Friday, July 20, 2012

Blue Trajectory is Reviewed in Eclectica

A new review of my chapbook, Blue Trajectory, appeared this week in the new issue of Eclectica.

I found the review, by Gilbert Wesley Purdy, to be fair and thoughtful, with some astute and useful observations.  I have to admit that I had to read it twice to take in some of the most thoughtful points.  I was thrown off at first by the fact that the review was combined with that of another book, a full-length collection, and that, as a thesis to link the two together, as is usually required in a combo review, a sort of comparison seemed to have been drawn between the other author's book and mine in terms of our backgrounds and our respective openness about our personal lives as revealed in our work, as well as our relative attempts at sophistication versus simplicity, two words that are used somewhat ambiguously here, I think.  Is one of us good at sophistication and not so good at simplicity, with the reverse holding true of the other, or is simplicity, when done right, always to be preferred over sophistication?  Since I don't think of my poems (or their author) as aiming at either sophistication or simplicity, it's hard for me to answer this question.

When I approach a review myself, I always feel a bit strange about placing too much emphasis  on the author's background, especially when my knowledge of it is incomplete.  In the case of mine, the (albeit reasonable) guess that I completed my MFA (or M.A., as JHU calls theirs, not that it matters much) from Hopkins in my mid-20s seems to give an impression that maybe life has been smoother for me than it has been.  In fact, I received the degree at the age of 35, after a decade or so of floundering about, education and career-wise.  If the last couple decades of my life were less smooth than they look on paper, there is no back-story to go along with that fact other than the usual, a temperament that needed some time and testing to find its niche.

What this means for my writing, I don't know.  I know my temperament is a private one, and I guess my comfort with a certain level of privacy comes across more in my work than I realize.  As a strongly introverted sort (cliche for a poet, I know, but it's true) I don't find it daring to infer my life from a distance; I find it natural and comfortable.  I feel that at times the statements in my poems are very frank, but it's probably true that these statements, as the reviewer notes, stand out because they are in the minority.  I also know that my approach regarding style and subject matter has probably drawn inward, rather than outward, with time.  Several of the poems I published in the first year or two of beginning to place my poems were more direct in voice.  Although I still write poems with the same level of directness, oddly, lately, these poems aren't picked up, and the less direct ones are.  I'm not sure exactly why this is.

There may be other, more substantial differences between the two sets of  poems than directness/ lack of directness, but whatever the differences are, it seems that I may be better suited to writing the latter sort of poem.  The reviewer mentions transience and tenuity.  I guess these concepts are in line with my philosophy of poetry and its role, as distinct from the role of narrative prose.  Poetry can imitate dreamscapes by being impressionistic and fluid; it can live in the moment and not always feel the need to take a stand or draw a conclusion.  Once in a while, it can or it needs to take a stand or draw a conclusion, and then it should, but I don't think this is required or would be desired of every poem.

Mr. Purdy makes a fair point in his closing comments, too.  I do struggle with consistent and effective closure, and that is part of the ongoing challenge.  I don't mean that cheekily; it truly is an area where I struggle, but it's also part of what keeps inspiring me.


Sarah Allen said...

Congrats on the review! It does indeed look very thoughtful. And congrats on the baby girl!

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

janelle elyse kihlstrom said...

Thanks, Sarah!