response to childbirth and its aftermath. "Lochia" is post-partum vaginal discharge that continues for about three to four weeks after birth. "Hecate" is goddess of motherhood, among other things. I chose to write about it because I write about almost every piece of literature that I read and like, and it is an extraordinary book. I'll do my best, but I encourage you to check it out.

The poems in this book address a certain knot of concerns from a number of different angles. Namely, how does the body of a particular post-partum woman encounter and participate in the degradation of the environment through pollution, war, economics, and politics?

The very first poem places us right in this knot: "Up nursing     then make tea / The word war is far." This fascinating couplet claims that war is far from the concerns of this nursing mother, yet her bringing the topic up proves that it's not too far. The poem ends by asking "Why try / to revive the lyric". The book then answers this question: to get this female knot of concerns into the tradition of the lyric.

Four poems from the book can be found here. "Thinking of Bernadette" (I assume Bernadette refers to poet Bernadette Meyers) opens with personal economic concerns. The poem asserts a nostalgia for the gold standard and bartering, and the first stanza ends with a comparison between money and a winding creek. Apparently, the poet feels insecure about money, that it's convertible and not stable. Her broken, hesitating, staccato lines magnify this issue. In this particular poem, her characteristic poetic style asks us to read the offhand ("thinking of Bernadette," "Ate ginger miso") with the crucial.

In "Pusa" Nguyen pulls together a wild variety of subject matter in just 12 lines. The poem is filled with phrases and clauses that do not connect to other parts of language. There's a kind of offbeat stumbling in her poetry that is, I think, akin to Thelonius Monk's music. How does she hold it together? I think the answer is primarily rhythm. You have to hear it, but when you do the poems move in an almost inevitable fashion. Anything can be in these poems, right next to anything else, because her style invites them in.

For more on this book see Stephen H. Sohn's "Effective Instability." His review does a fine job of focusing more particularly on specific themes than I do. I am more concerned with form.

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