Fragments Found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot, Kate Durbin (Dancing Girl Press 2009)
Dancing Girl Press has done an admirable job with the neat and attractive publication of Kate Durbin’s chapbook Fragments Found in a 1937 Aviator’s Boot. The title of the work refers to a recent development in the mystery of aviator Amelia Earhart’s 1937 disappearance during an attempted transpacific flight—though this is not made immediately apparent to readers not well versed in Earhart’s history. Earhart is the voice for each poem, narrating the events leading up to her premature death.
Durbin favors prose poems and writes in a sparse language full of bold colors and immediate emotion. Durbin uses some of Earhart’s own words as found in the aviator’s 1937 collection of writings Last Flight, which was compiled posthumously by her widower, George Putnam. She often rephrases them, as in her various “Red” poems: “What did that little plane try to tell me as it swished by?”
Earhart’s thoughts achieve a beautiful, contemplative poetry through Durbin. Some of the earlier poems reflect on Earhart’s domestic situation and her womanhood. For instance, in “Ink” she muses, “Fear of woman’s blood too long has bound us to burning at high stakes.” But this fate is not for Durbin’s Earhart, who finds release in “the indefinite sky” and imagines that these “papers” will be found after her imminent death, affording her forgiveness from her husband and “grace for a woman who fell from the sky.”
The Upstairs Hammer, Hildred Crill (Argos Books 2010)
Hildred Crill’s The Upstairs Hammer forms an awkward marriage of the abstract and the trite. The opening poem, “Document,” provides a tonal preview for what’s to come. It is vague, yet gripping:
I was a hedged bet, just one
of the holes a rat found
and possessed, a last gulp
from the welling cup.
Crill’s ability to manipulate sound (i.e. gulp/cup) is one of her greatest strengths. Both rhythmically pleasing and full of dark intrigue, “To the Original Tower” provides an exemplary moment:
Unfinished is only completed
as ruins. The task
is neglect. The pause,
However, Crill’s poems are sometimes handicapped by sentimentality. One such poem, “Twofold Tale: Troll With the Cap of Invisibility” is a mythical mini-story, as the title implies:
I believed you unwelcome me
People think people
don’t like them
but it’s themselves
they dwell on
and won’t love
But you said nothing
as if layered in shale
When people aren’t seen
they witness more
Oh, the wisdom of trolls. These tidbits of knowledge from the troll read a little bit like a quote-a-day calendar. The most interesting parts of this poem come from the narrator, but the italicized Troll-speak ultimately dominates.
While parts of The Upstairs Hammer can be overdramatic, the majority of the book offers a musicality and controlled rhythm that makes it a worthwhile read.
–Joanne C. Wood
Your Name is the Only Freedom, Janaka Stucky (Brave Men Press 2009)
“Destroy Song” is the name given to four poems in Janaka Stucky’s Your Name is the Only Freedom. In combination with cover art suggestive of hell and constant talk of destruction, the opening lines of “Hopeful in Spite of Legion” are indicative of the book’s overall mood:
Of beasts, of blood
of devils; of horrid hell
of appetites & passions
Stucky’s language is colloquial and direct– “Buck like fuck as I press / My hands between your breasts.”–but he is able to maintain a light tone in the presence of dark themes. For example, “My broken neck singing / A holocaust of seahorses.”
Certain lines are cliche, and a few lines are extraneous and affected: “Children play with matches / Planes about to crash.” These lines have little impact amidst images of flames and witches. In a similar fashion, images of locks of hair and honey are juxtaposed with images of beasts and blood.
The Hindu goddess Kali appears in several poems throughout the collection, and the leaflet preceding the title page is stenciled with an image of a dancing creature with four arms and a necklace of what appear to be human skulls. The symbolism Stucky is conjuring is unclear, but the Hindu text, Kalika Purana, depicts Kali as a four-armed figure, albeit beautiful and brave, which is perhaps the duality at which Stucky drives.