Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Voice Lessons

National Poetry Month is dwindling down, four poems to go, and people are exhausted, poets losing their energy and inspiration. 

So, 1) today’s poem-a-day prompt is “exhaustion,” and 2) you might get a lift by looking at Paulette Beete’s poetry feature, just up today at Escape Into Life.  Sing it, baby!

I've been reading Voice Lessons, Paulette's new poetry chapbook, in small, sweet bits since it arrived from Plan B Press--perfect name for a small poetry press, eh?  

Sorry, I can seem to get an image of the book cover any larger than this thumbprint (or it gets blurry), but you can enlarge it at the press's website.  It's a lovely drawing.

Paulette is also included in the anthology pictured above, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, D.C.  Paulette lives in the D.C. area now, but our paths crossed at poetry workshops when we both lived in Chicago, so I have been a reader of her work for a long time.  I reviewed her first chapbook, Blues for a Pretty Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2005) for RHINO, and I am glad to see a couple of poems from that, including “Voice Lesson,” here in Voice Lessons.  (You can see samples from both books in the Escape Into Life feature.)

And, yes, this book is about all kinds of singing—songs of praise, songs of woe, choir singing, blues, jazz, birdsong.  And about finding, developing, training one’s voice. There are poems like prayers, litanies, incantations. There are prose poems, numbered poems, and even collage poems that mix voices, the poet as arranger of a new song.

There are poems to Billie Holiday and to Eva Cassidy. There are poems to a street, a poem to the vagina. Anything that can sing or be sung to might be here! Somehow, somewhere, a voice will be breaking to make someone whole.

There is a rich, conflicted relationship with the mother in these poems.  “Naming,” a ghazal, begins:

In prayer, my mother gargles my name, in her throat a small stone.
I tremble on her tongue light as a stone.

and ends:

She names me Paulette, meaning small:
I grow smaller still, my name growing cozy as a stone.

And “Prophecy,” a prose poem, begins:

Mama, I said, I’m going to be a poet.  Mama, I said, I will make your words mine. Her large hand winding its way around my small hands like a manacle, her lips parted.

Throat, tongue, lips recur throughout this book.  “I didn’t know I loved my tongue,” she says in “Poem after Hikmet.” “I used to think it was a liar. My own tongue!” The mouth is used to speak, to sing, to taste, to kiss, to eat, to love. And, in “The Woman’s Wardrobe,” to ask:

Am I an intersection of skin & voice
the shadow of that intersection
a manipulation of skin & memory

a blank wall?

And maybe to let us know what voice lessons are for:

Later after you’ve unhooked yourself…
later when you are sleeping
I’ll count your brokenness..
            where the harmonica
bruised Stormy Monday from your mouth

I’ll count the places my body mourns
your hands the fleshy length of your fingers

harp-bit rough worry your lips
like a stone greedy unstitching

that raw place where you measure loss
my tongue building a sacristy for hunger.
  
And here is Paulette, reading, on the Big Read Blog!

6 comments:

Maureen said...

Thank you for the introduction to Paulette Beete. What a wonderful poet.

I also like the beautiful art to which you paired Beete's poetry on Escape Into Life.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Maureen! Turns out birds freak her out, but she finds these beautiful, too!

Likewise, love the art in your blog today! And every day you share art!

Hannah Stephenson said...

Sounds like an excellent collection. Thanks for the recommendation!

Kathleen said...

I hope you will seek her out, Hannah!

Marylinn Kelly said...

Glad to know of your recommendations, especially "Full Moon on K Street," as a one-time D.C. resident. And links found here...Maureen, the food blogs...what a beautiful start to the day. Thank you.

Kathleen said...

Happy to point you in all directions, Marylinn! Just picture me as the whirling scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz!!

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