Sunday, February 7, 2010

What I'm Reading: Whistling Past the Graveyard

35º and a milky sky disguises the sun

This post is long, long overdue, and I send big apologies to blogger friend Kristin Berkey-Abbott, who graciously offered to swap her book, Whistling Past the Graveyard, for mine last fall. As the towering stack of to-read books grew, I lost track of things. In any case, I spent this morning rectifying the situation.

Kristin's poems are startling for their matter-of-fact approach to the subject matter, how to maintain a spiritual/religious life in the 21st century rush and hustle. While the poems rise up out of serious meditation, they do not rely on overly philosophical language or images. For someone who does not practice an organized religion yet spends a lot of time thinking about the spiritual, like myself, this was refreshing. For example, the poem "Frog Flingings" ends this way:

Still, a prophet would come in handy in times like ours,
someone with a direct pipe to the divine,
someone who would deliver dictums, someone we could kill
when we didn't like the message.

Wow. Talk about a killer last line!

In "Reformation Day" the modern mixes with the religious particularly well in the second stanza:

We pay alms as we must: electric bills,
pool chemicals, cool treats. We pay indulgences
when we can't avoid it: the air conditioning repair
man, the pool expert who keeps the water pure,
men versed in mysteries we cannot hope to understand.

Not all of the poems have such religious tones. Several deal with the darkness of melancholia an depression. In "Running from the Plantation of Despair" the speaker takes on the voice of the slave to describe depression. The speaker states:

I'm an ocean away from my home, my happy
self, in a land where I can't speak the language,
digest the food, or interpret the constellations.

I inhale the dust
of a million dashed dreams. I sink into a songless
sleep and wake to a day drained of color.
Gradually I forget my real name...

All in all, I appreciate the succinct nature of these poems and their willingness to ask difficult questions with clarity and grace.

rt a Poet/Poetry: Buy or Borrow a Copy of this Book Today!
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Pudding House, 2004


Kristin said...

No need for apologies! Thanks for the thoughtful review. I'm enjoying your book, and hope some day to be organized enough to write about it.

Again, thanks for the book swap! It's been great getting to know you through your blog and through your poems.

Sandy Longhorn said...

You're more than welcome, K. I'm glad to have met you, too.