Monday, January 25, 2010

What I'm Reading: In the Voice of a Minor Saint

37º & glitters of sun, a wind building towards gusting

I've been following Sarah J. Sloat's blog, the rain in my purse, for over a year and always delight when I come across one of her poems in a journal. I bought her chapbook, In the Voice of a Minor Saint, after I read the title poem online somewhere, I think. I've also been working on a series of poems about made-up, forgotten saints, so the title intrigued me as well. I've now re-read the book for the third time and am still delighted.

An aside before delving into the poems: This was my first book from Tilt Press, and I'd like to commend them on the quality of the chapbook. The cover art is amazing and in four-color printing. The paper is quality stock, heavy enough to withstand my dog-earring behaviors and my endless annotations. And, the inclusion of the endpapers of chocolate brown give the whole thing a polished look.

To the poems: Sloat's subject matter focuses on the everyday in such a natural way that I fall into the poems quite easily. These are both poems of consolation for living in a painful world and poems of defiance against letting the painful parts win. These are poems that call attention to our "epidemic impoverishment" and our "nerves ripped to bits" ("3 Deep"). Yet, they also call attention to this world "wallowing / off in the wheat of long siestas" ("Humidity"). The same poem also asks the reader to "Console / yourself: at least the trees / put up their parasols... ."

Sloat is a master of sound and syntax, two properties I consider essential for lasting poetry. Perhaps because I've been introducing my beginning creative writing students to alliteration and assonance, these two craft issues stood out the most as I re-read in order to discover what made the poems sing so. As I read, I was also impressed with the precision of the line breaks and the deft shifting from enjambment to end-stopped lines when the poem called for it. Also, her last lines are masterful.

To sample from my three favorite poems of the collection, here is the opening stanza of "Grassland."

When I could not get with child

I swallowed the egg of the meadowlark
who eats the daylight

the mother of untangled grasses.
A long drop, the egg bore its root

in my foot, it stitched me
together with grain.

Another favorite is "Ghazal with Heavenly Bodies," which includes such couplets as these

Look at me crooked. Mistake me for Eve. If looks
deceive, who knows which mask our maker wears tonight?


Yet again, love drops anchor where lust dug its moat.

On the roof, angels play musical chairs tonight.

My signature moves like loops and lightning. Letter

posted, I'll sleep the sleep of millionaires tonight.

And finally, I can't help but include the entirety of the title poem.

In the Voice of a Minor Saint

I came at a wee hour

into my miniature existence.

I keep my hair close cropped
that my face might fit in lockets.

My heart is small, like a love
of buttons or black pepper.

On approach, I notice how

objects grow and contours blear.

That's what comes of nearness.

I have an ear for the specific,

as St. Apollonia minds the teeth,

and Magnus of Fussen, hailstones.

I dwarf gloom with my cachet sign:
one good hand conceals

my one good eye,
halving a
ll disaster.

That "ear for the specific" and the way the poems have of "halving all disaster" makes me sure I'll be re-reading this book in the future. Definitely worth the price of admission!

poetry and poets today. Borrow or Buy a copy of this book.
In the Voice of a Minor Saint
Sarah J. Sloat
Tilt Press, 2009

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