Knock Knock by Heather Hartley
Carnegie Mellon UP; published January 8, 2010.
80 pages, $15.95 paperback
I do not know how Heather Hartley came to be living in France, where she is the Paris Editor for Tin House and a co-director of the Shakespeare & Co. Literary Festival. Perhaps her muses beckoned her there, since in Knock Knock I find many hallmarks of the European Surrealists: surprising juxtaposition, non sequiturs, and, at times, a dark gallows humor. "His fork outlasted his fuck," declares the title poem, without explanation or apology. "His landlord was the king of butter." Yet unlike Andre Breton and the original Dada-ist generation, Hartley develops these poems as art, and not the mere artifact of philosophical discourse. Her lines are measured and purposeful and her images unforgettable, such as "the Slavic sandman in his fur cap" who "slings mud and spare ribs instead of sweet dreams."
My favorite poems from the collection are centered on a naturalistic, seemingly consistent first-person speaker; a woman with wry intelligence who is both resigned and resigned to hope. These vignettes glimmer with compassion, as in this excerpt from "Advice for the Hirsute":
... The lawyer has lost her mind but O she can dance.
For years, she didn't like her hands
but you can only hide them so long, I said, a girl's got only so many pockets.
(Now she's in love with them like a teenage girl.)
If I gave you the same gift again, wrapped differently,
but the exact same thing,
would you be happy again, a second time?
Mayweed by Frannie Lindsay
The Word Works; published February 1, 2010.
76 pages, $15.00 paperback
Frannie Lindsay's third collection, Mayweed, operates in a different emotional register: meditative, grieving, at times painterly. I have been a fan of Lindsay's work throughout her renaissance career -- after many years of no poetry, focusing instead on performing as a classically trained pianist, Lindsay has published three books within five years of each other. This burst of output aligns with the unpacking of a painful family history, which sees a natural summation in this volume as a daughter comes to terms with the death of the man who was both father and abuser. Such wrenching material can overwhelm the craft of a lesser poet but Lindsay keeps a tight reign, revealing tension primarily though relentless enjambment and stark image. As in Knock Knock, Mayweed throws us some fantastic curveball moments, as in the opening of the poem "Visiting Hours":
Sometimes he tried to crank the bed by himself,
and his baby blue snowflaked gown would ride up
and there was his drowsy penis that meant nothing to him,
his thigh skin gathered like prom gown taffeta ...
Both these books refreshed my thoughts on mortality; both stayed with me long after the first reading, and the second, and the third.
Check out the titles suggested by other poets--including Katie Ford, Tony Hoagland, Dara Wier, and Jericho Brown--by clicking here.