Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Every Atom

Today for the Sealey Challenge--read a poetry book or chapbook a day in August--I read Every Atom, by Erin Coughlin Hollowell (Red Hen Press, 2018).  I'm pretty sure my plan was to review this book for Escape Into Life back when it was new. To quote Hollowell, "It's not tidy, memory." Maybe I couldn't bear it. There is so much grief, including anticipatory grief, it breaks my heart. Grief for a mother, grief for a brother. What have I to do with lamentation? asks one of the poem titles. Oh, everything.

Look at these first four lines from the first poem, titled All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses:

     My mother asks me to call my father.
     Tell him to come and get me. My father
     is sitting next to her on the sofa as she says this.
     He is the one who handed her the phone.

See what I mean? Could you bear it? Yes, we can, and we have to bear it. Erin Coughlin Hollowell makes it beautiful and bearable. Her poems are emotional and philosophical at once, full of ingenious forms and layouts, full of gorgeous images:

     It's not tidy, memory.
     A house built straddling a chasm.
     The way drifting smoke disappears
     against the scraped palette of sky.

And look at this very precise image from a poem called The last scud of day:

     I brush away the hours
     like the smeary skids of eraser
     left over from a project that went
     from unwell to undone.

Alas, "undone" like my intended review! The poem continues:

     scrawled over the ghosts of others
     and then rubbed away again.

Can't you just see and feel those "skids of eraser" from childhood writing and drawing? Can you remember those ghosts of other words?

Random coincidii on a Wednesday, the hump of the week:

1) As I read the following lines from a prose poem called Hankering, gross, mystical, nude, I was sitting on a blanket on my glider, gray clouds swarming above me: "Maybe it's better to put a sweater on, better to gather blankets and tea. Hold our lovers close while we can still remember their names." I put a sweater on.

2) Resonating with A Slow Bottle of Wine by Katharyn Howd Machan: a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

3) Resonating with American Zero by Stella Wong: pineapple. Oh, when Hollowell feeds her mother a pineapple chunk "and she says / good" I smiled, just like the speaker of the poem.

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